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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Turns to Communists

ELIZAVETOVCA, Moldova — There is only one shop in this poverty-stricken Moldovan village. On good days, it makes 200 lei, or $15.

Olga Natalskaya, behind the counter, despairs.

"Some days I close with only 15 lei of receipts. People have no money. I'm wasting my time," she says.

Natalskaya is one of Elizavetovca's voters who helped the Communists sweep back to power in February elections, fed up with a decade of democratic reform that has left them penniless, and attracted by promises of a return to Soviet-era security.

Staunchly Communist over the years — villagers call Elizavetovca "Bolshevik village" — in February they broke their own record when 423 out of 449 voters voted for the Communists, who pledged to restore order, pensions and a semblance of prosperity.

But the villagers may be better trudging down the path of self-reliance. President Vladimir Voronin, who marked his first 100 days in office July 16, appears to hold out little hope for quick improvement.

"I've been working for three months, but I have a feeling we are floundering in a swamp," said Voronin, who is wrestling with a mountain of foreign debt, a separatist struggle in the region of Dnestr, and unwilling officials, in comments printed in Izvestia.

The villagers, mired in their own plight, are surprisingly sympathetic, and say Voronin is trying his best but is being blocked by his foes. They call the Communists their last hope.

"All the politicians lied to us. If the Communists do nothing, we won't know who to believe then," says Lubov Ungureanu, waiting for a bus in sweltering 35 degree Celsius heat.

"It was better under the Communists in the Soviet Union. We hope they will take us back to those happy times," Ungureanu says.

The villagers seem to have come to terms with their poverty, living off the land to fend off hunger and learning to live with no cash in their pockets.

"I haven't received any money for six years. Sometimes I forget what it looks like. We live thanks to our land plots and home animals," says Valentina Cebotari.

Only six years ago, the whole village was relatively prosperous, employed by a state collective farm, now dissolved. For 16 years Cebotari worked as a milkmaid and managed to save 10,000 roubles for her old age and children, but in the early 90s they were eaten up by inflation and devaluation — for which she will never forgive the government.

"They stole my money. How can I love them?" she asks. The Communists have promised to restore the savings.

Attempts were made to improve the lot of the peasants — farmland was distributed and everybody got an average 1.6 hectare plot. The privatization, supported by Western aid, did little to relieve poverty.

Most villagers lease their plots to new private firms, which pay to use the land with one sack of grain and one of sunflower seeds.

Cebotari is 55, and in Soviet times she would have been a pensioner. Under the new pension scheme, the pensionable age was increased to 65 years for men and 60 for women.

With no job and no pension, she barters eggs and milk for secondhand cloth brought to the village.

Cash aside, the villagers have paid a high political price under democracy. Their council was dissolved and the village is now governed remotely from neighbouring Plop.

Not that the village of Plop is in any better position.

Anastasii Pavlov, Plop's Communist mayor, needs to pay three months of salary arrears worth $3,000 to 30 teachers from the community's two primary schools. He knows too well what his voters are going through and has learned not to count on his $50 monthly salary, and works hard at home, breeding his animals and cultivating land.

And poverty in Moldova is nothing if not democratic — the central government is just as short of cash.

"We got into a real trap. The International Monetary Fund and other international financial organisations skilfully pulled our country into crazy debts," Voronin says.

One third of Moldova's budget goes to servicing foreign debt. Recently it narrowly avoided defaulting on a $75 million Eurobond.

Voronin, it seems, has caught up with what the self-reliant villagers learned long ago: "We will work. We have nothing else to do. There is no way back. We have nowhere to retreat."