I’m currently restricted to prepay internet, which means that I pay for every byte, so I’ve spent a lot of time offline, plumbing the archives of my computer. As such, I’ve had the time and fortitude to re-read Herodotus, and it reminded me of the first time I went to Moldova.
As a brief historical recap, 665 years ago a minor prince of Maramures decided to rebel against the king of Hungary so he took a handful of men and fled east. Finding a temporary lack of local leadership, he set up a new kingdom that eventually became known as Moldova.
The kingdom briefly waxed in power, culminating with the reign of Stephen the Great, but then spent most of its history (some of it comical) as a vassal of the Turkish Ottoman Empire or the Russian Empire.
Then about 150 years ago, during a troubled period of European history (about which I’ve written before), the ruling prince of Moldova (Alexandru Ioan Cuza) convinced the neighboring kingdom of Wallachia to unite the two principalities under his leadership. This became the first sovereign nation of Romania.
In the year 1918, several Hungarian-led territories (principally Transylvania) declared their wish to join with Romania. This declaration of independence is now commemorated in Romania on December 1 as its National Day.
But just 20 years after the declaration, Romania made a series of political blunders and had its territory split several times. At the end of World War 2, the eastern half of Moldova was absorbed into the Soviet Union (some of it going to the Ukrainian SSR but the majority remaining as part of the Moldovan SSR) while the western half remained part of Romania.
As such, there is a little confusion. In English, the eastern part is called (the Republic of) Moldova while the western portion inside Romania is called Moldavia (and my spellchecker wants me to say Moldavian instead of Moldovan). But to Romanian speakers and most other people, both halves are called Moldova.
With some things, the two Moldovas have a lot in common. They share some similar regional dances and tend to speak with a similar accent and use more older, Slavic words in their vocabulary.
On the other hand, most Romanian Moldovans are monolingual while nearly all (Republic of) Moldovans are bilingual in Russian and adhere to a lot of Russian customs, including food (and just like Russians, Moldovans around here freaking love mayonnaise).
Many years ago, I was living in Cluj (Transylvania) and I was curious to visit and see (Romanian) Moldova.
Before I left, one of my friends advised me that the women in Moldova were all “whores” and “sluts” and intimated that the moment I stepped off the train they would all throw themselves on me.
Over the years I’ve heard many similar statements. Even in 2014, I had the misfortune of being a passenger in a taxi in Cluj where the driver attempted to be humorous by telling me I could “buy” the love of a Moldovan woman for a sandwich and 100 lei.
I’ve spent considerable time in (Romanian) Moldova and now I live in (the Republic of) Moldova and I’ve known many women here. They all seem to be perfectly normal, ordinary people. So why do so many people have this idea that Moldovan women are sluts, or prostitutes, or sexually promiscuous?
The answer to that is in Herodotus. If you haven’t read his History in a while, you might have forgotten that the first page starts with a war (between petty Greek kings) over the kidnapping of a woman. The next war featured in his book is also about a (different) woman being kidnapped. Keeping to his theme, the third war too is about a kidnapped woman. Eventually the reader gets to hear about the Trojan War, which of course also began with a kidnapped woman (Helen of Troy).
Why? Why were so many petty kings in the ancient Greek world going to war over women? And what does this have to do women in modern-day Moldova?
As I wrote about, I noticed something very strange when I was in Ukraine. The country seems to be bursting with hale, hearty and very fit young men. Moldova, on the other hand, has a lack of hale, hearty and fit men. Is this about diet? Is it something genetic? And why does this matter?
Ukraine is a very poor nation and it is very difficult for citizens to get work or travel visas to get out of the country. The only solution for many people is to get married to a foreigner. But it’s not the Ukrainian men who are getting married to foreigners, it’s the women.
Marriage “brokers”, dating sites and other companies do brisk business in Ukraine and every single one of them is designed to provide an escape route for the local women. Although I detest the author, you can click here to read a story in English about this business.
In any country, or in any local society, a roughly equal number of boys and girls are born every year. But when those babies grow up to be adults, and something happens to destabilize the “marriage market”, big changes happen.
Imagine that in a hypothetical Ukrainian town that there are 50 marriage-eligible single women and 50 marriage-eligible single men. They will meet and pair off and everyone gets a partner. But if you remove just 5 women from the equation, that leaves 45 women with a partner but 5 men without one. What happens then?
Men who have to compete over women tend to get violent and fight. I’ve certainly seen it happen hundreds of times in a bar. And when they’re not actively fighting each other, they’re doing their best to promote their own eligibility – things like working out to look more muscular and masculine.
In Ukraine, there is a shortage of women so the men are more aggressive and an astonishing number of them are muscular and fit.
In Moldova (both halves), the opposite is true. There is a shortage of men. In Romania, the region of Moldova is quite poor and many of the men are abroad, working in foreign countries or else in capital of Bucharest. In the Republic of Moldova, many eligible men are in Russia, working construction and other jobs.
With a shortage of eligible men around, it’s the women who have to compete. They don’t do this by fighting or becoming more muscular but by emphasizing their femininity.
I noticed it the moment I crossed over the border. Women here have some of the longest hair that I’ve ever seen. When the weather was hot, an astonishing amount of skin was on display. Women here tend to wear bright colors (including a lot of neon) and have a lot of sparkly jewelry and accessories. They tend to wear very high heels and short skirts and even shorter shorts. The local fashions styles feature garments with dangling, shiny bits that are also designed to garner attention.
It’s not that the women here are “slutty” or promiscuous, it’s that they simply have to emphasize their femininity in order to compete for the scarce pool of eligible men that remain here.
Moldovan men, on the other hand, regularly demonstrate the fact that they are in high(er) demand. They dress poorly, they have simplistic (often ugly) haircuts and they usually wear sports/track pants and unflattering footwear like sandals. Very few of them are muscular at all.
In August, a local squad of soldiers held a march in downtown Chisinau. Here is one of the photos that I took:
Do any of those guys look like killers? Do they look aggressive or intimidating? Not really. Half of them don’t even look old enough to shave.
In 1990, when the Soviet Union dissolved, a section of eastern (Republic of) Moldova called Transnistria declared its own separate independence. There was a very brief war that ended in a stalemate.
Today, Transnistria runs its territory with almost complete impunity while Moldova effectively does nothing, even though the industry and farmland in Transnistria is some of the country’s best (and most profitable).
The fighting is hot and fierce in Ukraine, which is right next door. But here in Moldova, there is no fighting. There’s not even a menace in the air. The fact that some mafia thugs are occupying the richest third of the country doesn’t seem to bother anyone. There is no agitation or call to take back Transnistria. I haven’t even seen any graffiti about it, and there is plenty of graffiti.
Why? Again, I’d say it goes right back to Herodotus. The eligible men in Moldova have no problems finding partners. This robs them of a hell of a lot of aggression. Why risk your life by fighting and shooting when you’ve got a lovely young wife or girlfriend?
In Ukraine, on the other hand, a significant number of eligible women are gone (married off to foreigners). I’ve only seen scattered reports from the front lines, but I’m willing to bet that a significant number of those volunteer fighters in Ukraine are not married (or dating). I’m also willing to bet that just about every single (male) Moldovan soldier is married (or dating).
Is that too simplistic? Well maybe so. But it certainly explains why this country is so calm and why Moldovan women have their reputation.
From my experience, the women here are just as normal as women anywhere else around the world. There really is no intrinsic “sluttiness” to Moldovan women. Their unfair reputation is simply a result of their having to compete for men by dressing more provocatively, but that does not extend to actually being more promiscuous.
In fact, I’ve seen far more advertisements for escorts, sex shows and massage parlors in Cluj (and other Romanian cities like Brasov and Bucharest), Krakow (Poland), Budapest (Hungary) and various cities in Germany than I have here.
But perhaps because of this reputation concerning the women, I saw a lot of young (single) foreign guys in Moldova during the summer. I spoke to several of them and they were definitely in Chisinau for the local girls. How they ultimately fared (if they got “lucky” or not), I have no idea.
All I can say is that on the second day I was here in Chisinau I heard a news report on the radio. The police had been called out to an apartment because a Romanian man was yelling and screaming and threatening to jump from his balcony. Eventually the police managed to talk him out of it so thankfully disaster was avoided.
The man told the police that the reason he was suicidal was because his Moldovan girlfriend was driving him crazy :)