In Chisinau, the Youth Fights Corruption and Saves Its Cultural Heritage

On Sunday 15th of November, Republica Moldova elected its new President : Maia Sandu won against the pro-Russia President Igor Dodon. But more than a cleavage between pro-Europeans and pro-Russians, it’s the fight against corruption that built trust towards Maia Sandu. And this fight found a base with the #OccupyGuguță movement, that aimed to save an emblematic building against a real-estate project.

Last year, I went to Chisinau for a photo-report on the cultural and social projects inside old houses or buildings. Unfortunately, the publication was stopped because of the Covid—19 pandemic. I publish it now for Spruce Up Europe. Enjoy ! – Marine Leduc

# OccupyGuguță: when a building becomes the symbol of a social movement

In summer 2018, hundreds of people gathered in front of the former Guguță cafeteria to protest against a real estate project that would have destroyed this symbolic place, built in the 1970s.

“A luxury hotel and business center with several floors would have been built instead, disfiguring Stefan Cel Mare Park, yet considered to be the city’s first historical monument” says Ana Dabija, 30, founder of Save Chisinau. This platform initiated in 2014 tries to make locals aware of their city’s unique architecture and the phenomena of corruption linked to real estate projects.

The social movement initiated to save the Guguță cafeteria became huge because the construction project was linked to a bribe scandal: the construction company is controlled by Vlad Plahotniuc, the powerful oligarch, president of the Democratic Party, accused of influencing the government and of embezzling a billion euros in 2015.

“It is forbidden to build a building of more than two floors in the city center. So he bought a few people to get the authorization” Ana Dabija explains. The oligarch fled the country in June 2019, after the alliance between the pro-Russian socialist party of President Dodon and the social-liberal and pro-European bloc ACUM of Maria Sandu, who became Prime Minister on June 9, 2019 and was elected President on November 12, 2020.

However, # OccupyGuguță has not died out. Even though the gatherings in front of the cafeteria have come to a halt, this laboratory of democracy has created connections between various demands, whether social, political, ecological or urban, and continue to be heard today. Moreover, on October 19, 2019, at the instigation of the demonstrators, the National Council of Historic Monuments canceled the construction notice of the business center.

“The building of the Guguță Café must have a public utility and must offer the possibility to all the inhabitants to enjoy it.”

But the struggle has not ended: on May 19, 2020, the company Regata Imobiliare sued the City Hall for revoking the real-estate project. In June, people from the movement made a statement : “The building of the Guguță Café must have a public utility and must offer the possibility to all the inhabitants to enjoy it. We do not want it to remain abandoned, but we want the responsible institutions […] to show responsibility and interest and to help the inhabitants to save this space. They should demonstrate that citizens’ rights are above those of the private financial interest.”

The sad case of Art Labyrinth in Casa Zemstvei

We already wrote a full article about this beautiful place. In 2011, the Art Labyrinth association moved into an old 19th century building and became the main alternative and autonomous place in Chisinau. They are among the first to defend vegetarianism and ecology in the city. In addition to an ecological festival held every year outside the capital, the association brings together a community of artists and uses the space for a café, workshops, exhibitions and concerts. However, the Ministry of Culture and Education, which owns the building, wants to renovate it without taking into account the demands of Art Labyrinth.

In February 2020, the Ministry of Culture asked them and other cultural NGOs to leave the space before the 3d of February without any concrete reason. A petition to save the space was signed by more than 2,500 people and the news was spread in the press and social media. But the pandemic aggravated the situation, making them indebted because they couldn’t held their activities and therefore couldn’t pay the rent to the Ministry.

Today, the place is not open for some time but the movement initiated the Independent Culture Sector Coalition – a union of many cultural organizations. It will allow organizations and artists to represent their interests as a unified force when interacting with the state and with other organizations.

Artcor: moving between three architectural eras

Artcor is a creative industries association based in the building of the Academy of Music, Theater and Visual Arts. Over 1000 m² have been recently renovated to accommodate offices, meeting rooms, music studios and a library. In the courtyard, three centuries are revealed before our eyes: a manor built in the 19th century by a large bourgeois family, a building from the 1950s, of socialist inspiration, where the Academy is located, and finally, an astonishing example of contemporary architecture, completed in 2019. It hosts Artcor events.

Artcor and Ana Dabija, from Save Chisinau, are considering the possibility of renovating and using the spaces of the mansion, “to reintroduce it into the cultural and social life of the city” she says.

A new space for creation: Casa de Creatie

Piotr Alii, 26, is a fashion designer from Chisinau. Together with his sidekick Cristina Miron, 31, they were the first in the country to create fashion shows in the form of artistic and theatrical performances. We met them before the official opening of Casa de Creatie in October 2019, a place “where all kinds of artists will come together, from fashion to poetry and visual arts” Piotr says.

You can find the full article about the place on our website.

Studios of the Union of Plastic Artists

Hidden behind a large real estate project, a building that looks like a former factory houses the workshops of the Union of Plastics Artists.

Established during the socialist era, artist studios were funded by the state to create propaganda works. Today, this place is almost unknown to the public and artists find it more difficult to make a living from their works. This is why other young artists have started to organize tours in this historic and unique space.

When a member of the Union dies or leaves, another artist takes up residence in his studio.

On the pictures: studio of the painter Valeriu Jabinschi, who made it his second home.

From soviet era buildings to mansions from the 19th century, Chisinau has a lot of architectural layers to offer, which makes it a special city to discover. Hopefully, new movements were initiated and the new political changes could give a fresh impetus to save the city’s artistical spaces and architectural treasures.

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