Olivia & Tatiana
Pelivan, Moldova – August 2023
After a family meal attended by around ten people, everyone dispersed to go about their business. Olivia's grandmother, Tatiana, agreed to leave the washing up to someone else so that she could take part in the interview. For Tatiana, sitting down for more than thirty minutes is proving to be a more daunting exercise than taking part in the interview. Tatiana lost her husband at an early age and has always managed everything on her own. Even today, at the age of 67, she prepares cheese fillings for the mini-market by the roadside along the village. At 6 o'clock in the morning, she starts her day with the preparation of the fillings. The morning ends at 11am, after several trips back and forth between her kitchen and the mini-market.
Tatiana lives in Pelivan, a not so small village. She lives on the second floor of a two-storey building at the end of the village. "It's easy to remember. It's the last house", Diana, Olivia's mother, told us when we arrived. It was by Maschrutka that my mother and I came to Pelivan from Chisinau. Pelivan isn't actually on the itinerary posted on the bus windscreen, but after asking the driver, he agreed to drop us off at the entrance to the village. It's not a big diversions. The village has 3 bus stops, a post office, 3 food mini-markets and an impressive number of wells that are no longer in use. Tatiana would later tell us that the price of water has rocketed, but despite this there are frequent water cuts.
At the age of 21, Tatiana was living in the south of Moldova, married, working in a canning factory and taking part in the choir. "I was an engineer and checked the quality of the products. We worked from 8am to 5pm and at lunchtime we ate in the factory canteen." Holidays were spent on the Black Sea, in Odessa, that great Ukrainian city of undeniable charm.
Olivia tells her grandmother about her life at 21 in Romanian. She explained to her that there were no longer any studies for boys or girls. She tells her about democracy, about elections in which both men and women can take part. Olivia was born in Strasbourg and has always lived there. This year, during the summer holidays, she is spending several weeks in Moldova with her grandmother. "It's been a long time since I've spent so much time in Moldova. ” At the age of 21, she is in her third year of psychology at university: "For a long time, I was interested in becoming a teacher, but in the end, I wanted to have more choice in my career.“ Next to her studies, Olivia has a student job. She works on Saturdays and one day during the week. She's a checkout assistant at Lidl. She put her job on hold this summer, but will probably resume it in the autumn. "I'd like to move out of my parents' house soon, so working as a student helps me to save money."
Olivia talks about the moral lessons she had at school. " It was one hour a week. We had to read an article on politics or science and do a presentation the following week. They weren't really politics lessons, but more a way of convincing us or encouraging us to read articles, because as young people we tend to read the newspaper less. We were told to go to the BBC or the New York Times for example."Olivia didn't really like the moral lessons on rather banal subjects, with the eternal debate at school:"should you be a vegetarian or not". She turned to her grandmother to translate what she had just said. " "We had politics lessons at the canning factory too. Oh, I didn't like those classes! They were on Mondays after work! We had to take it in turns to prepare the lesson. Obviously we weren't free to say what we wanted. We could read certain newspapers like the Young Communist, Pravda (which means truth in Russian) or Socialist Moldavia. There was a supervisor, who was close to the party" A large part of the workers' lives revolved around the factory. There were sports classes and a choir in which Tatiana sang. "In the choir we sang Russian patriotic songs for the parades. In the casa de cultura (a meeting place) we weren't allowed to play music in Romanian. But at home we spoke Romanian and listened to Romanian music. It wasn't a problem. " Tatiana also had to take part in military training. For the women, the military courses focused mainly on first aid.
The day before the interview, we got out the photo albums. There are lots of photos of Olivia as a little girl, a little less of her two little sisters with whom she has a big age gap. "At first, when we were in France, I sent a lot of photos to Moldova, so that my mother could get to know everyone. After that, we sent more by phone and I sent fewer photos of the two younger ones,"explains Diana, Olivia's mother. Some of them also feature my parents, my brothers and sisters and me. It's funny to be in a Moldavian village and find familiar photos.
"May 1st, Labour Day, and May 9th, the celebration of the end of the Second World War, were public holidays. We had to go to the parades or we didn't get the bonuses on our wages,"says Tatiana. 9 May is no longer a public holiday in Moldova. " The end of April and Easter used to coincide more or less with Lenin's birthday. There were public holidays in Moldova on those days. It was so that people could concentrate on the birthday and not on the religious festival," continues Tatiana.
Crossing the border into Romania in May 1990 had a huge impact on Tatiana. On 6 May 1990 to be precise. The event was significant because it was the first time (and only time) that Tatiana and the other Moldovans had been able to cross the border without papers since the Second World War. This moment of freedom meant a lot to her, but it only lasted a few days. In 1995, Tatiana was visited by a very important figure at the time. Mircea Snegur, the first Moldovan president after communism, came to Pélivan. A visit was organised to a family, Tatiana's family. He went to Tatiana's mother's house. The whole village perched on a tree to watch the event or the whole village perched on a tree to watch the event. Security checked everything from cleanliness to glasses and even tasted the food before the President. " It was impressive! ” What Tatiana would like most of all for the future is for Moldova to join the European Union.
Olivia has no particular interest in politics. " It's mainly my father who follows what's going on. ” When she was 18 she went out to vote. Her first elections were the 2022 presidential elections. " For the first round, we tried to get information here and there about the bigger parties because there are a lot of them but we more or less knew who had a chance. In the second round, it was simpler. You vote for the least worst. ” Of course, she hasn't missed out on the latest events to hit the headlines: the strikes against pension reforms, " which directly affect my generation but also people who work in the building trade like my father, for example". Or the protests and revolts following the death of young Nahel. " For me, these are temporary events that quickly disappear from the news. During moral education, we learned not to take sides and to see both sides. I tried to put myself in the policeman's head to understand why he had fired, but I couldn't find an answer." The start of the war also left its mark on her: " It's distressing for my generation, 40 years on things are repeating themselves like what's happening at the moment in Russia ." Olivia recounts visiting a memorial in Chisinau a few days ago. A train carriage is placed in front of a government building, which was used for the deportation, as a reminder of what happened. Olivia says: " My great-grandmother, my father's grandmother, was deported twice. The first time at the age of 12, the same age as my little sister! She lost her parents at that age in the Gulag. At my school, there were lots of Zeitzeugen (Witnesses to History) to talk about art crimes, especially the Holocaust. We're told that telling the story is important so that it doesn't happen again, but it does happen again and again."
Tatiana has been away for a while, finishing something in the kitchen. When she returns, we finish the interview. When she talks about power, Tatiana thinks directly of Putin. Olivia is thinking more generally of political power, but especially dictatorship. "You can also simply associate the notion with the verb: to be able to do, to be capable of doing. Political power has been associated very negatively, but basically, when power is given it's for the better, not for one person in particular, like a cult."
Tatiana looks at us: „Gata?“ Which is Roumanian and means" End."Da, gata", I reply, thanking her. Tatiana doesn't waste a minute going back into the kitchen to make a coffee and hold her last grandchild. Olivia told me later that she had a great time chatting with her grandmother. Some of the stories were new to her.