A review of the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova (Arhiva Națională a Republicii Moldova) and the Archive of Social-Political Organizations of the Republic of Moldova (Arhiva Organizațiilor Social-Politice a Republicii Moldova) (Chișinău, Moldova)
In its half-century as the capital of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (1940-1990), Chișinău gained a reputation as the greenest city in the Soviet Union. Although the city of about 800,000 residents has never been a major tourist destination, its tall trees and sleepy streets make it a perfectly pleasant place to live and conduct research. As both Russian and Romanian/Moldovan are widely spoken, the city is equally accessible for scholars interested in Moldova’s history as a part of Greater Romania or as a constituent republic of the Soviet Union. My research interests in nationalities in the postwar period, Soviet identity, and language brought me to Chișinău for pre-dissertation research in June, 2014. I spent a month conducting archival research on the construction and design of monuments to the “Great Patriotic War” in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova.
The National Archive of the Republic of Moldova is located on strada Gheorghe Asachi 67/B and is easily accessible from the city center by trolley buses #10 and #24. The entrance is marked by a small sign in Romanian. The archive is open from 9:00 to 5:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday; and 11:00 to 7:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During the summer the archive often fills up with local scholars and amateur historians, so it is advisable to arrive when the archive opens in order to secure a table. Although staff members typically take a lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00, the archive remains open during this period. The archives are closed on weekends and on the last Friday of the month. The reading room is located on the second floor of the building and was recently renovated.
The Archive of Social-Political Organizations of the Republic of Moldova is the former Communist Party archive. It is located in the Moldovan Ministry of Justice in the city center, 82 strada 31 august 1989. The main entrance to the building is labeled Ministerul Justiției al Republicii Moldova. The guard can give you directions to the archive; it is a short walk down the hall past the office of European integration. The archive is open only three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from 8:30 to 4:30. The reading room remains open during lunch.
Before you go, it is worth attempting to e-mail the archive in order to let them know you are coming. If they do not respond (which is likely), your best bet is to get in contact with a historian at a local university who may be able to offer some guidance through the process. That said, the process for gaining access to the archive is not particularly onerous. In order to receive your archive pass, you will need to bring a letter of introduction from your institution explaining your project (in Romanian or Russian) and a copy of your passport. The two archives require different passes, so you will need to bring a set of documents to each.
Researchers entering the National Archive, the busier of the two, must place their bags in one of the designated lockers near the museum entrance. The Archive of Social-Political Organizations, being smaller and less formal, has no such system.
The archives’ organization system will be familiar to those who have previously worked in former Soviet archives. In the former Soviet Union, the highest level in the taxonomy of documents is the fond [Rom: fond, Rus: фонд]. Each fond is a big collection of documents—in Moldova, for example, the documents of the Ministry of Culture of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic can be found in Fond R-3011. The next level of taxonomy is the opis’ [Rom: inventar, Rus: опись], which is a catalog containing a brief description of the documents. Each opis’ contains a short description of what is located in a delo [Rom: dosar, Rus: дело], which is basically a stitched-together collection of documents. If you do not already know the numbers of the files you need, your first step is to consult the Romanian-language archive guides [Rom: îndrumător, Rus: путеводитель], which give you a rough idea of what is in each fond. (The National Archive has a digital version of their archive guide, which can save you some time through keyword searching.) Then you may order the necessary opisi in order to determine which documents you need. If you are lucky, there may be a fond overview [Rom: revista fondului, Rus: обзор фонда] that indexes the contents of the fond on a thematic basis. Many of these indices and catalogs are located in the National Archives’ reading room; you need to order others with a special form (the archive assistants will bring them to you relatively promptly). Catalogs and documents from the Soviet period are typically in Russian, but materials from the interwar period will be in Romanian.
Unfortunately for historians of the Soviet Union, Moldova’s former KGB archives are currently open only to Moldovan citizens. However, researchers in the National Archives can access about three thousand personal files of the victims of communism transferred after 2009 from the former KGB and MVD archives, and another twenty thousand are currently being processed for transfer (Fond R-3401). The newly transferred files also include the minutes and sentences (Rom: procese verbale, sentințe, Rus: протоколы, приговоры) of the Troika during the Great Terror in the interwar Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Fond R-3396, inv. 1 and Fond R-3402, inv. 2, respectively), as well as many others.
Once you have some fond, opis’, and delo numbers in hand, you will need to fill out a request form. The archive assistants can help you with the forms if you do not understand Romanian. Researchers are limited to fifteen documents per day, and files usually arrive after two days. They are sometimes willing to fulfill requests for the next day, but in this case it is best to ask nicely and turn in your request by 2:00 p.m.
Researchers can obtain digital photographs of documents for a very low fee per page (30 bani, about 3 U.S. cents) after filling out a photo request form. In my experience the digital photographs were competently and correctly done. The staff who do the photographing will take a picture of the cover of each new delo, making it easy to keep track of the numbers for each file. At the end of your stay, the archive workers will tally up your bill and send you to a bank to deposit money in the archive’s account. Then you simply bring them the receipt, and they will give you the files on your flash drive. A law was recently passed by which researchers in urgent need of copies are entitled to photocopy up to five files a day for a daily fee (50 MDL, about $3.20).
Overall, the National Archive is relatively easy place to conduct research compared to institutions in many other countries in the former Soviet region. The staff is cordial, and the reading room even has air conditioning in the summer. I found the staff of the Archive of Social-Political Organizations willing to bend over backwards to help me gather all the documents I needed in time. The reading room atmosphere is businesslike but friendly. Your fellow researchers, many of whom are “archive rats” with a nigh-encyclopedic knowledge of the contents of the archives, may be able to point you in the right direction if you run into problems finding documents. The working language of both archives is Romanian, but the archive assistants are quite willing to speak in Russian if need be. Although language politics can get quite heated in Moldova, I encountered no discrimination against me as a Russian-speaking foreigner in the archives. Fluency in Romanian is certainly appreciated as a sign of respect, however. Researchers without fluency in either language would find it quite difficult to work here.
Last but not least: lunch. There is a good, cheap cafeteria located a few buildings down from the National Archive in the headquarters of the gendarmerie. This being Moldova, you can simply walk into the headquarters of the country’s elite police force—just let the guards know you are coming from the arhivă and going to the cantină. A local researcher may be willing to show you the way! There is an equally nice cafeteria in the basement of the Ministry of Justice, where I got quite hooked on the eggplant salad. Both cafeterias allow you to get in and out quickly in order to return to your dela as soon as possible.
Department of History
Image: Photo by author, Monument to Veterans of the Afghanistan War in Chișinău, Moldova.