Culture was certainly neglected in the 30 years that have passed since the declaration of Moldova's independence from the USSR. I have discussed with the writer Iulian Ciocan, who can boast 10 novels, many of them translated abroad into several languages of international circulation. He has shared with us the cuisine of contemporary Bessarabian literature and explained the condition of the Moldovan writers and the problems they face. We are inviting you to read the extensive interview with the writer and Free Europe journalist, Iulian Ciocan.
Mr. Ciocan, I would like to go back in time and tell us what you remember about the day of 27 August 1991 and the declaration of independence of the Republic of Moldova from the USSR?
It's been a few years since then and it's hard for me to remember exactly what happened that day. However, I remember it was a very beautiful day. I was excited that the “evil empire” was collapsing, to paraphrase an American president. I was one of the very active young people, I participated in all kinds of meetings of citizens who wanted the collapse of the Soviet Union. So I remember living a great joy. The feeling was that a new era was beginning and that from then on, we would live differently. After a while, I realized I was wrong.
What was the atmosphere back then and what were the dreams of the young people of that time? What exactly were they hoping for?
We were idealistic young people. Many of us were students, we were romantic and idealistic, and we imagined that with the collapse of the Soviet Union everything would go very well. Many of us even imagined the unification with Romania. At that time, I must mention this, the idea of unification with Romania was floating in the air. It seemed pretty likely. For us, the romantic and idealistic young people, the unification seemed a solution in the complicated situation of that time.
Have you addressed this moment in your books? If so, please tell us how you imagined this moment of declaring independence from the USSR?
In the novel “The Land of Sasha Kozak”, which many call a novel of transition, I’m describing the '90s that followed the proclamation of independence. I have an episode there about the rallies of '88 and '89, which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And I have there some idealistic Moldovan characters who wanted the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also some protagonists who see things from the perspective of minorities that somehow opposed the anti-Soviet trend.
I’ve tried to see the revolution from several perspectives and I think I succeeded. My impression now, after several years, is that many mistakes were made then. Namely, that, in fact, those who came to power were intoxicated by power. Many of them got caught up in political games and did not live up to expectations. More precisely, they did not do what they should have done and many mistakes were made even in relation to minorities, from my point of view.
What happened next with Transnistria, I think, was also because of some mistakes made by the deputies at that time.
What did the separation from the USSR mean for the Bessarabian writers? Was it maybe a revival, maybe an impulse to write in Romanian? How was that moment seen? From a cultural point of view and especially for Bessarabian writers, how have these last 30 years been? Have they been prolific or not?
In a way, yes, because the following 30 years were very rich in terms of creation, in the sense that they offered you a lot of topics. This post-Soviet reality was offering a lot. A writer had a big choice of what to put into his/her narratives. I didn't have to look for topics for my novels for too long. They were at hand, they were all around me. You picked them up, you ran your fantasy and immediately an exciting narrative came out of it.
On the other hand, they were complicated years, because, while in the beginning writers had an important role in society and were seen as leaders, later, however, their social role has diminished, and now we are totally overshadowed by bloggers, recent celebrities, influencers. Many of them are quite superficial.
Writers have virtually no role in today's Moldovan society, both the popular ones and less popular. This is the paradox. Therefore, this distinction is no longer valid. No matter if you're a professional writer and you're doing something important, something remarkable, or you're a mediocre writer who writes stupid texts- all of them are in the same pot. That's just how I see it. After all, this thing doesn't stop you very much, if you are a real writer and you know what you want to do and you have projects that you are working hard on.
But the fact that the role of the writer, of an intellectual, is no longer so important seems to me somehow a social failure. I think a writer could say no less interesting things than a politician, a political analyst or even a journalist.
Lack of support and minimal interest
Do you think that in the last 30 years politicians have paid enough attention to the development of culture or not? What could they have done better in this regard?
Unfortunately, they didn't do much. We have to say this. And I can start from my personal experience. I am a writer and I currently have ten novels translated abroad. Six of them were translated with the support of the Romanian Cultural Institute (ICR), an institution in Bucharest that helped me, a Bessarabian writer, to publish novels abroad. The Moldovan state did not help me at all.
I understand that it was a complicated period, that it is difficult in Moldova. But we have somehow been left in the lurch and I don't think the field of culture is the least important. This is a field that should have been better supported. A country stands out abroad not only through wines and I don't know what other achievements we have here, but also through culture. Perhaps other fileds of culture have been better supported. I am talking mainly about literature and it seems to me that it has been left to chance.
In your opinion, was the Romanian language used or not as a tool in the hybrid wars waged here by Moscow?
Probably yes. The simple fact that the Romanian language was not recognized as a state language and during all this time we had in the Constitution this article 13 which said that the state language is the “Moldovan language” could also be a consequence of Moscow's influence. I don't really think that Moscow would like to have the Romanian language in the Moldovan Constitution. On the other hand, the Moldovan politicians were not very consistent in restoring the natural rights to the Romanian language.
But we have a decision of the Constitutional Court which says that the Declaration of Independence is a legal act that prevails over the Constitution and the Romanian language is the one that should be enshrined as the state language in the Constitution…
Exactly, the Parliament did nothing about it. In the end, the Parliament did not vote in the past to have the name "Romanian language" in the Constitution. I remember the politician Marian Lupu (former speaker of the Parliament) who said that the language we speak is "Romanian", but we can also call it "Moldovan". So, all politicians somehow avoided addressing this issue because they realized that the moment they say bluntly that we speak Romanian, they will suffer politically and will no longer reap dividends in elections. That was actually the problem.
If you had known the transition would take so long in the Republic of Moldova - we are already 30 years away - would you have chosen to stay here or maybe you would have emigrated to other countries, as colleagues or friends of yours have probably done?
It often occurs to me now that I should have probably left. On the other hand, it would have been complicated to leave my parents or friends. In general, it's pretty hard now, at my age, to let myself be dominated by regrets, and I don't even want to.
Yes, when I was young, I had the opportunity to stay in Romania. And maybe it would have been good if I had stayed. But now I can't say anything. I stayed at home, that's the situation. In the end, this was also a decision and maybe not the worst. It was quite complicated to live these 30 years in the Republic of Moldova. It's a not-so-beneficial environment for a writer. As the Russian writer Victor Erofeev said, it offers you lots of topics as a writer, but it is hell for you as a citizen. A suffocating and complicated environment - this has been the Republic of Moldova in these 30 years.
What are your hopes now with this new pro-European government? Will the Republic of Moldova go the European way, as everyone hopes, in a relatively fast time or this transition will continue for several years from now?
This is a question that many of us are asking ourselves now. It's an important one and I don't know if we have an answer to it now. The expectations are very high. Many people voted for this pro-European government because they are tired of this swamp of transition and want some real change. People are waiting to see real change.
I don't know yet what will happen. I have some hopes, but I was a little surprised by this decree of Maia Sandu related to the military parade on August 27 here in the center of Chisinau. I don't think we need that and I see no reasons for a military parade now.
It was different if PAS, for example, achieved some successes and then a military parade could take place. But now this seems premature and meaningless. If PAS does not keep its promises and does not achieve tangible results - and there have been many promises - I am afraid we will be still wallowing in this mire of corruption and poverty many years from now.
Thank you for the interview!