Mass Exodus from Moldova (Clone)
Report from the Fastest Shrinking Country in the World
CHISINAU, Moldova -- On a rainy October day, two years ago, Oleg Bumbac, 29, landed at Luton Airport, in southern England. While walking on the airstairs, dressed in a blue business suit, Bumbac realized that he left Moldova for good.
“I felt a bittersweet feeling of guilt and excitement. I did it, I said to myself,” remembered Bumbac. After six years of medical school and five years of working as an emergency doctor in Moldova, he realized that he couldn’t live anymore with a salary of 134 Euro a month. He needed to leave.
Bumbac is not the only Moldovan fed up with the country enough to move away. More than 15 percent of Moldova’s population, some 550 thousand citizens, currently live outside Moldova, according to Civis Centre of sociological, political and psychological investigations. The total number of migrants translates into a third of the employable population while every fifth of them is actually a highly qualified worker (teacher, doctor, economist or engineer). According to BBC, four people exit the country for a better life every hour, making Moldova the fastest shrinking country in the world.
Republic of Moldova is usually only known for two things: the poorest country in Europe and, recently, for the greatest bank robbery in the last century. After $1 billion, one eighth of the country’s finances, was gone to offshore bank accounts on the eve of the national election in 2014, the citizens of Moldova were completely disappointed by the pro-European government, brought to power by a Twitter revolution in April 2009. A lack of judiciary and management reforms, required by the EU authorities, contributed to the national disillusionment.
Moldova is now at a crossroads. On October 30, the country faces presidential election and in two years, Moldova will have another parliamentary election. Lack of trust in pro-European parties and the imposing mass emigration towards European countries can easily result in a pro-Russian government. In only two years, Moldova could forge closer ties with Russia again, which would question Moldova’s European integration.
From Moldova to England
Oleg Bumbac was born in a small village, surrounded by vineyards and fruit gardens, called Hajdieni in northern Moldova. He graduated the lyceum in Glodeni city, where he founded a local newspaper with a close friend. As a child, Bumbac loved to study and was the teachers’ first candidate for different academic competitions. After graduating school, the boy decided to become a doctor, so he moved to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. “The admission contest was fierce. Eighteen candidates competed for each place,” Bumbac said. Yet, he managed to get a state-funded scholarship at the Faculty of General Medicine.
After six years of challenging studies, Bumbac got his first job as an emergency assistant in the Municipal Emergency Hospital. “I didn’t expect it to be easy, but it felt impossible. I don’t remember days when the emergency kit had everything it was supposed to. I had the most important medicine, but the kit was never full.” Meanwhile, in 2013, Bumbac’s salary was about 100 Euro for ten 24-hour shifts per month while the living wage (the minimum income necessary to meet basic needs) was 98 EUR. In order to survive, Bumbac used to take more shifts. “Of course, I chose the cheapest rent. But to be able to pay even that, I had to take 15-18 shifts every month. Sometimes, I had to stay for 48 hours straight, because there were not enough doctors, which also happened frequently,” Bumbac stated.
Even employed as an emergency room doctor, Bumbac didn’t receive more than 130 EUR. According to him, every emergency medical team should have at least one doctor and two to three assistants, but these teams were never complete. “So I had to respond to the patient’s request completely alone. A lot of pressure was put on the doctors. And, of course, in these stressful conditions, I was not allowed to make any mistakes,” said Bumbac.
The idea of leaving Moldova was always in the back of his head. “A lot of my colleagues had left and I was so tired to live slightly above minimum wage. I wasn’t able to buy clothes, books or to travel anywhere,” said Bumbac. He managed to survive because of his mother who also left the country and started working in Greece in order to help the family. For more than 15 years, she cooked pastries and taught Russian language. “She was my help, I wouldn’t have made it without her,” said Bumbac.
During the following six months, Bumbac passed through a lot of interviews, collected recommendation letters and prepared for the big journey. When he was told that he had gotten a job at the Rivers Hospital, a private hospital in England, he needed a few minutes to realize his life was about to change drastically. “I had very mixed feelings. I left my job with a feeling of guilt, because I was leaving my colleagues behind, amazing doctors, who are not guilty that the medical system in Moldova is ruined. But I was also so excited! I knew it was going to be huge,” said Bumbac.
Two years ago, on Oct. 16, Bumbac passed for the first time the threshold of Rivers Hospital in Harlow, a town close to London. “I was excited, but also very stressed. I had to prove that I am a good doctor if I wanted to stay. I even took a small bag because I didn’t know what this unbelievable journey would bring,” said Bumbac.
Now Bumbac lives in Harlow and is the hospital’s doctor on call. Every day, he supervises 60 patients, responds to all kinds of emergencies and works with his patients’ physicians on their follow-up treatment. He talks warmly with his patients about Moldova. “I even have this prepared presentation. It sounds like this: Moldova is a tiny country between Romania and Ukraine. It has the biggest wine cellar in the world and the tastiest wine in Eastern Europe,” said Bumbac like talking to an invisible camera. At work, on his desk, he keeps a small traditional clay bell. “It has Moldova written on it and it has this small vine leaf as the bell clapper, so that I don’t forget where I should return,” he said.
No wind of change
On 7th of April, thousands of demonstrators claimed that 2009 parliamentary election results were fraudulent and gathered in major cities of Moldova demanding a recount, a new election, or resignation of the communist government. In Chisinau, where the number of protesters rose above 30,000, the demonstration escalated into a riot. On this day, Bumbac protested peacefully in the center of the capital. “I am not a rebel. I couldn’t throw stones, but I was on the side of those who did, because that communist government deserved the stones. Unfortunately, the change that we had brought [the pro-European parties] didn’t fulfill our expectations for a bright European future. I sincerely don’t see any perspectives in Moldova for now,” he said.
According to a national survey, conducted by Magenta research company in March 2016, 83 percent of citizens of Moldova think that the country is going in the wrong direction. The same source reveals that 60 percent of Moldavans claim that they are worse off than they were last year. On top of it, 74 percent are convinced that the situation will either not change or will become even worse.
Vitalie Varzari, a local consultant at the International Organization for Migration believes that “the lack of trust in the state institutions, the disappointment in the society and the country made Moldovans more individualistic which encourages migration.” Another survey, carried out by Imas in August 2016 revealed that every fifth Moldovan is not proud of his country. At the same time, those who declared themselves proud stated the reason for their pride is the fact that they were born in Moldova.
Ruslan Sintov, sociologist and director of Civis Centre of sociological, political and psychological investigations, is convinced that the effects of the disappointment are yet to be seen. “If the economic situation in the country does not get better, people will continue to leave. According to our surveys, another 100 thousand citizens have intentions to leave Moldova in the next 12 months. Moreover, the number of those who took all their family members with them doubled during the last two years,” Sintov affirmed.
Experts agree that the most frightening phenomenon is the unwillingness of the citizens to return. “If in 2012, the migrants were saving money to buy a house here, now the number of those willing to invest in real estate in Moldova is decreasing dramatically. If in 2013, 40 percent of migrants were interested to invest in Moldova, then by now, this intention has shrunk by a third,” Sintov continued, explaining that it all comes down to the $1 billion embezzlements. “The decision to leave the country is a difficult one, so we can’t expect a massive and quick response from the population, but we are convinced that even more people will leave Moldova, if nothing changes.”
Bumbac sees his leave as a form of protest against the reality in Moldova. “What else can doctors do? If they quit, they will starve. If they change the job, they will lose their profession. So the only solution is to leave the country. This is the only way to attract the government’s attention. People will suffer, but then again they already do. The protests don’t work. People stayed in the streets for almost a year and nothing changed,” recalled Bumbac the large scale anti-corruption demonstrations in Moldova during 2015.
However, Bumbac is one of the few willing to return someday. “I think I will stay in the U.K. for the next ten years, but then I would like to come back and implement the things I learnt. I still feel indebted to our medical system that formed me as a specialist”. The man recognizes that he has no idea how he will be able to do that. “Probably, I will have to save money so that I don’t need to survive with Moldova’s salary. You know, I realized that managing to live in Moldova is actually a luxury,” added Bumbac and chuckled, looking through the window.
text, photos and infographic: Victoria Colesnic
cover photo: lifeofpix.com
created as part of Journey 2016 of Bakala Foundation