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Inherited Migration

Emigration to escape poverty is so ingrained now in Moldova that a generation is accustomed to following in the footsteps of their parents. From Ziarul de Garda.

by Liliana Botnariuc 28 September 2018

Growing old listening to promises from the ruling class that never came true, tired from ill-paying work, and disappointed by delays in salary payments and high prices for food staples, Moldovan women started leaving for Russia, Turkey, and Italy soon after the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, their daughters grew up at home, raised by grandparents or even strangers, and, after that, they frequently followed in the footsteps of their mothers, and went to work in the same countries. While some mothers came back, their daughters decided to stay on. In this way, a generation of migrant women birthed another generation of migrant women.


From Chisinau to Moscow


The first migration waves from Moldova started in 1997, six years after the proclamation of independence. Emilia Deleu is one of the hundreds of thousands of Moldovan women driven away by poverty to Russia, to be able to feed the family she left behind.


“The state did not have money for salaries, for [serving] food in kindergartens and schools. Our daughters Agnesa and Alina would bring bread, hardboiled eggs, apples, meat, or sugar from home. Whatever we had,” Emilia reminisces.


Before leaving the country, Emilia used to work at the Canned Food Factory in Cupcini, a town in the north of the country, at a salary of around 200 rubles. “With two or three salaries you could buy a TV or a fridge,” she said. Her husband Marcel worked at the same factory, and became the family’s main source of income during Emilia’s maternity leave. In 1993, the Cupcini factory, which ensured the livelihood of the Deleu family, was closed down. In the meantime, Marcel got work as a tractor driver at a cow factory in the village of Terebna.


Emilia and Mircea Deleu, together with their two daughters.


Emilia had started working in their garden: she would plant seedlings and take care of them, and then pick the vegetables and deliver them to the Canned Food Factory in the village before it closed down. She remembers how the economic situation in Moldova got worse and worse, with salaries two or three months late, and sometimes even longer. That’s when Emilia and Marcel decided to go to Moscow. They found work on construction sites, just like the vast majority of people who left at that time. Alina and her sister Agnesa, who is four years older, were left in the care of their grandparents. 


“At first, we were saving money for general expenses, then to repair the house [in Moldova], then for the children’s studies,” Emilia says. “In 2008, after graduating from middle school, Alina, our youngest daughter, got into a college in Chisinau, to study interior design. We had to pay for her rent, food, transportation, and other expenses.” Emilia has now worked in Russia for 21 years.  


In 2011, Alina graduated from college and applied to the Management Institute in Moldova to a long-distance program in economics. She first went to Moscow for half a year, where her parents and sister already lived, and worked as a salesclerk in a pastry shop. But she decided, together with her husband, to come back to Moldova.


They had some savings from their wedding and their parents helped them financially, so they were able to buy a car and an apartment in Chisinau. “We thought this was a good starting point. We had a place to live, something for moving around, we found jobs right away. We even planned my pregnancy,” Alina says.


But while there were jobs, they were ill-paid. Although the family was not paying rent, their expenses were too high. Then the young couple found out that they were expecting a baby. Alina’s husband left to work in a construction company in Moscow. She stayed in Chisinau, where, in 2013, she gave birth to a little boy. When the baby was five months old, she also went to Moscow.


Even though visa-free liberalization came into effect in Moldova in April 2014 – allowing citizens to travel to the Schengen area of the European Union without visas – Alina decided to stay in Moscow.


“I left Moldova because my husband was far away, and couldn’t see his son growing up.”


For three years, she took manicure classes in Moscow.


Although she had school diplomas from Moldova, those were not recognized on the labor market in Russia. When her son Adrian was three years old and enrolled in a kindergarten, Alina found work as a salesclerk in a shopping center, for a salary of over 500 euros ($580).


In the summer of 2017, Moldova lost three more citizens. Alina, her husband, and her son gave up their Moldovan citizenship to take the Russian one, since Russia does not accept double citizenship.


Right now, Alina would like to leave, together with her husband, for a country in Europe. “We would like to try something else. Perhaps elsewhere the wages are better, the kindergartens and schools are better. Just because we came to Moscow it doesn’t mean that we will stay here. We need to evolve.”


Alina Ciubara, her husband, and their son


Emilia and Marcel continue to work in Russia, and they only come home for the winter holidays. In the summer of 2017, they filed papers to become Russian citizens.


From Gagauzia to Turkey


Ecaterina Ianulova, 66, is another character in the story about migration, but her trajectory was from Gagauzia to Turkey [this autonomous region’s residents have a uniquely Turkish identity, even though they are Orthodox Christian and are thought to have converted from Islam centuries ago.] Her travels along this route happened over the course of 13 years. She took the leap of faith together with her husband Dumitru in 2000, after 20 years of working at a pig farm in their village. When the farm closed down, they told themselves that they should leave.


The majority of villagers had been working for years in Turkey, had built houses using the money earned abroad, and had been planning their children’s futures. Some of them were lucky enough to be able to, once every few years, take a holiday by the seaside.


The Ianulovs wanted to fix the house where their three children were raised in Moldova, as well as seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “We were employed by a family [in Turkey], my husband was working in the garden, watering the plants, cleaning the swimming pool. I was working in the house, cooking, cleaning up.” As soon as they saved some money, they renovated the bathroom of their house in Moldova, built a kitchen, and connected the house to the water system in order to have running water.


Their two sons joined them in Turkey along with their wives. “The older son worked here for a year, the younger, for four years. We worked together. And now they moved to Moscow to work,” Ecaterina says.


Age, however, had its whims, and didn’t allow Dumitru to come back and work in Turkey. He was left to take care of their two houses in Moldova, and Ecaterina found work in another family, as the nanny of a three year old. “I took care of her, she was blond and blue-eyed. I would tell them that their daughter was Russian and not Turkish, since she was blond,” Ecaterina laughs. “This October, the little girl turns 15,” she adds, looking at various photos in an album.  


Ecaterina, her husband Dumitru, and their granddaughters


The years passed quickly, and 2013 was the decisive year in the chronology of their trips, which allowed them to make some money, while struggling with homesickness.


“In 2013, I left for a year to work for a family, but my husband got sick so I came back,” Ecaterina says. In order not to lose the job, which was well-paid compared to salaries at home, her daughter, Svetlana, 33, went instead of her.


“After a year, I told my daughter that I should take her place, and she said: ‘Mother, you’ve been working for so long, it would be better to stay put and take care of my daughters.’ So I didn’t leave for work anymore,” Ecaterina says.


Mother and daughter communicate on Skype. They talk about their health, about the rain, about the house. They talk about whether the girls are well-behaved, and sometimes they burst into tears. It’s hard to live abroad. They only cheer up once plans of a holiday for the entire family in Turkey come up. The holiday is approaching in less than a month.


“If we go to the seaside, this time I will go into the water, for sure,” Ecaterina laughs.  


An Extended Family’s Life in Italy 


In 2011, Ecaterina Gurghis, 55, gave up her position as head of the middle school in Sadova, the village in central Moldova that President Igor Dodon hails from, and left for work in Italy.


“I initially went for 60 days, on a holiday. I was exhausted, I needed to relax. Once I got there, some acquaintances from my village [in Moldova] suggested that I should stay, and take care of some elderly people. My daughter Valeria, who had been living in Italy since 2005, was also insisting that I should stay. She was saying that the efforts I had been putting into running the school were not appreciated properly,” Ecaterina says.


Valeria had also studied education. She graduated from a high school in Calarasi, a town in central Moldova, and was admitted to a university to study [and then teach] the Romanian language and Romanian literature. Shortly after that, she got married and left with her husband for Italy. They settled on the outskirts of Milan, close to the school of their son, Alexandru.


Ecaterina Gurghis


In 2005, Valeria got a job as a nanny. Now, this child is 16 years old. Although he is grown up, Valeria still works for the family. “She cooks, she cleans, and does other jobs that the family needs,” her mother says.


“When I arrived in Treviso, a little village of 2,000 people, I realized that the locals speak a dialect: they don’t use words in their entirety sometimes, for instance,” says Ecaterina. “If ‘Thursday’ is ‘Giovedi’ in Italian, they say ‘Doba.’ Very different versions. So I went to this family, and told them that I wanted to work, and not make any speeches like I did back at my school,” she says, laughing.


Ecaterina says that she managed to learn Italian pretty well, during the four years that she lived with that elderly family. Shortly afterwards, those people died. Then their son told her that she could work as an assistant to the cook at the hotel and restaurant nearby. After half a year of doing that, she found work with other elderly people in the village, for whom she is still working.


Ecaterina’s youngest daughter, Virginia, had also studied education. She got married in 2011. She was thinking about staying in Moldova. “Although the work done by teachers is very necessary, it is also very badly paid. It would have been impossible to build a house, to make a living for her family. The first one to leave was Sergiu, my son-in-law, to Germany, to England. Although he was working a lot, he wasn’t very well-paid,” Ecaterina tells the story.  


This is why, around 2015, Virginia and her family went to the same place where her mother had been working. “Virginia continues to take care of these families. She cooks, she cleans,” Ecaterina says. “The sons-in-law work, they pay the rent. On the other hand, their children go to good schools, to afterschool clubs. It’s a different life over there. You work hard, but you are rewarded, you have good conditions for the education and future of your children.”


The woman says that she will keep working in Italy until she is 62, the new retirement age in Moldova for women as well as men, after the reform of the pension system.


The Data Behind the Stories


The main reason why these women chose to go abroad, regardless of their destination, was the lack of employment opportunities, and the small salaries at home, which didn’t allow them to live decently. While the average monthly gross salary in Moldova is 5,697 lei (290 euros), and the minimum income needed for survival is 1,866 lei, according to the National Statistics Office, the average monthly income in Italy is 2,426 euros, in Russia 543 euros, and in Turkey 312 euros, according to Trading Economics 2014-2018, a database of economic indicators.


Data from the National Bank of Moldova shows that, in 2017, out of all the money transfers coming from abroad, 34.9 percent came from countries that are part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), 34.4 percent from EU countries, and 30.7 percent from other states. The CIS transfers come mostly from Russia, the source in 96.2 percent of the cases. For EU transfers, the money comes from Italy most frequently, or in 34.9 percent of cases. The same data shows that Russia, Israel, and Italy are the countries from which the largest volume of financial transfers originates from Moldovans living abroad in 2017.


The transfers from Russia amounted to $402.63 million (33.6 percent), from Israel – $205,02 million (17.1 percent), from Italy – $143.83 million (12 percent), and from Turkey – $15.30 million (1.3 percent).


Official data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs shows that, over the past 20 years, more than 800,000 people left to work abroad. Every day, 106 people leave Moldova for good, according to a study done by Magenta Consulting. A public opinion barometer from April and May 2018 shows that 56 percent of Moldovans living in their home country would leave if they had the opportunity to do so.

This article was written by Liliana Botnariuc, a journalist at Ziarul de Garda, a news and analysis site based in Moldova, where this article was originally published in Romanian. TOL has done some editing to fit its style. Reprinted with permission. All images via Ziarul de Garda. Translation by Ioana Caloianu.

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