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New Europe

Day Forty-eight: Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transdniester

A tea-dance in Chişinău 
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A tea-dance in the park in Chişinău harks back to the communist days, less than twenty years ago, when Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union.
Michael Palin - New EuropeTheir main product is brandy, and some of the classic bottles are on sale in Chisinau for 200 dollars (half a yearly wage for some). I notice that all their bottles have 'Made in Moldova' on the label. Dimitri explains that they have to print the country of origin and Transdniester is not recognised as a country. Apparently Moldova will only let them use the name if they register and this means paying tax to Chisinau.

There have been serious problems recently when the Russians, who take the majority of Kvint's output, used relabelling regulations as an excuse to embargo all Moldovan wines and spirits. This blockade has lasted six months and cost them eight million dollars' worth of orders already.

There seems to be no great sense of crisis emanating from the boardroom, where we're taken to sample their top brandies in the company of the dashing managing director, Oleg Byev.

As we sit round a long mahogany table, on whose immaculate white linen tablecloth stand nine brandy bottles, a set of cut-glass goblets, a bowl of fruit and assorted dishes of cold meats, cheese and olives, Byev is relaxed about just about everything. He's seen the company's output decline from thirty million litres a year in the Soviet period to ten million a year now, but, as a brandy-maker of forty years' experience, he welcomes the way the emphasis has changed from quantity to quality.

His market is less protected, which means he now has to compete in an increasingly international arena on excellence alone.

I asked him how he felt when Moldova descended into civil war in 1992.

His answer is philosophical, and perhaps conditioned by the fact that we were both holding glasses of very fine brandy, specially bottled for the 22nd Communist Party Congress in 1961 and known as 'The Party Spirit'.

'If war and peace were decided by wine-makers, there would never be any war.'

Dimitri was right. There is nothing to do in Transdniester tonight but have supper in the canteen and watch Moldova's Under-21s take on Switzerland. In the stadium, which would have many Premiership clubs boggling with envy, there are maybe 3,000 people, of whom half are UEFA officials and the other half security. Orange-jacketed stewards are in their element, looking nasty and being paid for it.

Switzerland win 3-1, which is perhaps why Mr Gusan is reluctant to give us the promised interview. Word has it he left the country in a private jet straight after the game.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-eight: Chisinau to Tiraspol, Transdniester
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Tiraspol
  • Book page no: 122

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