MEMORY DEBATES IN MOLDOVA

According to the Oral History Institute of Moldova, public memory in the Republic of Moldova is marked by a rivalry between two grand historical narratives about this small country’s history, similarly to many other East European countries. In Moldova these narratives can be loosely described as ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-Romanian’. In many ways they mirror each other exactly. Looking at the key dates of Moldovan history (1812, 1918, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1991), one side sees occupation whereas the other speaks of liberation. Victims of history are likewise divided into ‘one’s own people’ and ‘the others’ depending on the side one is on. The pro-Romanians commemorate only the victims of the Stalinist deportations and the 1946 famine. The pro-Russians remember only the victims of Romanian occupation. This has prevented the emergence of a united civic nation in Moldova, a country that remains split into a right-bank and a left-bank (Transnistrian) part.

This situation holds great potential for conflict and an escalation of violence. Thus the relevance of memory work in Moldova is not just academic but also very practical in that it can contribute to a historical narrative shared by all citizens. One important task is to go beyond a zero-sum game of mutually offsetting victim numbers and to build a narrative that considers all the historical victims of the 20th century—from the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 to the civil war in Transnistria in 1992—as ‘ours’. Another task is to create a dialogue between those living on either bank of the Dniester regarding controversial aspects of history, especially the 1992 civil war. This can only be achieved through a process of agonistic memory debates involving political leaders, scholars, cultural figures and educators, and requires widespread media coverage. International memory studies scholars can make a crucial contribution as they have legitimacy with a large audience without being seen as siding with either side in local conflicts and controversies.