PAVEL Golovko ignores the unraveling bandages on his leg as he hobbles around the hospital, showing that bullets can pierce his body but can't wound his fierce nationalism. Mr. Golovko, a city council member here, is one of seven men still recovering from wounds received when police reportedly fired on supporters of a pro-Russian renegade republic early this month. Three people died in the incident - the worst of the increasingly volatile ethnic conflict in the southern Soviet republic of Moldavia.
``We were born under the red flag and we will die under the red flag,'' Golovko announces.
Golovko's attitude shows how finding a compromise to Moldavia's ethnic problem will be close to impossible in the short term.
The issues in Moldavia are autonomy and cultural integrity. The mainly ethnic Russian area along the Dniester River, including this city about 30 miles northeast of the Moldavian capital of Kishinev, declared independence from the rest of the republic in September.
The move followed a similar action in August by the Gagauz - ethnic Turks living in the south of the republic. Moldavia, comprising mainly ethnic Romanians, declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union in June.
The chief source of tension is language. Moldavians have been quick to spread the Romanian language and culture as Moscow's firm rule disintegrates. Romanian red, yellow, and blue flags fly above government buildings in the capital, for example. As a result, the ethnic minorities say they feel discriminated against, adding that the independence drives will protect their cultural identities.
``The foundation of the Dniester republic springs from the most fundamental aspect of democracy - the will of the people to defend their rights,'' said Anna Volkova, a people's deputy of the provisional parliament of the breakaway republic centered in Tiraspol.
The ethnic Russians' actions have angered many Moldavians, who accuse the Russians of not trying to assimilate. Many Russians moved to Moldavia after it was annexed by the Soviet Union from Romania in 1940.
``There's one official language in Moldavia - Moldavian - and that's the way it should be,'' said Prime Minister Mircea Druk in an interview Monday. ``It's only logical and normal that someone who arrives in a new place try to learn the native customs and language.''
The Popular Front, the most powerful Moldavian nationalist group, has formed volunteer detachments that have been sent to rebelling regions to bring the renegades under control.
``The minorities say discrimination is taking place, but they can't provide concrete examples,'' said Yuri Roshca, first vice president of the Popular Front's Executive Council, in Kishinev.
``This whole thing is a Kremlin provocation,'' Mr. Roshca continued. ``When the center understood they were losing control over us, they unleashed the Russian minority. The central government is relying on its imperial instincts to divide and rule.''
Many Russian and ethnic Ukrainians, who also live in the republic, feel the Moldavians are the provocateurs.
``Adopting the Romanian flag is a direct challenge,'' said Nikolai Valtin, a ethnic Ukrainian factory worker in Kishinev.
The biggest fear among ethnic Russians is that Moldavia some day may try to reunite with Romania.
The Popular Front says it has no such desires.
The seemingly irreconcilable differences among ethnic groups are most noticeable in Dubossary, scene of the shootings Nov. 2. Details of the incident remain sketchy.
Some witnesses said police sent from Kishinev fired on an unarmed crowd with smiles on their faces, yet no one offered a satisfactory explanation as to why the three dead were ethnic Moldavians.
A conciliation commission comprising representatives of the Dniester, Gagauz, and Moldavian sides have been trying to find a solution to the problem. On Monday, the Moldavian parliament reconvened with deputies representing the Dniester and Gagauz regions boycotting.
Also, the Dniester republic is planning to hold elections Nov. 25, and many Russians say they want to invite Soviet Interior Ministry troops to come in and keep the peace.