30 years ago, the people from Ruseștii Noi, Ialoveni district, passed in columns on the main road and left behind their emptied yards. They marched to Chișinău where they joined the crowds from the Grand National Assembly Square. They knew that people listen there to speeches and chant together.
On the occasion of this year’s anniversary, we went to ask the locals of one of the most active villages of that time about their hopes of 30 years ago, about the changes that have taken place and if the state that they then declared independent is now what it was supposed to be.
“That enthusiasm remained with us”
“Everything was so spontaneous,” says Pavel Codreanu, a retiree from Ruseștii Noi. He remembers the literary circles of his youth, how he grew up among books, and gradually began to wonder if “we are not the same as those across the Prut.” Like him, there were many, he says.
In that euphoric period, it was a great joy for them to be with Grigore Vieru, Leonida Lari, Dumitru Matcovschi. They were acting without any plan – they just happened to find out that there was an event in Chișinău. He and his twin brother flew straight to the city. There, they found a lot of people “That enthusiasm remained with us and I think it is now passed on to young people,” says the man.
Pavel Codreanu joined not only the Great National Assembly – but also went to Găgăuzia and the Transnistrian region, where he defended the television. “We made Molotov cocktails, I don’t even know where did we find out how to make them. This now looks funny, but then, I remember that my boss told me that if I go, I won’t come back. And I went,” he adds.
Pavel Codreanu considers that once he participated in those events, he did not live in vain, especially because everything he did, he says, is for children and grandchildren, and today “now, we are many Romanians and we cannot say where we would be now without those meetings.”
In his opinion, people understood what they were leaving behind – a doctrine of fear: “we were scared, we were afraid to leave the village, we were afraid to say something open.” Gradually, the fears dissolved. After the Great Assembly, people were no longer afraid to stand up and ask questions. There was a general pride.
And if at the first assembly people shouted “Moldovans, unite!”, at the third they chanted “Union, Romanian brothers!”, “We are Romanians!”. At those moments, Pavel felt fulfilled, he felt that he was not living in vain and wanted with people there. “Probably, this life of ours, these 30 years, has also affected children and grandchildren – they are Romanians, they have studies done in Romania… Now we only have one step left, but how big – I don’t know,” says the man.
If he would have the chance to live those moments again, Pavel Codreanu says he would do everything he did then, but much more actively. He would point to those things he was afraid of at that time.
As for what followed with the Transnistrian region, he went there as a volunteer, in a euphoria that had gripped not only him. It was about four o’clock in the morning when the bells of the village church began to ring. Young people gathered in Dănceni village. There were many on the lists, but not all of them came. He remembers that morning in particular because he often remembers a girl that was crying the words: “Where are you going? You will not return. There is war.” That desperate cry, which he still seems to hear, made some of the boys jump out of the military cars and run up the hill. So, in the end, 100 showed up for the duty. “But I do not blame anyone, I understand them,” says Pavel.
Arriving on the spot, they realized that they did not have basic things for the war, such as a map. Or the equipment for weapons. They delegated a few boys to President Snegur to talk to him about these issues. When they arrived in Chișinău, Pavel and another colleague said that they go home first, to their families. His brother, Petru, since he had no children, tried to do go to the president alone, but the next day he was arrested as a deserter.
“Although he had the list of those who signed for what we needed, they wanted to jail him. I had a colleague who advised me and said: “Petru could be saved by a protest. They will become afraid and will let him go.” That’s what I did and they released him,” Pavel remembers.
When he finally returned home, his family was shocked – he was skinny, unshaven, his behavior, thoughts, and words were different. Despite this, he thinks they were happy to see him. Especially since he told them that they had only 10 days at home, and after that, they would return to war.
“We were just announced that it is over and that we can stay home. When they told us about it, we felt betrayed, as if we went there in vain. We were so close to Tiraspol. I felt betrayed and not only I had this feeling,” confesses Codreanu.
The second major mistake since Independence has been Voronin’s rise to power. When the results were announced, Pavel’s son called him from Romania: “What’s wrong with you in Moldova? What did you vote for? I’m ashamed!” For Pavel, it was hard to understand how a few years ago people were so united for a common goal, and then… “But then I think that poverty has its say,” Pavel comments.
He still believes in Moldova’s future, in the people here, and in those in the diaspora. He believes that those who took to the streets in ’91 got what they wanted. He thinks it will be better and there is no other way. He believes Romania and Moldova will unite, “which will be done, sooner or later, even without all of us realizing it.”
Pavel Codreanu remained to work in Moldova, which he wanted to be independent, he had two terms as mayor in his locality. His three children, on the other hand, left, choosing the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and Romania as their destinations.
“Who does not aspire to freedom?”
Maria Panfil is Pavel Codreanu’s countrywoman and former history teacher, with 44 years of activity. She claims that, although she went through hard times, she had a beautiful life.
1991 was a year in which people really hoped and believed that the terror was over. It was not until much later that she realized how problematic were the conditions in which she and her colleagues in pedagogy were working. “That’s how the years passed, and when it came time to bring down that regime, we were really happy,” she says. They left the village with enthusiasm. They felt great joy at being able to listen to what was being said in the meetings in Chișinău.
”They all believed that an extraordinary life awaited them in the future – with the freedom to speak what they think and to do what they want. They blindly believed in something better, and that energy raised the masses, raised the people.” Wherever you went, people discussed with emotion about a different life.
“Who does not aspire to freedom, prosperity, to a better life? From then until now – we believe, we fight, we wait. Because we realize that change doesn’t come so fast. I pray to have more days to be able to see beautiful changes at home because 30 years is too long for people to stay disappointed,” says the former teacher.
Today, however, she wonders if the state that does not give a man a minimum of existence can be called a state, ”Where is the billion, the airport and, especially, where is justice?”
For Maria Panfil, the great shock of the 30 years of independence has to do with the war of 1992, where her husband was taken, who had not even done military service. He told her he wasn’t ready. The man told her that he would do everything the others do. Long days and nights of silence followed, during which Maria tried to listen incessantly to the radio or television without sleeping. Until one morning.
“I found that he was at the television. And I went there not thinking about anything else. For about two hours I searched for him and when I came across him, he was sitting in a crib, with a snack and a glass of wine,” Maria says laughing.
Not far from the public television lived their countryman. The two men were discussing and Maria’s appearance took him by surprise and asked with humor: “This is how you defend the country?”.
Then he told her everything about how it was.
And Maria Panfil, from the beginning of the war until today, does not believe that Moldova is independent.
In these 30 years, she points out that she has gained a lot of experience. Life experience, the experience of struggle. “The last four years were at the limit, it was no longer bearable. Even people with less education realized where the evil was. And it was harder to fight with your people than with the foreign ones,” she says.
If it were the year ‘91, she would call on many to take to the streets and not tolerate injustice. She says: “almost everyone who came to the first Parliament went through the school of communism. Who taught them to build a new life, without what they inherited from the communists? No one. And that’s why they made mistakes. “
The former teacher appreciates that this was a time when we wanted something, but we didn’t know what, how, and how much. And if today were 1991, we would be smarter, with higher standards.
“When you start something, it takes a lot of analysis, but there was no time because the wave had started. It was a very unstable period, and people were disoriented. Now, we’ve become much stronger and we know what we want, I’d say. Most of us opened our eyes, we are better prepared… Then we were naive, we didn’t understand much,” Maria Panfil also considers.
Despite these aspects, the 30 years of independence of Moldova have changed a lot in her life. She continued to work with her husband at school, built a house, which she says destroyed their health, and raised three children – the eldest daughter is settled in Kazakhstan, the second boy lives in the village and another daughter in Chișinău. “It wasn’t easy at all, but we did as well as we could,” says Maria.
She concludes that now Moldova is on a runway, ready to take off. Here the paths are open, but there are also many obstacles. It won’t change radically in a year or two, but the start is good. The recent solidarity makes her believe that we are on a good path and that the light at the end of the tunnel can be seen.
“A bankrupt state, a divided society, an empty country.”
Another villager, Valentin Țapeș, worked abroad for many years, and today he is the president of the organization of former veterans from Ialoveni district and counselor in Ruseștii Noi village. He participated in almost all events in 1991: when the independence of Moldova was proclaimed, when the Law on the state language, the Law on the state flag, the Law on the national anthem were adopted.
He says that these are moments full of emotions, which he lived with many other villagers. They set off with autostop. At that time, many did not have telephones and saw each other over a beer, where very fast they decided to leave for Chișinău.
“Do we go? Let’s go! All of us? All of us! And the next day, we would go, either with autostop or with those that had their cars. They brought us near the city, and from there we walked to the center. These are events that are never forgotten,” says Valentin.
And in the great assembly square people were united – they had a unique goal. Although those of a generation with him went through the Soviet ideological school, when they found Literature and Art journal, they read and absorbed articles about Romania, he remembers with nostalgia. Then they shared them, and that kept them together.
He remembers, in particular, the moment when the law on the state language was approved – how those present were divided into two and the deputies marched between the two crowds. “We applauded them for their gesture. That was great happiness because we hoped this would happen,” the man explains.
Despite the enthusiasm and change, many dissatisfactions followed over the years. “With great regret, we are independent only on paper. In reality, we are under occupation, because the Russian army has not withdrawn from our territory. For me, it is clear that they are occupants,” Valentin adds.
He believes that since the proclamation of independence, things have gone from bad to worse. And that’s because governments “worked for a small interest group” and no ruling party had a country program.
“We have the results in front of us – 30 years of independence and a few years in which we can not clarify where we are going and what we want, we can not bring some money that was stolen from the state, we have a bankrupt state, a divided society, an empty country. That’s what happened. Family members, friends, villagers have been abroad for years. Are they coming back?” the man rhetorically asks himself.
He went abroad for a while too, like tens of thousands of other citizens, out of the need to provide his family with what was strictly necessary. Later, when the children grew up, not having a job, they also chose to leave. “They keep asking me: what should they return to? I don’t know what to tell them,” Valentin tells with bitterness.
If it were 1991, he says that he would like some gifted, honest, and patriotic people in office: “I would be harsh and expect high results, so that the simple man, not the dignitary, should be satisfied. That’s what I want. Unfortunately, I don’t see that today.”
Beyond the empty side of the glass, he believes that the union with Romania is possible and necessary, and sees Moldova’s future in Europe. The last remark reminds him of 1992.
“Then, we knew what we were doing, because in our discussions we said that this is Romanian land. From the political arrangements, however, we know quite well that we lost the war, we just gave up,” says Valentin Țapeș.
In that year, along with other men from the village, he was summoned, taken to Chișinău, and from there – assigned to Florești, where he received 145 soldiers, and in three buses came to Coșnița, where Valentin worked as a company commander from May to July.
“There we had total trust in each other because we knew what our mission was. I brought all 145 and brought them back to their mothers. We also talked to them when they came to bring us food. The moment she grabs you and shakes you asking you to keep her child’s life… It’s hard to describe it. At home I keep the tricolor hoisted. I think my grandchildren will keep it in the future. A lot happened there,” adds Țapeș.
Drawing the line, all he wants for those in Moldova on Independence Day is “to be proud to be Romanian, not to be ashamed to say that they are Romanian, not to be ashamed to say that they speak Romanian.”
On August 19-22, 1991, in Chișinău, as in Moscow, attempts to rebuild the Soviet empire failed. In the former republics, national liberation movements had grown.
In Chișinău, on August 27, the national liberation movement convened the third Great National Assembly. The Motion of the Grand National Assembly addressed to the Parliament and the Appeal to the states of the world was voted.
The last document approved by the Great National Assembly was the Declaration of Independence, which was immediately voted, nominally and unanimously, by the Parliament. Thus, the third Great National Assembly gave birth to the independent and sovereign, unitary and indivisible state – the Republic of Moldova.