Moldova was one of the richest states in the former Soviet Union. Today it’s the poorest country in Europe and the problems facing the country are massive. 34 percent of the population live under the poverty rate and survive on less than 1,70 Euro a day. Is there any hope for the nation which will soon become an EU neighbor?

Moldova became an independent country in 1991 when the Soviet empire collapsed. It still seems like an entirely different world and the gap between rich and poor is massive.

Officially Moldova has 4.4 million inhabitants. Unofficially it’s a lot less. No one knows the exact figure. Between 300,000 and 800,000 people have left Moldova to work abroad. Most of them illegally. It’s their only option because work in Moldova is sparse and badly paid. The International Organisation for Migration in Moldova estimates that Moldovans abroad send home around 400 million Euros every year. Money, that Moldovan tax authorities never get a share in.

That’s one of the reasons why the EU is tempting. Both economically and culturally. Especially among young people who wish to free themselves from the Russian dominance of many years. Perhaps there is something symbolic in the inscription on the flags on this particular Eurovision evening in Chisinau: Eu (red hart) Moldova, it says. I love Moldova. Sadly, Europe doesn’t love Moldova tonight. The country ends up on a disappointing 20th place.

Poverty aside, the fact is that the EU is getting closer. And once Moldova’s neighbouring country Romania becomes a part of the union it will be just next door. That may be as soon as in January 2007. A Moldovan membership, however, is still only a theoretical possibility. Moldova has a lot to learn and many things must change before that can happen, is the word from Brussels. And Moldova is listening.

The self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria broke away at the same time as Moldova gained its independence. Moldova did not accept this secession since 40 percent of the country’s heavy industry is located in Transnistria. A short, but bloody – 700 were killed – civil war followed, ending in truce and a division of Moldova after a year.

Since then Russian troops have been stationed in Transnistria and the area has acted as an independent republic with its own army, flag, passport, national hymn and currency which is not accepted anywhere else. The country is not acknowledged by anyone other than its own government but it benefits from the fact that Russia is supporting its right to exist. The OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, believes this is done because without Transnistria Russia would lose its reason to have troops in the area and thereby its influence.

Moldova is also known for a more sinister export. Humans, that is, especially young girls. It’s called trafficking but is nothing but modern slavery. From 2000 to 2005, 1,760 victims of trafficking were recorded in Moldova, but they are a small part of a big industry. 65 percent of the victims are never registered.

Most of them are sold for sex. Others to do physical work or beg. It’s countries like Russia, Turkey and the Arabian Emirates who are interested in getting their hands on the victims.