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History of Moldova

The Moldovan plains were inhabited since ancient times by Dacians, and it is thought that the name derives from the Dacian words molta=many and dava=fortress, city.

Another variant is that was named after a river by a Hungarian noble.

Table of contents
1 Early History
2 Beginning of the Soviet Period
3 World War II
4 Postwar Reestablishment of Soviet Control
5 Increasing Self-Expression
6 Secession of Gagauzia and Transnistria
7 Independence

Early History

Moldova's Latin origins can be traced to the period of Roman occupation of nearby Dacia (in present-day Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia), ca. A.D. 105-270, when a culture was formed from the intermingling of Roman colonists and the local population. After the Roman Empire and its influence waned and its troops left the region in A.D. 271, a number of groups passed through the area, often violently: Huns, Ostrogoths, and Antes (who were Slavs). The Bulgarian Empire, the Magyars, the Pechenegs, and the Golden Horde (Mongols) also held sway temporarily. In the thirteenth century, Hungary expanded into the area and established a line of fortifications in Moldova near the Siretul River (in present-day Romania) and beyond. The region came under Hungarian suzerainty until an independent Moldovan principality was established by Prince Bogdan in 1349. Originally called Bogdania, the principality stretched from the Carpathian Mountains to the Nistru River and was later renamed Moldova, after the Moldova River in present-day Romania.

The Moldovians were subjected to vassal status by the Ottoman turks after their hard fought conquest of Wallachia. The greatest Moldavian, aptly named Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great) with his army of Boyars and retainers fought of invasions from the Turks, the Polish and the Tatars. Stefan fought 36 major battles and only lost 2. At the end of his reign, Moldovian independence was secured and no more Moldovian gold went to turkish hands as tribute. Moldova then experienced a "slump." Weak kings let incompitent boyars rule the state and not pay taxes, bankrupting the state. Moldova succumbed to Ottoman power in 1512 and was a tributary state of the empire for the next 300 years. In addition to paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire and later acceding to the selection of local rulers by Ottoman authorities, Moldova suffered repeated invasions by Turks, Crimean Tatars, and Russian

In 1792 the Treaty of Iasi forced the Ottoman Empire to cede all of its holdings in what is now Transnistria to the Russian Empire. An expanded Bessarabia (after the name of Wallachian king Basarab I) was annexed by, and incorporated into, the Russian Empire following the Russo-Turkish War of 1806- 12 according to the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812. In 1859 Moldovan territory west of the Prut River was united with Walachia. And in the same year, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected prince of Walachia and the part of Moldova that lay west of the Prut River, laying the foundations of modern Romania.

Beginning of the Soviet Period

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 encouraged the various nationalities in the Russian Empire to gain their independence, Moldova became an independent Republic on December 2 1917. On the request of the new Moldovan administration ("Sfatul tării"), on December 13, Romanian troops entered Bessarabia. On March 27 1918 there was a vote for the unification with Romania.

After the creation of the Soviet Union in December 1922, the Soviet government moved in 1924 to establish the Moldavian Autonomous Oblast on lands east of the Nistru River in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR). The capital of the oblast was at Balta (Balta, in Ukrainian), in present-day Ukraine. Seven months later, the oblast was upgraded to the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian ASSR), even though its population was only 30 percent ethnic Romanian. The capital remained at Balta until 1929, when it was moved to Tiraspol (Tiraspol', in Russian).

World War II

Formerly ruled by Romania as the principality of Moldavia, Moldova was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a consequence of a secret protocol attached to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. On August 2, 1940, the Soviet government created the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian SSR), with its capital at Chisinau (Kishinėv, in Russian), by joining most of Bessarabia with a portion of the Moldavian ASSR (the rest was returned to the Ukrainian SSR). Part of the far northern Moldavian ASSR (Herta--in present-day Ukraine), northern Bukovina (see Glossary), and southern Bessarabia (bordering on the Black Sea) were taken from Romania and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR, leaving the Moldavian SSR landlocked.

In June 1941, German and Romanian troops attacked the Moldavian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR; the Nazis gave Romania, their ally, not only Bessarabia and northern Bukovina but also the land between the Nistru and Pivdennyy Buh (Yuzhnyy Bug, in Russian) rivers, north to Bar in Ukraine, which Romania named and administered as Transnistria. This arrangement lasted until August 1944, when Soviet forces reoccupied Bessarabia and Transnistria. A 1947 treaty formally returned Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria to the Soviet Union, and the previous Soviet administrative divisions and Russian place-names were reimposed.

Postwar Reestablishment of Soviet Control

The territory stayed as a part of the USSR after the WWII as Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and the state had a brutal denationalization policy toward the native Romanian population, the Soviets massacring, imprisoning and deporting to Siberia almost a million of innocent people, just for trying to change the population structure of Moldova. Secret police struck at nationalist groups; the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed on the "Moldavian" language; and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians were encouraged to immigrate to the Moldavian SSR, especially to Transnistria. The government's policies--requisitioning large amounts of agricultural products despite a poor harvest--induced a famine following the catastrophic drought of 1945-47, and political, communist party, and academic positions were given to members of non-Romanian ethnic groups (only 14 percent of the Moldavian SSR's political leaders were ethnic Romanians in 1946).

The ethnic cleansing was especially directed against the Romanian intellectuals that decided to stay in Moldova after the war and propaganda was made against everything that was Romanian.

The conditions imposed during the reestablishment of Soviet rule became the basis of deep resentment toward Soviet authorities--a resentment that soon manifested itself. During Leonid I. Brezhnev's 1950-52 tenure as first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia (CPM), he put down a rebellion of ethnic Romanians by killing or deporting thousands of people and instituting forced collectivization. Although Brezhnev and other CPM first secretaries were largely successful in suppressing "Moldavian" nationalism, the hostility of "Moldavians" smoldered for another three decades, until after Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power. His policies of glasnost and perestroika created conditions in which national feelings could be openly expressed and in which the Soviet republics could consider reforms.

Increasing Self-Expression

In this climate of openness, political self-assertion escalated in the Moldavian SSR in 1988. The year 1989 saw the formation of the Moldovan Popular Front (commonly called the Popular Front), an association of independent cultural and political groups that had finally gained official recognition. Large demonstrations by ethnic Romanians led to the designation of Romanian as the official language and the replacement of the head of the CPM. However, opposition was growing to the increasing influence of ethnic Romanians, especially in Transnistria, where the Yedinstvo-Unitatea (Unity) Intermovement had been formed in 1988 by the Slavic minorities, and in the south, where Gagauz Halkī (Gagauz People), formed in November 1989, came to represent the Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking minority there (see Ethnic Composition , this ch.).

The first democratic elections to the Moldavian SSR's Supreme Soviet were held February 25, 1990. Runoff elections were held in March. The Popular Front won a majority of the votes. After the elections, Mircea Snegur, a communist, was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet; in September he became president of the republic. The reformist government that took over in May 1990 made many changes that did not please the minorities, including changing the republic's name in June from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova and declaring it sovereign the same month.

Secession of Gagauzia and Transnistria

In August the Gagauz declared a separate "Gagauz Republic" (Gagauz-Yeri) in the south, around the city of Comrat (Komrat, in Russian). In September the people on the east bank of the Nistru River (with mostly Slavic population) proclaimed the "Dnestr Moldavian Republic" (commonly called the "Dnestr Republic") in Transnistria, with its capital at Tiraspol. Although the Supreme Soviet immediately declared these declarations null, both "republics" went on to hold elections. Stepan Topal was elected president of the "Gagauz Republic" in December 1991, and Igor' N. Smirnov was elected president of the "Dnestr Republic" in the same month.

Approximately 50,000 armed Moldovan nationalist volunteers went to Transnistria, where widespread violence was temporarily averted by the intervention of the Russian 14th Army. (The Soviet 14th Army, now the Russian 14th Army, had been headquartered in Chisinau under the High Command of the Southwestern Theater of Military Operations since 1956.) Negotiations in Moscow among the Gagauz, the Transnistrian Slavs, and the government of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova failed, and the government refused to join in further negotiations.

In May 1991, the country's official name was changed to the Republic of Moldova (Republica Moldova). The name of the Supreme Soviet also was changed, to the Moldovan Parliament.


During the 1991 August coup d'état in Moscow, commanders of the Soviet Union's Southwestern Theater of Military Operations tried to impose a state of emergency in Moldova, but they were overruled by the Moldovan government, which declared its support for Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin. On August 27, 1991, following the coup's collapse, Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

In October, Moldova began to organize its own armed forces. The Soviet Union was falling apart quickly, and Moldova had to rely on itself to prevent the spread of violence from the "Dnestr Republic" to the rest of the country. The December elections of Stepan Topal and Igor' Smirnov as presidents of their respective "republics," and the official dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the year, led to increased tensions in Moldova.

Violence again flared up in Transnistria in 1992. A ceasefire agreement was negotiated by presidents Snegur and Yeltsin in July. A demarcation line was to be maintained by a tripartite peacekeeping force (composed of Moldovan, Russian, and Transnistrian forces), and Moscow agreed to withdraw its 14th Army if a suitable constitutional provision were made for Transnistria. Also, Transnistria would have a special status within Moldova and would have the right to secede if Moldova decided to reunite with Romania.

Post Independence

Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River supporting the Slavic majority population (mostly Ukrainians, Russians and Bulgarians) in that region who have proclaimed a "Transnistria" republic on the former territory of Moldavian Autonomous SSR.

New parliamentary elections were held in Moldova on February 27, 1994. Although the election was described by international observers as free and fair, authorities in Transnistria refused to allow balloting there and made efforts to discourage the inhabitants from participating. Only some 7,500 inhabitants voted at specially established precincts in right-bank Moldova.

The new Parliament, with its Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova majority, did not face the same gridlock that characterized the old Parliament with its majority of Popular Front hard-line nationalists: legislation was passed, and changes were made. President Snegur signed the Partnership for Peace agreement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in March 1994, and in April Parliament approved Moldova's membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS--see Glossary) and in a CIS charter on economic union. On July 28, Parliament ratified a new constitution, which went into effect August 27, 1994, and provided substantial autonomy to Transnistria and to Gagauzia.

Russia and Moldova signed an agreement in October 1994 on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria, but the Russian government balked at ratifying it, and another stalemate ensued. Although the cease-fire was still in effect at the beginning of 1995 and further negotiations were to include the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, there was little hope for progress in the near future toward settling the dispute and getting the Russian troops to leave.

In March and April 1995, Moldovan college and secondaryschool students staged a series of strikes and demonstrations in Chisinau to protest the government's cultural and educational policies. The students were joined by segments of the local intelligentsia and later by workers and pensioners who were protesting for economic reasons. The most emotional issue was that of the national language: should it be Moldovan, as named in the 1994 constitution, or Romanian as most experts agree?

In an April 27 speech to Parliament, President Snegur asked Parliament to amend the constitution and change the name of the language to Romanian. The government's final decision was postponed until the fall because of the stipulation that six months must pass before a proposed change to the constitution can be made. The student demonstrators declared a moratorium on further strikes until September 6.

Although it is more than 10 years after the independence declaration, the traces of the Soviet regime's propaganda are still very deep and the Romanian Moldovans are still afraid and ashamed of their origin.

See also : Moldova, Moldavia, History of Romania, Bessarabia