Chisinau is the capital of the Republic of Moldova, a small nation (about 3.5 million persons) that was part of the former Soviet Union. The country was created in late June 1940 when Nazi Germany issued an ultimatum that Romania give up Bessarabia and northern Bukovina, the eastern most part of Romania. The Romanians responded promptly, yes, and the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic was established. Moldovan history is marked by invasion, mixed relationships with Romania, political and religious repression and difficult times with the Russians. You can read about that stuff elsewhere. Political upheaval and riots in the late 1980s gave way to independence in 1991. However, the land east of the Dniester River, Transnistria, continues to be occupied by the Russian 14th Army. There was armed military engaged, people killing other people, in 1992, and I just happened to be in the neighborhood at that time. I did not witness any shooting, I was about 25 miles from the real action. Transnistria, and its capital Tiraspol, continue to be held by the Russians. My request to visit Tiraspol during this trip was greeted by the response, “too dangerous”. I did not visit.
As noted in the previous blog entry, I went to Chisinau in 1991 and 1992 to assess the possibility of a partnership between ASEM and the University Of Nebraska Omaha College Of Business Administration. The Chisinau that I saw in those first visits hid well the possibilities that politicians, citizens, and ASEM members envisioned. Today, as classic old buildings are revitalized and new construction flourishes, a new city has emerged. The broad streetscapes have been transformed into hubs of commerce and political exchange. Temporary markets spring to life on the weekends, and offer everything from paintings to sculptures to military memorabilia and old cameras—a great place for collectors to find something to buy. Restaurants with outdoor seating are very popular as are small casinos which can be found almost everywhere. I feel fortunate to have this historical perspective, and remember quite well the drab colors, the dark and dreary hotels, and the rooms that never seemed to have enough heat in the winter.
The city of Chisinau and Moldova contains other wonders to experience. Some of the most beautiful churches in the world can be found in Moldova. There are many parks worth visiting, places that have become gathering points for families, musicians and vendors.
I enjoy looking at statues and other sculptures of notable people. In one of the central parks, there are a series of busts recognizing great writers. At the edge of another park, is the “graveyard” for statues of those who were held sacred during Soviet times. The statue of Lenin (below) was once located on the main boulevard not far from many of the buildings that housed departments of the central government. He now lives in a more serene location. He still has his admirers, see that flowers that lie at his feet. His good friend Marx is just a few feet away, although there are no flowers below his bust.
ASEM has undergone a significant transformation both physically and organizationally. When I arrived for visits in the early 1990s, I was taken to a sad looking “soviet style” building that had been repurposed for the academy. It was big enough, but it lacked light, the plaster on the walls was crumbling, the elevators were dangerous because they frequently stopped working with passengers inside (between floors), and the bathrooms were foul. The programs in ASEM were economics heavy, and as might be expected the faculty did not know much about marketing or entrepreneurship. Books were in short supply. The founding rector (president), Paul Bran, took great pride in showing us the library during our first visit.
There have been three rectors during ASEM’s 25 year history, and I got to know each one fairly well. Paul Bran was brought in from Bucharest to get the academy started. His tenure was limited by law, three years, and he was replaced by Eugeniu Hriscev. I spent a lot of time with Eugeniu, planning, plotting and driving around in his huge 1950s style car, complete with Persian rugs. He was very supportive off us as crucial times in our project. The current rector, Grigore Belostecinic, has had the biggest impact on the physical aspects of the academy, although he has made significant strides on the program side as well. Grigore, pictured below, updated the old “communist style” facility in the best of ways, and at the same time constructed a completely new building. He did all of this without any government financial support, a significant feat considering all of the obstacles faced. I found his new programs in culinary arts (both the food and business sides) and journalism (let’s educate business school students to report business news) most interesting. I am going to be meeting with our UNO journalism partners on our campus to see what we might develop here.
Lastly, the main reason for travelling to Chisinau this time was to attend the wedding of two close friends, both native Moldovans and graduates of our MBA program. This was the second Moldovan wedding that I have attended, and both were fabulous. This time around the wedding had two components. On Wednesday, we travelled to the countryside to a church within a monastery—see picture of ceiling later in this post. We were all dressed nicely. The bride and groom wore more traditional attire. The ceremony was mysterious to me, and I was reminded of the Latin mass weddings I attended when I was younger. There was a good deal of audience participation, but no speaking on our part. The second component was held on Friday (we needed to rest up for it). Dinner, which stretched out over three hours, was combined with dancing, entertainment (several acts, including some famous people) drinking, and testimonials. While I did not see the sun come up on Saturday morning, it was close. The feed-fest continued on Saturday afternoon, but I begged off on this one. I did not eat again until Saturday night, and only sparingly.
I am not sure when I will return to Chisinau next. I have been invited to the 25th anniversary of ASEM in September, but there are several scheduling conflicts with the date of the celebration, September 24. I want to return to learn more about Moldovan history, more than just reading about it. The maternal grandfather of two of my very good friends spent ten years in a gulag north of Moscow, east of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) near Arkhangelsk Russia. During World War II, almost all of his battalion was killed in action and he decided that he had enough, walking home to his village in Northern Moldova. How did he remain alive during captivity? Why was he released? So many questions and more.