Moldova - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

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Moldova, republic in southeastern Europe. In Moldovan, the state language, the country’s official name is Republica Moldova. Moldova is bordered on the north, east, and south by Ukraine and on the west by Romania. Moldovans are the country’s largest ethnic group, although other ethnic groups constitute a majority in some regions. Chişinău is Moldova’s capital and largest city.

Present-day Moldova comprises a large part of the eastern half of the historic principality of Moldavia (the principality is generally known by the Westernized form of the name). At its largest extent, in the Middle Ages, the principality stretched from the Dniester River in the east almost to the Carpathian Mountains in the west. Much of the eastern half of Moldavia, between the Prut and Dniester rivers, was traditionally known as Bessarabia (Bessarabiya). Moldavian territory was divided in 1812, when the Ottoman Empire took control of all of the land west of the Prut River and Russia took control of the rest. The Russian government gave the name Bessarabia to the territory under its control to distinguish it from neighboring Ottoman-controlled Moldavia.

In 1918 Bessarabia became independent and then united with Romania. Troops of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, the successor to the Russian Empire) occupied Bessarabia in 1940. The Soviet government joined most of Bessarabia to part of the already existing Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), across the Dniester River, to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). Romania regained Bessarabia in 1941 but lost it again to the USSR in 1944. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the republic became the independent country of Moldova. In addition to the region of Bessarabia, present-day Moldova also includes territory along the left bank of the Dniester known as Trans-Dniester. The remainder of the historic principality of Moldavia is now part of Romania and Ukraine.

After declaring independence in 1991, Moldova signed the agreement establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an organization composed of former Soviet republics. Moldova became a formal member of the CIS in 1994. That year the country adopted its first post-Soviet constitution. In the early 1990s secessionist movements among certain ethnic groups took hold in the Trans-Dniester region and in the Gagauz region in the south. While the status of the Trans-Dniester region remained an issue as of 1999, the armed conflict over Moldova’s territorial integrity was largely resolved by the mid-1990s.


Moldova is a landlocked country that covers an area of about 33,700 sq km (about 13,000 sq mi). It was the second smallest republic of the former USSR, after Armenia. The terrain of Moldova is primarily a hilly plain interspersed with deep river valleys. The average elevation is 147 m (482 ft) above sea level. The Kodry Hills occupy the central portion of Moldova, rising to a maximum elevation of about 430 m (about 1,410 ft) at Mount Bălăneşti.

Moldova contains an extensive river system; more than 3,000 rivers and streams traverse the country. The two largest rivers are the Dniester and the Prut, both of which rise in the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, to the north of Moldova. The Dniester, the larger of the two rivers, flows through the eastern portion of Moldova in a southeasterly direction. It forms part of the country’s border with Ukraine in the northeast, cuts through Moldova’s interior, and meets the Ukrainian border again in the southeast, where it reenters Ukraine and then empties into the Black Sea. The Prut, a major tributary of the Danube River, forms Moldova’s entire western border with Romania. At the extreme southern tip of Moldova, the Prut joins the Danube, which flows eastward and empties into the Black Sea. Other major rivers include the Yalpug, the Byk, and the Reut.

The hills in the central portion of Moldova are densely forested, mostly with oak and hornbeam trees. Linden, maple, beech, and wild fruit trees also grow in Moldova. Cultivated crops have largely replaced the natural grass cover of the plains, or steppes, in northern and southern Moldova. Grassy salt marshes are common in some river valleys.

A wide variety of wildlife inhabits Moldova, although the population of certain animals, such as wolves, has declined dramatically during the last century. Roe deer, which are native to the region, are abundant. The spotted deer, which was introduced to Moldova, is also well established. Members of the weasel family, including badgers, martens, ermines, and polecats, are common. Other mammals include wild boars, foxes, and hares. Common birds include larks, jays, and blackbirds. Some species, such as the wild goose, are migratory.

Natural resources in Moldova include deposits of lignite, phosphorite, and gypsum. Three-quarters of the country is covered in chernozem, an exceptionally fertile type of soil that is ideal for agriculture.

Moldova’s climate is continental, with conditions modified somewhat by the Black Sea. Winters are fairly mild, with average daily temperatures in January ranging from –5° to –3°C (23° to 27°F). Summers are quite warm, with average daily temperatures in July generally exceeding 20°C (68°F) and daily highs occasionally reaching 40°C (104°F). Precipitation is fairly light and irregular and occurs least in the south, where it averages 350 mm (14 in) per year. Precipitation is greatest in the higher elevation areas, where it can exceed 600 mm (20 in) per year. Moldova’s climate is conducive to agriculture, especially grape growing.

The environment of Moldova suffered extreme degradation during the Soviet period, when industrial and agricultural development proceeded without regard for environmental protection. Excessive use of pesticides resulted in heavily polluted topsoil, and industries lacked emission controls. The Moldovan government is now burdened with the Soviet legacy of ecological mismanagement. Environmental initiatives are administered by the State Department for Environmental Protection. High levels of pesticide and fertilizer use have been linked with elevated rates of disease and infant mortality. Soil contamination and groundwater pollution are associated problems.


Moldova has a population (2008 estimate) of 4,324,450, giving it an average population density of 130 persons per sq km (336 per sq mi). The country’s inhabitants are concentrated in the northern and central portions of the country. During the Soviet period, Moldova had the highest population density of any Soviet republic, although it was one of the least urbanized. Some 53 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Chişinău, the capital, is located on the Byk River in the central part of the country. Other important cities include Tiraspol and Tighina (also called Bender), both located on the Dniester River in eastern Moldova, and Bălţi, in north central Moldova. The rural population is clustered in large villages.

Ethnic Moldovans constitute about 65 percent of Moldova’s population. The next largest ethnic group is Ukrainians, who make up about 14 percent of the population, followed by Russians, who constitute about 13 percent. Russians and Ukrainians migrated to Moldova in large numbers after World War II (1939-1945), although settlement by these peoples also predated the war. Both groups live almost exclusively in Moldova’s major urban centers and in the Trans-Dniester region in the east, where they constitute slightly more than half of the population. Other ethnic groups include Gagauz (a Turkic people) and Bulgarians; these two groups reside primarily in the southernmost regions of Moldova, having settled there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The state language of Moldova is called Moldovan. It is essentially a dialect of Romanian, a Romance language derived mainly from the Latin language. In 1938 the Soviet government mandated that the Cyrillic alphabet (the script of the Russian language) be used for Moldovan instead of the Latin (or Roman) alphabet, in part to bolster its claim that the Moldovan and Romanian languages were separate. In 1989 Moldovan officials passed a law that made Romanian the official language and reintroduced the Latin alphabet. In the constitution adopted in 1994 the language was officially renamed Moldovan. Russian is widely spoken in Moldova and is the predominant language in the Trans-Dniester region. The Gagauz people traditionally speak Gagauz, a Turkic language, although many are also fluent in Russian. Russian missionaries created a Cyrillic alphabet for the Gagauz language in 1895.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Moldova. Nearly half of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and there is also a small Roman Catholic community. Unlike most other Turkic peoples, who are traditionally Muslim, the Gagauz are adherents of Orthodox Christianity. The Communist regime of the Soviet period was officially atheistic and hostile toward religion. Moldova began to experience an upsurge in religious practice in the late 1980s, when the regime relaxed restrictions. This increased after independence, when all restrictions on religious expression were lifted.

Moldova has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent. Illiteracy is slightly higher among the female population than the male population. Education in Moldova is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, or through the first cycle of secondary education (the second cycle lasts an additional three years). During the Soviet period, the government established a comprehensive system of universal and tuition-free education. Most schools taught in the Russian language, and education was the primary method of Communist indoctrination. In the early 1990s the government of independent Moldova introduced sweeping changes in educational content, especially in the areas of literature, language, and history. Institutes of higher education include Moldovan State University (founded in 1945), the Technical University of Moldova (1964), the State Agricultural University of Moldova (1932), and the Moldovan G. Musicescu Academy of Music (1940), all located in Chişinău. The capital is also the site of the Moldovan State Art Museum.

The cultural development of Moldova was tied historically to that of Romania, reflecting the Romanian origin of Moldova’s majority population. The first Moldovan books were religious texts that appeared in the mid-17th century. Prominent figures in Moldova’s cultural development include the author Ion Creanga and the poet Mihai Eminescu, both of whom wrote during the 19th century. After the USSR annexed Moldova in the 1940s, the Soviet government sought to sever the region’s close cultural ties with Romania. Romanian literature was officially banned, and many ethnic Romanian intellectuals were executed or deported. During the Soviet period, a government-mandated genre called socialist realism transformed art and literature into a form of Communist propaganda. The characteristics of socialist realism were strongly evident in the early works of Moldovan writers Emelian Bucov and Andrei Lupan, among others. Perhaps the most well-known Moldovan writer during the Soviet period was Ion Druţa, whose works include the play Casa mare (The Parlor, 1962) and the novel Balade de cîmpie (Ballad of the Steppes, 1963).

Moldova has a rich folk culture, which flourished during the Soviet period. The Soviet government strongly promoted Moldovan folk music and dance, but it also introduced subtle distortions to hide the folk traditions’ Romanian origins. For example, the national folk costume was changed to replace the Romanian opinca, a traditional moccasin, with the Russian boot. An ancient folk ballad, the Miorita, holds special significance in Moldovan folk culture. Folk traditions such as ceramics and weaving continue to be practiced in rural areas.


Moldova’s rich black soil makes agriculture the foundation of its economy. When Moldova was part of the USSR, Soviet central planners made its primary role one of supplying food products to the rest of the Soviet Union. The Moldovan economy suffered from the disruption of trading relationships following the breakup of the USSR. The conflict in the Trans-Dniester region greatly compounded the economic turmoil. Moldova’s light industry, which is highly dependent on trade outside the republic, suffered the most. Moldova has survived many of the most severe hardships of its transformation to a free-market economy; however, the country’s economic vitality remains highly dependent upon the size of its crop harvest. The gross domestic product (GDP), which measures the value of goods and service produced, was $3.4 billion in 2006.

With assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international organizations, Moldova initiated widespread privatization and strict monetary controls soon after independence. The policies contained inflation—which had resulted in prices increasing by as much as 20 times annually in the early 1990s—to one of the lowest rates in the former Soviet republics. To privatize housing and industry, the government issued vouchers to residents based on the number of years they had worked for state enterprises. Residents exchanged the vouchers for ownership shares in enterprises or for housing. By 1997 the majority of former state enterprises were in private hands. Moldova was among the first of the former Soviet republics to allow private ownership of farmland.

Moldova’s economy is built upon agriculture, which contributed 18 percent of GDP in 2006. The country’s extremely fertile land and temperate climate allow for the cultivation of a variety of crops. Moldova is a leading producer of grapes, tobacco, and rose oil. Other crops include wheat; maize; vegetables, such as tomatoes and potatoes; sugar beets; and fruit. Livestock raising, particularly pigs, and milk production are also important.

Industry, which accounted for 15 percent of GDP in 2006, is dominated by food processing. The country has traditionally specialized in frozen and canned vegetables. It is also well known for sparkling wines and brandy produced from its grape harvest. Other industries use locally grown sunflowers and soybeans to make vegetable oil, and beets to process raw sugar. During the Soviet era, manufacturing plants were developed to produce military equipment and consumer goods, and Moldova remains a significant producer of carpets, refrigerators and freezers, washing machines, and televisions. Moldova also has a metal-refining industry, almost entirely dependent upon imported raw materials and fuels. More than one-quarter of Moldova’s industrial plants are in the disputed Trans-Dniester region.

While Moldova has small oil and natural gas reserves, it must import most of its fuels from Russia. Fuel payments are a constant drain on the country’s economy. In 2003, 88 percent of its electricity was produced in thermal plants burning fossil fuels; the remainder was produced in a single hydroelectric facility on the Dniester River.

Moldova’s principal trading relationships are with other former Soviet republics, chiefly Russia and Ukraine. Trade with countries to the west is increasing, led by exchanges with Romania and Germany. Food and agricultural products account for about one-half of exports, while the leading imports are fuel, electricity, and mineral products.

Moldova used the Russian ruble as its legal tender until November 1993, when it introduced its own currency, the leu (plural lei; 13.10 lei equal U.S.$1; 2006 average).


Moldova ratified a new constitution in 1994 to replace the one of the Soviet period. The constitution confirmed Moldova’s status as an independent and democratic republic. It guarantees that all citizens aged 18 and older may vote and provides for various other civil rights and freedoms.

The president of Moldova is head of state. The president is elected by the Parliament to a four-year term and may serve no more than two consecutive terms. Before 2000 the president was directly elected. The president nominates the prime minister and, upon his or her recommendation, the cabinet. The prime minister and the cabinet must be approved by the Parliament. The president is empowered to dissolve the Parliament. The constitution provides that the president may be impeached for criminal or constitutional offenses.

The Parliament (Parlamentul) is the supreme legislative body of Moldova. A unicameral (single-chamber) assembly, it consists of 101 deputies, who are directly elected for four-year terms. The Parliament convenes for two ordinary sessions per year and may hold extraordinary sessions as well. In addition to enacting laws and performing other basic legislative functions, the Parliament is empowered to declare a state of emergency, martial law, and war.

Moldova’s judicial system includes the Supreme Court of Justice (the country’s highest court), the Court of Appeal, and the Constitutional Court. Tribunals and courts of law adjudicate at the local level. There is also a Higher Magistrates’ Council, which is composed of 11 magistrates who serve for a period of five years. The council acts to ensure the appointment, transfer, and promotion of judges. The president of Moldova appoints judges to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Justice after the Higher Magistrates’ Council makes its recommendations. The judges are initially appointed for five-year terms; their terms may then be renewed for a period of ten years, after which they may continue to serve until they reach retirement age. The Constitutional Court is the supreme authority on constitutional matters; its decisions are not subject to appeal. It is composed of six judges—two chosen by the president, two by the Parliament, and two by the Higher Magistrates’ Council—who each serve for six years.

For purposes of local government, Moldova is divided into 38 districts, 1 autonomous region (Gagauz-Eri), and 10 urban municipalities (including Chişinău). The municipalities are administered separately from the districts. All of the local jurisdictions are governed by locally elected councils. The prefects and mayors of districts and municipalities are appointed by Moldova’s president after being nominated by the local councils.

The 1994 constitution included a provision to give the Gagauz and Trans-Dniester regions autonomous status, although the terms of self-governance were to be determined through later negotiations. Revision of this special status would require a three-fifths vote of the Parliament. In December of that year, the Moldovan Parliament passed the Law on the Special Status of Gagauz-Eri. Ratified by a local election in the Gagauz region in March 1995, the law allows Gagauz-Eri substantial autonomy, while keeping foreign policy, defense, and monetary issues in the hands of the Moldovan government. The Moldovan government and leadership in the Trans-Dniester region have yet to reach a settlement on Trans-Dniester’s official status.

Moldova has many political parties. The Moldovan Party of Communists (formerly the Communist Party of Moldova), the Democratic Moldova Bloc, and the Christian Democratic People’s Party are represented in Parliament. The Party of Communists, which holds a majority of seats, used to be a pro-Russian party but now advocates closer ties with the European Union (EU). The Democratic Moldova Bloc is a centrist alliance of the Our Moldova Alliance, the Social Liberty Party, and the Democratic Party; it wants closer ties with both Russia and the West. The right-centrist Christian Democratic People’s Party supports closer ties with neighboring Romania.

During the Soviet period, all armed forces were part of a centralized security system. After Moldova gained independence from the USSR, the government of the republic began to create a national defense force. In 2004 Moldova’s armed forces numbered 6,750 personnel; most were in the army, with 1,040 in the air force. In addition, Moldova has a paramilitary force of about 2,500 (attached to the Ministry of the Interior) and a riot police force of 900. Military service is compulsory for 18-year-old males for up to 18 months. The 1994 constitution established Moldova as a permanently neutral state.

Moldova is a member of the United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Council of Europe (CE).


For most of its history, the majority of the territory that constitutes present-day Moldova was the region of Bessarabia, the eastern half of the historic principality of Moldavia. The name Bessarabia derives from a medieval prince, Basarab I, who at one time ruled the southern part of the region. The principality of Moldavia encompassed Bessarabia but extended west to the Siret River near the Carpathian Mountains. From north to south it stretched from the region of Bukovina to the Black Sea. Along with the principality of Walachia to the southwest, Moldavia was one of two principal regions inhabited by Romanian-speaking peoples (sometimes known as Vlachs).

In the mid-13th century Hungarian expansion had driven many Vlachs to settle south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. Legend suggests that in the 14th century Prince Dragos of Transylvania (then a Hungarian province) founded Moldavia and named it after a small mountain stream that his forces crossed upon entering the area. In about 1359 Bogdan I ruled the first independent Moldavian principality described in historical records. Moldavia was bordered to the southwest by Walachia, a feudal state that Basarab had unified in about 1310. Poland and Hungary lay to Moldavia’s north, often exerting some control over Moldavian princes. The Moldavians had to defend their eastern border against the Tatars and their southern border against the Ottoman Empire. During the late 15th century Moldavia came under increasing pressure from the Ottomans. Despite military victories by Stephen the Great, who ruled from 1457 to 1504, Moldavia ultimately succumbed and had to submit to the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1599 Michael the Brave, a Walachian prince, led a revolt against the Ottomans and united Moldavia, Walachia, and Transylvania (a third principality where Romanian speakers lived). However, following Michael’s assassination in 1601, the previous divisions reappeared, with the Ottomans regaining control of Moldavia and Walachia and Hungary taking Transylvania. The differentiation between the eastern and western parts of Moldavia, with the eastern half often identified as Bessarabia, began around this time.

Russia annexed the region of Bessarabia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812 as part of the Treaty of Bucharest, leaving a greatly reduced Moldavia still under Ottoman domination. The Ottomans gradually relinquished control of Moldavia to Russia as well. With Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856), Moldavia and southern Bessarabia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire and Russia, and the two regions joined again. Moldavia united with independent Walachia in 1859, when assemblies of both principalities elected a single leader, Alexandru Ion Cuza, as their prince. The united principalities assumed the name Romania in 1862.

Romania’s territorial integrity did not last long. In 1878 Russia regained southern Bessarabia, and the region remained part of the Russian Empire until the Russian Revolution of 1917. In March 1918, toward the end of World War I, the legislature of Bessarabia voted in favor of unification with Romania. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1920, the United States, France, Britain, and other Western countries officially recognized Bessarabia’s incorporation into Romania.

Soviet Period

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which was founded in 1922 under Russian leadership, did not accept the unification of Bessarabia with Romania. In 1924 Soviet authorities established the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) east of the Dniester River, within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The Soviet government used the Moldavian ASSR as a base for agitation to pressure Bessarabia to reunify with the USSR. The Ukrainian town of Balta was the capital of the Moldavian ASSR until 1929, when the capital was transferred to Tiraspol.

In August 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the USSR acquired Bessarabia as a result of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which divided Central and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. Soviet forces occupied Bessarabia in June 1940. In August the Soviet government proclaimed the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and abolished the Moldavian ASSR. The new Moldavian republic included the central portion of Bessarabia and the Trans-Dniester region, a narrow slice of territory east of the Dniester River that had been part of the Moldavian ASSR. Chişinău (Russian Kishinev) was named the capital of the new republic. The remainder of Bessarabia, including its southern section that bordered the Black Sea, was merged into the Ukrainian SSR. In 1941 Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, declared war on the USSR and reclaimed Bessarabia with German military assistance. Soviet forces reoccupied the territory in 1944 and formally reestablished the Moldavian SSR.

After World War II, Soviet policy in the Moldavian SSR was devoted to integrating the republic’s economy, politics, and culture into the Soviet Union. Private ownership of land was abolished, and the state established collective and state farms on expropriated farmland. The Moldavian SSR remained predominantly rural throughout the Soviet period, although new industries were introduced in urban areas. Russians, who were officially encouraged to settle in the republic, became the predominant ethnic group in the cities. Although no official language was ever named in the republic, Russian was the preferred language in government, business, and education. The Soviet government attempted to negate the Moldavian SSR’s cultural ties with Romania. This was most evident in the Soviet language policy, which maintained that the language of ethnic Moldovans was entirely separate from the Romanian language. To reinforce this idea, the Soviets mandated that the Moldovan language switch from the Latin to the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Communist Party of Moldavia (CPM), a branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), was the only party legally allowed to function in the republic. Two future leaders of the USSR, Leonid Brezhnev and Konstantin Chernenko, held prominent positions in the CPM during the early part of their careers; neither of the two leaders were ethnic Moldovans. Brezhnev served as first secretary (leader) of the CPM from 1950 to 1952, and Chernenko was head of the party’s propaganda department from 1948 to 1956. After Brezhnev’s term, the leadership of the CPM was given over to ethnic Moldovans, who faithfully followed the official course set by the CPSU. The Moldavian SSR was among the more conservative republics of the USSR.

In the mid-1980s Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced political and economic reforms that fostered the formation of quasi-political groups in the USSR. In the Moldavian SSR, several such groups emerged in the late 1980s but were denied legal status. In May 1989 these groups allied to form the Popular Front of Moldova (PFM). In June an estimated 70,000 people attended an anti-Soviet demonstration organized by the PFM. This was followed by large demonstrations in Chişinău in support of a government proposal to make Romanian the official language. A majority of the Ukrainians, Russians, and other ethnic minorities in the republic opposed the proposal, which was amended as a result. Under pressure from the PFM, the republic’s Supreme Soviet (legislature) in August 1989 declared Romanian the official language of Moldavia. Russian was to remain the language of interethnic communication.

In the Trans-Dniester region, where Russians and Ukrainians make up slightly more than half of the population, the local authorities refused to enact the new language law. A political movement called Yedinstvo (Russian for “unity”), which was growing in several Soviet republics facing nationalist upheaval, formed in Moldavia to represent the interests of the republic’s Slavic minorities. Yedinstvo was particularly strong in Trans-Dniester. In January 1990 voters approved a local referendum advocating greater autonomy for the Trans-Dniester region. Tensions developed between ethnic Moldovans and the Russian speakers in Trans-Dniester and the Gagauz people in southern Moldavia. The tensions eventually escalated into secessionist movements in the eastern and southern portions of the republic. The Gagauz people in the south declared a separate Gagauz SSR in August, which was followed by a similar declaration in the Trans-Dniester region in September. Although the Moldavian Supreme Soviet annulled the declarations immediately, the two regions proceeded to hold local elections for their own newly created legislatures. Negotiations were held in Moscow in November, but the two secessionist groups and the Moldavian government failed to resolve the crisis.

Meanwhile, elections to the Moldavian Supreme Soviet took place in February 1990. Parties other than the CPM were not allowed to publicly support candidates in the election, although a number of independent candidates were openly sympathetic to the aims of the PFM. The new Supreme Soviet elected Mircea Snegur, a reform-oriented CPM member, as its chairperson. (Snegur became the first president of the republic in September, after that post was created.) Like many other reform-oriented ethnic Moldovan Communist leaders, Snegur shifted loyalty to the PFM as the strength of opposition to the Soviet regime grew. In June the Supreme Soviet changed the republic’s name from the Moldavian SSR to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova. In the first major step toward secession from the USSR, the Supreme Soviet adopted a declaration of sovereignty later that month. The legislature also declared the Soviet Union’s annexation of Bessarabia in 1940 to have been illegal.

On May 23, 1991, the SSR of Moldova changed its name to the Republic of Moldova, and the Supreme Soviet was renamed the Parliament. On August 27, following a failed coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow led by Communist hardliners, Moldova declared its independence from the USSR. The Moldovan parliament banned the CPM, CPM members became members of the PFM, and the PFM officially took control of government. In December Moldova held direct presidential elections, and Snegur was elected unopposed. Also that month, Moldova joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a loose organization of former Soviet republics, amid the USSR’s disintegration into 15 successor states.

Moldova Since Independence

When Moldova became independent from the USSR, the PFM-led government under Prime Minister Mircea Druc began to advocate Moldova’s unification with Romania. Sporadic conflict occurred in the Trans-Dniester area in late 1991, as the secessionists consolidated control over the region. In early 1992 President Snegur authorized military action against the rebels. The secessionists, aided by a Russian Cossack contingent and the Russian army forces stationed in the region, retained control over the disputed area. In July a cease-fire agreement was reached, and a combined peacekeeping force of Russian, Moldovan, and Trans-Dniestrian troops was deployed in the region.

In June 1992, meanwhile, the PFM-dominated Council of Ministers resigned. The PFM, which had renamed itself the Christian Democratic Popular Front, had lost popular support for its policies advocating unification with Romania. Failed domestic initiatives also had eroded the party’s support. By August a new government was formed. It was led by the Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP)—composed mostly of former Communists—which opposed unification with Romania. President Snegur, who allied himself with the ADP, strongly supported this stance. The ADP favored closer relations with Russia and the other members of the CIS.

In February 1994 Moldova held its first multiparty elections to the Parliament. The ADP won the largest number of seats. A bloc of socialist parties won the next largest number. In April the legislature cemented Moldova’s status within the CIS by ratifying the 1991 agreement that established the organization. However, Moldova declared that it would not take part in CIS military or monetary alliances.

In July 1994 Moldova adopted its first post-Soviet constitution. The constitution reaffirmed Moldova’s status as an independent political and cultural unit and included provisions for the autonomy of the breakaway regions of Gagauz and Trans-Dniester. It also referred to the country’s official language as Moldovan, rather than Romanian. The Gagauz leadership and the Moldovan government quickly reached an agreement under which the Gagauz region was to enjoy broad powers of self-administration. Meanwhile, Snegur refused to meet the Trans-Dniester secessionists’ demands for recognition of Trans-Dniester as an independent state, and the dispute continued in that region. Also in 1994, the government reached an agreement with Russia to remove all Russian troops from the Trans-Dniester region within three years.

In December 1996 Moldova held its first multi-candidate presidential elections. Snegur, who had formed his own party, the Party of Rebirth and Conciliation of Moldova, resumed a pro-Romanian position and campaigned for more rapid reform. He was defeated in the elections by Petru Lucinschi, a former leader of the Communist Party of Moldova. Lucinschi advocated closer ties with Russia and pledged to work to resolve the Trans-Dniester issue. He also argued for more efficient government and less corruption.

Status of Trans-Dniester

Negotiations between the Moldovan government and the Trans-Dniester leadership, which had been frozen since mid-1996, resumed in 1997. In early May both sides signed a memorandum calling for the peaceful settlement of their conflict. According to the agreement, which was mediated by Russia, Moldova was to retain its present borders, including Trans-Dniester. The document envisioned a large degree of autonomy for Trans-Dniester and called for future talks to determine the official status of the region. Since then, ongoing negotiations have failed to achieve a mutually acceptable settlement. The complete removal of remaining Russian troops from Trans-Dniester has been halted several times, despite deadlines set in internationally mediated negotiations in 1999 and 2002. Russia announced in 2004 that it would complete the withdrawal only when a final agreement was reached.

In 2006 voters in Trans-Dniester approved a referendum calling for independence from Moldova and eventual union with Russia. The referendum won by the overwhelming margin of 97 percent. The vote was expected to have little practical effect, however, as no outside country recognizes the region’s independence and Russia has indicated little interest in a union.

Recent Elections

In parliamentary elections in March 1998, the reestablished Communist Party (renamed the Moldovan Party of Communists) won the largest number of seats. However, the party did not have a majority, and a coalition of parties, led by the centrist Bloc for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova and the reformist Democratic Convention, formed a ruling majority. Ion Ciubuc was appointed prime minister that month. In February 1999 Ciubuc resigned, saying that parliament and the ruling coalition stymied his efforts at market reforms. The parliament appointed Ion Sturza to replace Ciubuc in March.

A power struggle between parliamentary deputies and President Lucinschi ended in 2000 when the Parliament voted to abolish direct presidential elections. However, in December 2000 the Parliament failed four times to elect a new president, so Lucinschi dissolved the Parliament and scheduled parliamentary elections for February 2001. In the elections the Party of Communists won 71 of the 101 seats. In April 2001 the Parliament elected the party’s leader, Vladimir Voronin, as president. In the 2005 parliamentary elections the Party of Communists retained its majority, winning 56 seats. Opposition parties gained some ground, with 34 seats going to the centrist Democratic Moldova Bloc and 11 seats to the right-centrist Christian Democratic People’s Party.

The Party of Communists again won parliamentary elections in early April 2009, winning nearly 50 percent of the vote and 60 seats. Protests erupted when the election results were announced, and a recount was demanded. In late April the recount upheld the results of the balloting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found that the election generally met international standards, although it noted bias in the state-controlled media and irregularities with voter lists.

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