Moldova, the least visited European country with the poorest economy per capita and lowest Human Development Index, remains somewhat of a mystery to the modern world. This former principality was annexed to the Russian Empire and ultimately made a Soviet satellite, since 1991 a parliamentary republic — with a neutral status yet ambiguous relationship to both EU/NATO and Russia/CIS today.


In Moldova, 93.3% of the population identify as Orthodox Christian; due to the country’s complicated history, both Russian and Romanian Orthodoxy lay claim as the national church. There is, however, no state religion, with freedom regarding same constitutionally guaranteed. In practice, more than 58% attend church infrequently and another 10% not at all — though 80% claim a high degree of trust in the religious institution.


Moldovans suffered terribly in the Soviet era, with routine deportations to Eastern Siberia as well as arrests and executions, a major drought and export policy-induced famine, and more. The Soviets also established a “Moldovan” identity separate from that of Romanian. A movement for democracy began in 1980s, with independence by 1991; the eastern area of Transnistria declared its independence from Moldova at the same time, though unrecognized as such to this day.


Soviet mass deportations of Moldovans to Siberia, in 1941, 1942, and 1951, resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. Deemed “enemies of the state” and sent for “re-education,” these purges included political and religious figures, academics and other intellectuals, entrepreneurs — and countless children. Considered an “open wound” still today, an annual commemoration takes place each July.


The Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine had a devastating effect also on neighboring Moldova — so much so, that more than 30 years later many are still struggling with its consequences. More than 80% of the country was contaminated; 672 died from involvement in the liquidation process, while more than 2500 became disabled. The health impact is expected to continue for several decades.


Moldova today is slowly becoming a tourist destination, for its wine production and natural scenery. Though the nation is highest in Europe for alcohol consumption and related disease, and until recently ranked globally as “unhappiest,” things are beginning to improve. Economic and banking upturns were seen in 2018; a change of government in June of this year has resulted in the introduction of reforms: reinforcing democracy and rule of law, decreasing corruption, and addressing human rights concerns.


Moldova has a long cultural tradition, overlapping with that of Romania, and including the full range of the arts. Fine arts, performance, folklore, and especially literature are well represented. A rich heritage includes archaeological sites, monasteries and churches, fortresses, dwellings and artifacts, from as far back as the Paleolothic Era; the people’s rootedness and self-expression run very deep indeed.




Kosovo is a tiny landlocked country in Europe’s Balkan region, in an area inhabited by humans for 10,000 years; earliest cultures in this area include Starcevo and Vinca. The area was occupied by Romans, then by Slavic migration, an identity predominant today; other major influences have included Bulgarian Empire, Byzantines, Ottoman rule, and Yugoslavia — first kingdom, then Communist, and Serbia.


The statehood of Kosovo is denied by Serbia, which lays claim to the area; Kosovo first declared its independence in 1990, and fought a bloody war with Serbia for more than a year (1998-99), finally declaring full independence only in 2008. To date, 112 UN states recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty, including all Balkan states except Serbia; another 11 have withdrawn their initial support.


The people of Kosovo are typically seen as a mix of Albanian, Ottoman, Romance, and Slavic cultures. While more than 95% identify as Muslim, the society is secularised and freedom of religious belief — including the absence thereof — constitutionally protected. Kosovo ranks 1st in Southern Europe and 9th globally for its religious tolerance.


The war for independence, fought a mere 20 years ago (1998-99), remains very much in the social consciousness. This one is dedicated to all those who went missing during that time — an estimated 1600, still unaccounted for. Earlier this year, an exchange of remains was pledged between Belgrade and Pristina — though with little action thus far.


The Heroinat Memorial may be Pristina’s most poignant remembrance of its war victims. A powerful tribute to women who were subjected to rape as a war crime, it is made of 20,000 pins — the estimated number of women victimised. Many women fought in the war, more in the resistance movement. Like all such memorials, this provides a public space of mourning and tribute.


The Mother Teresa Society established support services in Kosovo as of 1990, in the period leading up to and including the war for independence. Interestingly, in an overwhelmingly Muslim population, a Mother Teresa cathedral was built in 2007 and finally consecrated in 2017. Only 2% of the population is actually Roman Catholic.


Daily life in Pristina and elsewhere in Kosovo keeps to its traditions even as it continues to modernise, as seen in its street markets. Here the men are seen working side-by-side with the women, the market typically situated near a mosque — both at the centre of village life. Gender roles remain more traditional, however; women have the right to work, vote, and own property — but still own less than 10% of businesses.


The now defunct Christ the Saviour Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Pristina serves as a visual reminder that the conflict between Kosovo and its former overlord is far from resolved even now. NATO actions in support of Kosovo during its independence war have been questioned; Serbia refuses to recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty. Last year, an ethnic-Serbian politician in Kosovo was murdered; Serbia blocked Kosovo’s entry into Interpol, after which the latter raised tariffs of the former. Peace talks were resumed this year — though without progress. And so the conflict continues.




Indonesia is one of the world’s most diverse countries. The archipelagic nation is 14th largest by land and 4th most populous, with more than 17,000 islands and 300 distinct ethnic and linguistic groups. It’s no wonder, yet also wondrous, that Indonesians have actively adopted the motto, “Unity in Diversity.”


Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim-majority population, though religious choice is permitted and the country also includes Hindus and Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants — and “Confucianists” (though strictly speaking, not a religion). The practice of Islam is 99% Sunni, though both Shia and Ahmadi are also present. Antecedent to all is an indigenous animism, dynamism, and ancestral worship typical of Austronesian peoples.


Balinese rituals are a synthesis of Hinduism and indigenous animistic beliefs. The island’s Hinduism originated on Java and is itself a syncretism of Shivaism and Buddhism, while the underlying Austronesian animistic practices, which further integrate a practice of ancestor worship as seen in China, can be found in similar forms throughout Asia. Their island, according to the Balinese, belongs to the supreme deity Sanghyang Widhi — held by the people in sacred trust.


The religious practices of Indonesia’s Balinese are strongly integrated with the arts: theatre, dance, visual, music, literature. Religion and art are inseparable — neither would exist without the other, just as nature and divinity or the spirit world utterly co-exist.


Even the daily offerings to the gods and the unseen world, as prepared by Indonesia’s Balinese, must be aesthetically pleasing. Religious practice is intertwined with daily life … as are the arts, and as such, worship and beauty become one.


Art in all forms is very much a part of Indonesian life. In Yogyakarta, art is deeply valued — including independent, alternative, and even post-alternative forms. Here children are studying art not in an art academy, though these also abound — but at the Affandi Museum, itself an alternative space, established by one of Indonesia’s most well-known painters of the same name.


Indonesia is one of the earliest inhabited areas of the world, as early as 1.5 million years ago by anthropological evidence such as “Java Man” (later identified as homo erectus). Other such fossils have indicated that the archipelago is home to some of the earliest hominids outside of Africa — including one of the smallest, discovered in 2004 and thought to represent an as-yet unidentified species. Austronesian, this is one of the earliest cultural groups still in existence today.


There have been royal courts as well as Sultanates in Indonesia throughout its history — traditionally, 2 in Java alone. For 350 years, Indonesia was colonised or otherwise occupied by the Dutch, regaining independence only in 1949 through armed conflict. Though a constitutional republic today with an elected president, the country maintains a number of courts — in Java, Bali, Borneo and the Spice Islands — along with a call to return the Sultanates. One of the world’s largest democracies today, Indonesia maintains its royalty as a matter of history, pageantry, and cultural identity.


Indonesia has achieved a certain degree of affluence today, as evidenced by this shopping mall in Sumatra’s economic hub of Medan. The country is widely considered one of the 4 emerging economies in SE Asia (along with Thailand, Malaysia, and Philippines) — and despite the 2004 tsunami disaster, the likes of which the modern world has never before seen.


Indonesia is not without its tragedies, and on a grand scale. The 2004 tsunami saw an estimated death toll of 170,000; many other natural disasters have also been endured, the most recent in 2018 with 2 earthquakes and an approximate 5,000 deaths.A tragedy of human making occurred in 1965-66, from which the nation continues to heal: the so-called “Communist Purge,” a genocide over just a few months in which 500,000 to 3 million lost their lives.




Kenya, a culturally rich country known for its tea and coffee, began with migration from what is today Sudan, Swahili its dominant influence. After 74 years as a British protectorate and following years of the Mau Mau Uprising, the country gained its independence in 1963. Tourism, especially in the form of safari, is a major economic driver today.


The Swahili traditions have long been the primary influence in the culture of Kenya. There is a widespread belief among many people of Swahili descent that theirs is an Arabic or Persian heritage, though this is also disputed — but there are influences of both, and early Swahili city-states were followers of Islam. Today, 83% of Kenyans identify as Christian.


As in nearly all of Africa, Kenya is rich in resources and thus has been too attractive to European colonisers, becoming a British protectorate from 1888 until 1962. Recently, China has become a major investor as well as lender in Kenya, as the country’s largest creditor with 72% of total bilateral debt — prompting some to refer to its “conquering” of Kenya.


Women of Kenya are still struggling for their rights as full and equal citizens. While traditional gender roles existed from early times, women also participated in the marketplace — until the era of British imperialism, generally viewed as one of increased patriarchy and misogyny, a legacy carrying on even today. The country ranks 0.548 or 122nd out of 152 on the Gender Inequality Index; women make up 20% of parliament yet 62% of the workforce, while only 25% have a secondary education.


One of the recent advances for Kenyan women and girls is the country’s 2011 legal ban against the traditional practice of genital cutting; a rite of passage, groups are now advocating for alternative rites. The practice has continued illegally, however, as well as by medical justification — and the battle for its eradication is far from over.


Kenya also wrestles with longstanding terrorism, including several major incidents and their ongoing legacy. In 1998, more than 200 were killed in a bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi; 2013 saw the gunfire attack at the Westgate Mall, with 71 dead. In January of this year, an attack on a luxury hotel complex resulted in 19 deaths with more recent warnings of threat. Kenya is the target of terrorism by neighboring Somalia, specifically the al-Shabaab extremist group. 69855287_486126771944859_2603194611706888192_o

Today the same shopping mall that was the site of 2011 terrorism and tragedy has been fully rebuilt, an emblem of Kenya’s resilience — and its wealth, side-by-side with its poverty. Its economy ranks 65th in the world, with room for improvement; as of this time last year, the GDP was 6% above expectations, with telecommunications, transport, and construction all expanding.


Many Kenyans work abroad in the US, as well as in Middle East, Europe, and Asia, all sending remittances home to boost the country’s economy. In its “Vision 2030” plan for development, Kenya identifies 3 pillars for improvement: economic, social, and political. Foreign relations are also important to the country, and woven into its cultural makeup — including their pride in Kenyan descendants abroad, such as former US President Barack Obama.


Above all — in light of multiple terrorist attacks and other insecurities, including those in neighboring countries of Sudan, Somalia, and Uganda — Kenyans, like people everywhere, long for peace.




Chile is a long, narrow country stretching from Atacama Desert to Antarctica, and between Andes Mountains and Pacific Ocean — such varied topography and climes also contributing to a broad cultural variance. Two centuries of colonisation by Catholic Spain — from which the indigenous Mapuche managed to remain independent, an earlier dominance of Incan civilisation, and a 20th century leftist dictatorship have all left their cultural mark. 69536529_482664168957786_2035442262078390272_n

Chilean culture is often associated with the Andes mountains — but with 4,270 km of coastline, there is also a powerful marine influence. The early Mapuche peoples traded with Polynesians, according to recently discovered anthropological evidence; the seafaring Spanish found it all too tempting to take control of the country. Today, this gives the nation a particular responsibility for environmental concerns including climate change, and the capital of Santiago will host the 25th Convention on Climate [COP25] in December of this year.


The indigenous peoples of Chile, today representing 10% of the country’s total population, is richly diverse. With 9 groups in total, the continuously independent Mapuche by far the largest at 85% of the total, the country established a special commission and protective law in 1993. Discrimination and marginalization remain, however, as they are not recognized by the constitution itself, and the law does not meet international standards.


The Pre-Colombian civilisations of Chile were culturally rich, representing 10 peoples gathered in 3 regions. Early mythologies were animistic, with a shamanic healing tradition of ‘matchitun’ among the Mapuche that exists to today. This early mask, likely shamanic and dated 400BCE – 500CE, is from the Moche people of the north — who also lived in Peru. Incans came much later, their rule brief: 1470s-1530s.


The arts, including street art as seen here, have flourished throughout Chile’s history, from Pre-Colombian era to the present day. Music and dance, literature — especially poetry, and visual arts all share a place of value within the culture, to which film was added in earliest 20th century.


It’s now 46 years since General Pinochet’s dictatorship of Chile began, and he died in 2006 — but the horrors of his US-backed presidency and the destructiveness it inflicted on the society continue to define Chilean culture today. Social conflict and trauma are said to take up to 5 generations to heal — and the impunity of Pinochet and his cronies, despite multiple findings by both Chilean and international courts, has served to keep the wound open — with missing people and unanswered questions even now.


The Pinochet legacy of societal disintegration and human rights violations has contributed to poverty and social ills in Chile even today. In 2014, the nation established a system for social protection — yet some remain on the margins of society. Chile Solidario is one of the more successful programs of social protection today — but even in the capital of Santiago, homelessness remains an issue.