Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Moldova: A struggling country in Europe.

Moldova: Another wine country trying to make it.

The Republic of Moldova (Republica Moldova) is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south.

Originally Moldova was part of the greater region of Moldavia, but it has spent much of its history being the skinny kid pushed around by the bigger bullies.

Moldova is landlocked, but is still very close to the Black Sea.

Capitol: Chisinau, located on Byk River in the central part of the country.

The country's other important cities are Tiraspol, Tighina (also known as Bender) and Balti.

Population: 4,320,490 (July 2007 est.).

Despite being the most densely populated (132 person per sq km) of the former Soviet Republics it has very few large cities.

Landscape: Most of Moldova's territory covers a hilly plain cut deeply by many streams and rivers.

Climate: Moldova enjoys a favorable climate and good farmland but has no major mineral deposits. As a result, the economy depends heavily on agriculture, featuring fruits, vegetables, Moldovan wine, and tobacco.

(Brief) History: Moldovans are descended from the Dacians who were conquered by the Romans in 100 AD. This was followed by a millennium of instability and change, as the region was invaded by neighboring countries and made a focal point for the diaspora of Magyars, Slavs and Bulgarians spreading across Eastern Europe. It was also a port of call for Byzantine, Italian and Greek merchants.

By the beginning of the Middle Ages, when the flow of people had died down to a trickle and an organized state had begun to emerge, Moldavia (as part of Romania) was already a potpourri of different races and cultures. The Principality of Moldavia, it was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812. At the dissolution of the latter, it united with other Romanian lands in Romania in 1918.

After being occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, and changing hands in 1941 and 1944 during World War II, it was known as the Moldavian SSR from then until 1991. Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August of 1991.

Although Moldova has been independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Dniester River despite signing international obligations to withdraw.....

Government: Moldova is a parliamentary democracy. It has a President as its head of state and a Prime Minister as its head of government.

(The Presidential Palace)

The country is a member state of the United Nations, WTO, OSCE, GUAM, CIS, BSEC and other international organizations. Moldova has officially been a neutral country since its independence, and an early member of the NATO Partnership for Peace.

Moldova aspires to join the European Union and is implementing its first three-year Action Plan within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) of the EU.


Ethnic groups: Moldovan/Romanian 78.2%, Ukrainian 8.4%, Russian 5.8%, Gagauz 4.4%, Bulgarian 1.9%, other 1.3% (2004 census)

Religion: Eastern Orthodox 98%, Jewish 1.5%, Baptist and other 0.5%

Languages: Moldovan (official), Russian, Gagauz (a Turkish dialect)

The Moldovan language is virtually the same as Romainian, but as a feat of nationalism the Moldovan government made it the officia language after the country gained independence. You've got to respect that.


Moldovan cuisine has had a great influence on the traditional food of the other nationalities that live on this territory. The ingredients used in the traditional meals are: a variety of vegetables like tomatoes, green peppers, aubergines, white cabbage, beans, onions, garlic, etc. The vegetables are used for salads and sauces; they are baked, pickled, salted, and canned thus becoming a real food art.

The maize and maize flour give a specific color to the traditional meals, like soups, biscuits, flakes, alcohol free drinks, etc. The most common is “mamaliga” – a maize porridge or polenta with a fine and delicious taste. "Mamaliga" is served together with diced meat, cheese, fried meat, cream, etc.

Dancing is a big part of Moldovan cultural tradition. The traditional dances have also been influenced by the various other countries that have controlled Moldova throughout history.


Moldova is best known for vineyards and wine-making. The famous Moldovan wines are well known and appreciated at home and far beyond the country borders. The wines can be dry, sweet and strong, they have a varied bouquet of flavours and colours. Strong drinks such as plum brandy, are produced using traditional methods.

Per capita wine consumption is among the highest in the world.

Other exports include: Exports: sugar, vegetable oil, food processing, agricultural machinery; foundry equipment, refrigerators and freezers, washing machines; hosiery, shoes, textiles

All of the energy supplies for Moldova must be imported (gas, coal, etc), this leaves Moldova at a great economic disadvantage.

Currency: Moldovan Leu (Lei) The name means "lion". 1 US Dollar = 11.93700 Moldovan Leu.

Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe despite recent progress from its small economic base.
Around 25% of the working population in Moldova work in countries outside of Moldova.

Rogue Moldovans:

Moldova has a break away sect known as Transnistria.

Transnistria is a de jure part of Moldova, as its independence is not recognized by any country, although de facto it is not controlled by the Moldovan government.
Transnistria operates its own government and seeks independence from Moldova and re-unification with the Soviet Union. It has its own currency, constitution, parliament, flag and anthem. Russian troops still have a presence in Transnistria
This region hosts most of Moldova's industrial infrastructure, but its economic potential is limited by its international isolation. Troubles with Transnistria may prohibit Moldova from entering the European Union.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sierra Leone: On the mend

*****NEWS FLASH*****
Get a dose of culture from Sierra Leone with your food on a stick (if you are not a Minnesotan you may want to watch this):

The Sierra Leonian musical group the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars will be performing at the Minnesota State Fair at the Leine Lodge on August 29th and 30th!

This group has had a documentry film about them which will be shown locally and on PBS:
Oh, and Sierra Leone just held a national election on August 11th, important but that is not nearly as fun...

And now for:
Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea on the north and Liberia on the south, with the Atlantic Ocean on the west.
The name Sierra Leone was adapted from the Portuguese name for the country: Serra Leoa. The literal meaning is "Lion Mountain Range".
Check out where it sits on the African Continent:
Climate: tropical; hot, humid; summer rainy season (May to December); winter dry season (December to April)

Terraine: coastal belt of mangrove swamps, wooded hill country, upland plateau, mountains in east

Population: 6,144,562 (July 2007 est.)
Most of the population is made up of youth and the average life expectency is only 37 for males and 40 for females.

Capitol City: Freetown

Freetown, the capital and largest city is the leading commercial and educational center of the country. Other major cities include Bo, Kenema, Koidu, and Makeni.
Language: English (official, regular use limited to literate minority), Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole, spoken by the descendants of freed Jamaican slaves who were settled in the Freetown area, a lingua franca and a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)

Ethnicity: The population of Sierra Leone comprises about sixteen ethnic groups; each with its own language and customs, the two largest of these being the Mende and Temne, about equal in numbers representing 60% of the country's population. The Mende predominate in the Southern Province, the Temne likewise to the Northern Province.

Religion: The Sierra Leone constitution provides freedom of religion and the government generally protects this right, and does not tolerate its abuse.

Approximately 60% of Sierra Leoneans are Muslim; 30% are Christian; 10% adhere to their ethno-cultural religions and faiths. Unlike many other countries, the religious and tribal mix of Sierra Leone rarely causes religious or tribal conflict.

Currency: Sierra Leone’s currency is the Leone(Le). The central bank of the country is the Bank of Sierra Leone which is located in the national capital, Freetown. The Bank of Sierra Leone is a 100 percent state-owned corporate body.
2,961.70 Leones = $1 US

Food: Rice is the staple food, consumed at virtually every meal. A Sierra Leonean will often say, without any exaggeration, "If I haven't eaten rice today, then I haven't eaten!"
Rice is eaten with the hands by squeezing or rolling it into a ball, dipping it into the sauce, and then popping it into the mouth. If rice falls from your fingers or mouth, you don't put it back in the dish. When everyone finishes eating, they wash their hands and thank the cook.

Other things are of course eaten—a wide variety of fruits, seafood, potatoes, cassava, etc.—but these are often considered to be just "snacks" and not "real food." Real food is rice, prepared numerous ways, and topped with a variety of sauces made from some combination of potato leaves, cassava leaves, hot peppers, peanuts, beans, okra, fish, beef, chicken, eggplant, onions, and tomatoes. Bones, particularly chicken bones, are a delicacy, because their brittle nature makes the sweet marrow inside easily accessible.

This visiting blogger noted how much of the rice seems to be imported, rather than grown locally. The fact that their staple food comes from elsewhere speaks to the emerging independence of this nation from teh past turmoil and dependence on relief from other nations (I'll get to that later).

Culture: Such traditional handicrafts as cloth weaving, leatherwork, basketry, pottery, and rug making are popular. Music and dance forms related to tribal religious ceremonies are well developed. The Sierra Leone Dance Troupe, through its international tours, has made these dances known worldwide.

Sierra Leoneans as a rule are extremely polite and manner-conscious. Much attention is given, especially in urban areas, to one's neatness of dress and style of presentation. Courteous and eloquent greetings are a way of life. Elders are especially respected. The "good" host is always a giving host, one who will call any passerby to join in a meal by a wholehearted, "Come, let's eat." It is polite as a guest to leave some food on the plate, thanking the host profusely for his or her generosity.

Marriage. For all Sierra Leoneans, marriage is a mark of adult maturity and brings considerable prestige to both bride and groom. Specific customs vary by ethnic group and socioeconomic status, but usually begin when a man is able to assemble enough brideprice (often a mixture of money and fine cloth) to give to the prospective bride and her family. Almost all marriages used to be arranged between families, sometimes while the girl was still quite young. Increasingly, "love marriages" are more common, especially among those who have been to school.

Domestic Unit. The basic household structure is an extended family, organized for the majority of people around the farm and its rice production.

Many households are polygynous, where a husband may have more than one wife; the first or "senior" wife usually has some authority over "junior" wives, such as in training and organizing them into a functional unit. Monogamy is also common, especially among urban and Christian families.

Sierra Leoneans love children, and larger households tend to have more prestige. Having many children is in fact an investment of sorts, which, though initially expensive to maintain, eventually allows a family to accumulate wealth by creating a large and diverse labor pool, by gaining brideprice for its daughters, and by strategically marrying off children to create new alliances with other families.

Kin Groups. Kinship networks are extremely important in everyday matters, in that one is obligated to assist one's family members throughout life.
Kin groups also play an important part in hearing legal cases and settling disputes before they are referred to a neutral third party. Thus, upon marriage, a man and a woman may each prefer to settle near their own kin, as this confers them distinct political and economic advantages. Though rights and responsibilities exist on both sides of one's family, maternal uncles are often particularly important figures, offering both obligations and entitlements to an individual.

Story telling: There are rich and lively traditions of storytelling across Sierra Leone. The most famous storytellers (sometimes endearingly called "liars") can manage to earn a living from their trade, though mostly these traditions are informal affairs, and start when children gather around an elder under the full moon once the evening chores are done.
Government: Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature.
The government is slowly reestablishing its authority after the civil war from 1991 to 2002 that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (about one-third of the population). This time was portrayed in the 1999 documentry film Cry Freetown.
The last UN peacekeepers withdrew in December 2005 leaving full responsibility for security with domestic forces. A new civilian UN mission - the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) - was established to support the government's efforts to consolidate peace.
This is an image of people waiting to vote in the first national elections in 2002:
Prior to gaining independence in 1961, Sierra Leone was under colonial rule for centuries.
Sierra Leone has a special significance in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. It was the departure point for thousands of west African captives. The capital, Freetown, was founded as a home for repatriated former slaves in 1787.

Economy: Sierra Leone is an extremely poor nation with tremendous inequality in income distribution. While it possesses substantial mineral, agricultural, and fishery resources, its economic and social infrastructure is not well developed, and serious social disorders continue to hamper economic development.
Nearly half of the working-age population engages in subsistence agriculture. Manufacturing consists mainly of the processing of raw materials and of light manufacturing for the domestic market.
Diamond mining remains the major source of hard currency earnings accounting for nearly half of Sierra Leone's exports.
The diamond industry in Sierra Leone has a horrific history of corruption and human rights violations. This was recently highlighted in the film Blood Diamond (which I have yet to see).
The fate of the economy depends upon the maintenance of domestic peace and the continued receipt of substantial aid from abroad, which is essential to offset the severe trade imbalance and supplement government revenues. A recent increase in political stability has led to a revival of economic activity such as the rehabilitation of bauxite and rutile mining.