During the summers of 2005 and 2006, I conducted research on cultural policy and other topics that brought me into direct contact with many culture workers.' I interviewed culture workers in national institutions and the capital's Municipal Department of Culture, and visual and performing artists. I attended seminars and conferences and participated in informal activities in and out of the workplace with MBT Shoe my informants (Cash 2007). I had previously met and interviewed many of the same individuals in 2001, while conducting research on folkloric ensembles, festivals, and related cultural activities (Cash 2004).
The terms 'Romania' and 'Europe' were used by interview respondents frequently and these two 'places' were used by culture workers to assert opposition to the Communist Party, and to restore and strengthen professional networks that were being threatened by concurrent structural changes in cultural institutions. Culture workers were not the only individuals who talked about 'Europe' with a sense of urgency. The legacy of identity politics in Moldova means that both 'Romania' and 'Europe' figure in politically charged conversations throughout Moldova, and much of my argument could apply equally well to broader segments of the population. I limit my analysis to culture workers, however, for several reasons.
First, culture workers form a distinct social category, making it possible to identify dominant themes of conversation and their meanings with some degree of confidence.2 Second, 'Europe' acquires a particular urgency in the social imagination of culture workers, because it is deeply entangled with their professional identity. Third, culture workers are particularly vulnerable to shifts in MBT Chapa political power. Culture workers are employed in institutions under the direction of the Ministry of Culture or municipal and county level Departments of Culture. Consequently, funding, personnel, and institutional missions are often changed 'from above.'
Additionally, many of the professional activities undertaken by culture workers require cross-institutional collaboration and changes in one institution can easily impact upon others. Fourth, culture workers also share a common identity inherited from the late-Soviet period that opposes 'culture' to 'polities' which places them in continual opposition to State power. For all of these reasons, symbolic geography is significant for this group. Nevertheless, rather than making culture workers an exceptional case, their use of symbolic geography to navigate threatening circumstances reflects more general patterns of invoking symbolic places to assert social and political identities.