History of Moldova
Central to Moldova's history has been a constant yearning for sovereignty, manifested as far back as the 14th century, at the time of the land's first accession to medieval statehood, and again, during the following centuries, as it sporadically fought Ottoman Turkey; and again, dramatically, in a modern resurgence, at the time of the disintegration and demise of the USSR.
The country's earliest archeological evidence relevant to the present indicates that a portion of Moldova's southern territory, about 5,500 square kilometers in surface comprised between the lower course of the Prut and the Nistru estuary, was organized as an extension of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior and served as an eastern outpost of ancient Dacia, designed by Rome to secure the empire's strategic control over the mouths of the Danube and the western shores of the Black Sea. Fragments of ancient defense vestiges known to the locals as Valul lui Traian (Trajan's Wall), a vallum attributed by tradition to Roman Emperor Trajan, the conqueror of Dacia, testifies to this day to historic continuity in that area. The northern remnants of those defenses face east and northeast, while another segment cuts across the land from Leova on the Prut, to Copanca, near the junction of the Botna with the Nistru (“Verchnyi Trojany” in Russian topography). Free local populations continued to live there and elsewhere in the area after the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire crumbled. Archeological evidence dating back to the early centuries of the Christian era, up to the ninth, 10th and 11th centuries indicates that the tracts between the lower Prut and the bend of the Danube, the hilly region of the Bâc valley and the hinterland of Nistru estuary were among the areas of present-day Moldova where clusters of sedentary local populations continued to live and produce, mingling other incoming groups of free populations from across the Carpathians, as well as with successive waves of roving populations from the eastern steppes --Goths, Huns, Avars, Petchenegs and others-- including important movements of migrating Slavs.
The influx of Slavic waves of population settling between the sixth and ninth centuries all across the former provinces of Romanized Dacia led to a process of assimilation by the local population, typically reflected in the formation of the Romanian language, gradually emerged as the common instrument of communication for the new settlers in the melting pot hub of former Roman Dacia, whose center was the intra-Carpathian area of present-day Transylvania. A substantial number of early Slavic borrowings, including terms having to do with social organization (such as voivode, for prince and voivodate, for principality), were thus absorbed in the vocabulary, giving Romanian its specific profile in the family of the Romance languages. Linguistics and phonology specialists concur in the conclusion the essential features of the Romanian language were rounded out before the founding --in most of what had been Roman Dacia-- of the Romanian-speaking states of Moldova and Wallachia, as well as the earlier organization of the Transylvanian voivodates, a possession of the Hungarian Crown after A.D. 1000, which included among other political formations, the northern Wallachian voivodate of Maramureş, the cradle of one of the oldest texts in the Romanian language, the 14th century Ieud manuscript.
Even before Moldova's medieval accession to statehood, under Bogdan I --who hailed from Maramureş-- several historic places, such as, in midland Moldova, the mining center of Baia (mentioned as "civitas Moldaviae" in a Latin document dated 1334) and, much earlier, Maurocastron (later Cetatea Albă) on the Black Sea, or Chilia on the Danube were attested as active port-cities on maps, portolanos and Byzantine books of sailing directions. And out of the 755 Moldovan villages mentioned in historical documents before the year 1449, 607, i. e., 80.3 percent had their boundaries marked before Moldova was attested as a principality, in the year 1359. Moldova's seaboard and the lowland areas north of the Danube delta, were initially under the authority of the Wallachian dynasty of the Basarabs, whose progenitor, Basarab I, founded in 1330 the Principality of Wallachia, south of Transylvania, decades after the great Tatar invasion of 1241. Moldova acquired the "Land of the Basarabs" from Wallachia in the 1400s, which accounts for the fact that the southern tip of Moldova was traditionally known as Basarabia, (Latinized form: Bessarabia, later on extended to the entire area).
The medieval Principality of Moldova maintained a fragile independence for some time, defending itself against more inroads of the Tatar tribes of the Golden Horde, Moldova's fleeting neighbor on the Nistru east bank steppes; and, later on, against Ottoman incursions from the Black Sea, whose basin came under total Turkish control after the 1453 fall of Byzantium and the demise of the Eastern Roman Empire.
In spite of Prince Stephen the Great's (1457-1504) attempts to maintain independence, Moldova had eventually to surrender its seaboard and submit to the sultan's overlordship. Before the end of the 15th century, it became a vassal principality to the Ottoman Empire. In exchange for the tribute, the sultan pledged not to interfere in the framework of church and state in the principality and keep Islam out. Due to that status (enshrined in the so-called capitulations), unlike other parts of Eastern and Central Europe, Moldova was never turned into a Turkish province or pashalik. During the 16th and 17th centuries, it intermittently shook off Ottoman suzerainty by attempting to take advantage of Turkey's conflicts with the Habsburg and Russian Empires. However, being located along the direct invasion route to Turkey's provinces south of the Danube, Moldova, the same as neighboring Wallachia, soon became an area of warfare and military occupation during an over a century era of intermittent Russo-Turkish Wars.
With Russia progressively projecting its rising power west and southwest, Moldova first came under Russian military occupation briefly in 1739, and later on, together with Wallachia, during the 1769-1774 Russo-Turkish War, which ended with with the Peace of Kutchuk Kainarji. Russia's armies again occupied Moldova between 1788-1792, during the war that ended with the Treaty of Iaşi, which brought for the first time Russia's border to the natural frontier of the Nistru.
In 1782, in the interlude between those two wars, Russia's Empress Catherine the Great proposed to Austria's Emperor Joseph II the so-called "Greek Project," devised to establish a Russo-Austrian sphere of influence in east-central Europe and the Balkans. Catherine the Great's grand design included a reconstituted Dacia, based on the projected union of Moldavia and Wallachia under the rule of an Orthodox sovereign, acceptable to both Russia and Austria. In terms of down to earth practicalities, such intent had already been epitomized, among other means, in the design and circulation of a Moldo-Wallachian currency ("Mold i Valak") issued by Russia between 1771-1774. These coins, minted for the use of the Russian army occupying Moldova and Wallachia during the 1769-1774 Russo-Turkish War, bore the seals of the two principalities --Moldova's bison and Wallachia's eagle-- imprinted as twin-shields in the kopeks, denghis and paras issued in silver, bronze and copper at the Sadagura imperial mint.
The "Greek Project" did not materialize and, alongside Wallachia, Moldova came again under Russian military occupation between 1806-1812, during the first Russo-Turkish War of the 19th century, when Russia's favorite church leader, Moldovan bishop Gavril Bănulescu-Bodoni, was appointed to exert ecclesiastical jurisdiction over both principalities as Moldo-Wallachian exarch --"ekzarkh Moldo-Vlachiiskii."
The 1812 Peace of Bucharest, which ended the third occupation of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldova by Russia was the turning point in Moldova’s history, as it resulted in the partition of the latter, whose eastern half was incorporated into Russia as Bessarabia, from then on the name of the entire stretch of Moldovan land lying between the Nistru and Prut Rivers.
The moment of the splitting of Moldova was a historic milestone in several ways, paving the way for a new course of social action, political change and over one hundred years of unprecedented acculturation. Russian rule over the eastern half of historic Moldova was interrupted over part of the annexed territory in the aftermath of the Crimean War, when the 1856 Paris Peace Congress returned three of Bessarabia's Danubian districts (most of historic Bessarabia proper) to the Principality of Moldova. That portion was a component of Moldova when the principality merged with Wallachia to form --under Moldova's Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1859-1866)-- the United Principalities, the core-state of modern Romania (1862). The status of southern Bessarabia changed again after the 1877 Russo-Romanian-Turkish War, when the 1878 Berlin Peace Treaty forced Romania to cede to the czars' empire the three districts, thus restoring Russia's full authority over the lands between the Nistru and Prut Rivers and its riparian status on the Danube.
The period of Russian imperial rule over Bessarabia was described by Soviet and Soviet Moldovan historians as beneficial to the province, resulting in social and economic progress, including urbanization. Moldovan independent historians argue to the contrary, indicating that Russia's czarist rule introduced imperial absolutism and the immigration of motley assortments of alien groups, encouraged by the czars to settle in their newly acquired province, in order to weaken the native Moldovan element in the local population. Statistics show that the country's native Romanophone population dwindled from 86 percent in 1817 (the year of the first Russian census) to 66.4 percent in 1858, 51.4 percent in 1862 while other ethnic groups started to make their appearance and grow, mostly in towns and cities. Moldovan historians also cite the fact that Bessarabia continued to be one of the most backward provinces of the Russian Empire, with a population that had one of the highest mortality rates in Europe, twice that of the Russian average. They point out that under Russia's autocratic rule, Bessarabia was treated as a colony, czarist censorship stifled public opinion, Romanian, the mother tongue of the majority of its native population, was banished from education and public life, ethnic tensions gradually rose and flared up especially in the cities, culminating in the notorious 1903 Easter massacre, which, among other things, gave the Russian word pogrom international circulation for the first time in history.
Russian absolutist administration of Bessarabia came to an end in the final stages of World War I, with the collapse of the Russian war effort on the Eastern front (which included as a weakened ally, rump Romania), and the revolutions of February and October 1917. After the flight of the last Russian governor from the province's capital, Chişinău and the formation of a provisional government in Petrograd, a Moldovan National Committee was organized in April 1917. It called for autonomy, land reform and the return to the Romanian language in education, justice and public administration. The overthrow of Russia's provisional government in October 1917 and the advent of Bolshevik power brought about the formation of a provisional form of self-government called Sfatul Ţării, Moldova's general assembly of soldiers, intellectuals, workers and peasants, inspired by the country's traditional general assembly which dated back to the 15th century. Sfatul Ţării was dominated by a majority of native Moldovans rather than Bolsheviks and, on 2 December 1917, it proclaimed the establishment of the Moldavian Democratic Federated Republic, a constituent of the Russian Federation. A month later, Bolshevik battalions occupied Chişinău and dispersed the fledgling republic's governing body, but the revolutionary troops were forced out and thrown back east of the Nistru with help from neighboring Romania, whose government had been temporarily moved to Iaşi, the old capital of the former Principality of Moldova. With Bolshevik power out, Sfatul Ţării reconvened in Chişinău and, on 24 January 1918, it declared the independence of the Moldavian Democratic Republic and its separation from Russia, then gradually engulfed in revolutionary turmoil. Facing increased threats from the Bolshevik revolution, which was gaining ground in neighboring Ukraine, Sfatul Ţării voted for a conditioned union with Romania on 27 March 1918. On 27 November 1918, in the aftermath of the 11 November armistice that put an end to World War I, Sfatul Ţării voted for Bessarabia's unconditional union with Romania, which prevented the former czarist province from coming under Communist rule, like --with the exception of the Baltics-- all other components of the disintegrating Russian Empire, including Moldova's next door neighbor, Ukraine. The Bessarabia-Romania union was formally acknowledged by the Peace of Versailles (28 October 1920) but was not recognized by Soviet Russia.
In 1924, under Stalin's instructions, the USSR Supreme Soviet established a largely artificial Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) on the east bank of the Nistru River. The new extraneous entity, a pilot formation with a total population of 568,984 inhabitants (1926 est.) was carved out of southern Soviet Ukraine, in an area where a sparse rural population that had migrated from Moldova during the 18th and 19th centuries made up barely 30 percent of the population (versus a Ukrainian majority of 48.8 percent). With its temporary capital in Tiraspol, the MASSR served as a bridgehead on the Nistru designed to lay the groundwork for the planned expansion of Soviet power on the river's west bank, into Romanian-held Bessarabia. As early as the mid-1920s, Kishinev (Russianized form for Chişinău) was described in the MASSR as the future capital of the east-bank Soviet-made entity. Stalin's push for an expanded Soviet Moldova materialized in 1940, when under the secret provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Moscow annexed Bessarabia down to the Prut River, enfolding part of the east-bank MASSR in its borders, so as to make the new entity straddle both banks of the Nistru.
The incorporation into the Soviet Union of the Nistru west-bank lands (which also included Northern Bucovina) was carried out through hasty military occupation, in the last days of June1940, following a Soviet 48-hour ultimatum to Romania. Thirty two Red Army divisions, including the USSR's 12th Army, 10th, 38th and 49th tank brigades and the 5th Army's 34th assault division took part in the operation which was completed on 3 July. On 2 August 1940 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed into law the creation of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR) on most of Bessarabia's territory. Russian became the official language of communication and Russian Cyrillics became mandatory in the writing of Romanian (renamed Moldavian and described as separate from Romanian). On 15 August 1940 a Soviet decree passed into law the nationalization of all privately owned land, industries, businesses and trading companies. Confiscation of private land began immediately and the first kolkhozes were established in the countryside. By October 1940, 487 private enterprises had been taken over by the state in the MSSR's towns and cities. A Constitution copied after the Soviet Constitution was promulgated on 10 February 1941, while the elimination of private property continued full-scale.
In a dramatic turnabout, in June 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, and a German-Romanian military coalition briefly recaptured Bessarabia between June 1941-April 1944. In 1944, the Red Army reconquered Bessarabia and the USSR reestablished Soviet power which resumed the Russification process with increased vigor. The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty restored the Soviet territorial arrangements of 1940 regarding the statute of Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina as parts of the USSR.
The post-World War II period in Moldova's history began with a return to the 1940 redrawing of its administrative borders within the USSR, which made it, to this day, a landlocked territorial entity, cut off from the Danube and the Black Sea. The MSSR was carved out to include most of the midland of prewar Bessarabia with a 3,400 square kilometers strip of land of the former east-bank MASSR. Historic Moldova's seashore was attributed to Soviet Ukraine, where it forms to this day a quasi-enclaved inlet between the mouth of the Nistru and the Danube delta thalweg, attached to Ukraine's main body of land by a several hundred meters land passage, tangent to the northern tip of the Nistru estuary. Bessarabia's northern territories, together with Northern Bucovina, were also awarded to Ukraine and became a separate part of the neighboring Soviet republic, its sub-Carpathian region.
In May 1947, dominated by an overwhelming majority of Russophone Communist Party members, the first session of the MSSR Supreme Soviet was held in Chişinău. Under strict directions from Moscow, a congress of Moldova's Communist Party was held in Chişinău on 5-6 February 1949, with the urgent task of bringing to completion the collectivization of agriculture. Between 1944-1948, in a follow-up to the operation begun immediately after the 1940 occupation, 578 kolkhozes had already been created. They included the properties of over 100,000 farmers families, but accounted for only 22 percent of the MSSR's private land. By 1 May 1949, the number of collectivized farms rose to 925.
During the night of 5-6 July1949, under the code name "Iug" (South) 35,796 persons, including 14,033 women and 11,889 children were deported under military escort to distant wastelands of the USSR's eastern regions, their properties confiscated and turned overnight into kolkhozes. As a consequence, between July-August 1949 the number of state collective farms more than doubled. By deportations and other means of eradication of private property, the forced collectivization process was completed by the end of 1950. By then, 97.0 percent of the republic's private farmlands had been wiped out and merged into Soviet-style state-controlled collective farms.
Sovietization and Russification of Moldova continued full-scale in the 1950s under the direct supervision of the USSR's future head of state Leonid Brezhnev, whom Stalin appointed in 1950 to serve as secretary general of the Moldavian Communist Party Central Committee, with discretionary power over the new Soviet republic. During Brezhnev's tenure in Chişinău, under the code name "Sever" (North), more deportations were conducted in April 1951, while the USSR's policies of inner workforce migration brought in fresh waves of Russophone specialists to Moldova's towns and cities. With Russian imposed as the first language of government, official communication and education, Moldova was gradually transformed into a place where the majority of the native population practically became bilingual --speaking both Romanian and Russian. The language spoken by the Russian and Ukrainian political and administrative elites remained Russian.
Under Soviet rule, a moderate process of socialist industrialization was implemented, mostly in the Nistru east-bank strip of land where, from the outset, the Russophone population had outnumbered native Moldovans. Steel mills and cement factories were built in Râbniţa which became one of the MSSR's industrial centers. Energy producing plants and other industrial units were built at Dubăsari, Râbniţa and Cuciurgan, on the east bank, where Tiraspol became the MSSR's second industrial center, after Chişinău. One of the consequences of this long-range policy is that, to this day, Moldova's industrial units, placed in the post-World War II years on the narrow strip of land on the east bank of the Nistru, account for about 90 percent of the country's energy production and 28 percent its industrial enterprises.
Apart from this territorial distribution imbalance, Soviet planners' emphasis continued to be on the republic's agricultural potential. A "Moldavian experiment" in agriculture was launched in the late 1960s, calling for a dramatic increase in the republic's agricultural production, which soon brought Moldova the reputation of one of the USSR's bread baskets and its main vinyard and orchard.
On the ideological and cultural front, a series of timid reactions against Russification began to take shape in the 1960s, in the context of the Sino-Soviet strife. Soviet rule over Moldova came under fire from the USSR's former ally, Communist China which questioned Russia's past and current imperial ambitions. The revelation of Karl Marx's unpublished notes dealing with Bessarabia were circulated clandestinely in the MSSR, where people were stunned to discover that, as far back as 1853, the revered author of the Communist Manifesto had written about Moldova's plight at the hands of the Russians, passing harsh judgment on the way in which the czarist empire conducted the 1812 annexation of Bessarabia. "Turkey had no right whatsoever to cede it" --Marx wrote. "The Porte had recognized that such was the case at [the Peace of] Carlowitz, when being pressured by the Poles to surrender the Moldo-Wallachian Principalities, it responded that it had no right to cede such territories, since the capitulations granted it only the right of overlordship" (3). On the vexed issue of the language Marx wrote: "The Romanian language is a kind of Oriental Italian. The indigenous population of Moldo-Wallachia call themselves Romanians; their neighbors call them Vlachs or Valachs" (4). Such bombshells started to shake the inculcated Communist dogma, according to which --no matter what its historical forms-- Moscow's sway over the land was connatural, beneficial, legitimate and could not be challenged.
Against the backdrop of symptoms of gradual abrasion and attrition of the Communist system in general, the first signs of a national cultural awakening and national reaction against the Soviet stranglehold became timidly apparent in the 1970s, later on encouraged by dramatic changes at the Kremlin helm, where --after Leonid Brezhnev's death (1982) and the short-lived leaderships of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko-- Mikhail Gorbachev launched his glasnost and perestroika policies.
In the wake of these innovative openings, a group of Chişinău intellectuals sent a memorandum to Andrei Gromyko, then president of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, stating the desirability of a return to Moldova of the northern and southern territories attributed by the USSR to Soviet Ukraine in the years 1940-1944. Although the request was ignored, it marked a turning point in the burgeoning climate of revendication, demanding the restoration of historical truth about Moldova's land, its language and its people. A literary debating society bearing the name of Moldovan poet and clergyman Alexie Mateevici (1888-1917), --the author of a celebrated ode to the Romanian language ("Limba noastră", i. e., Our Language )-- was founded in Chişinău in 1988. It played the part of a powerful intellectual ferment and launched a movement for national and cultural emancipation which eventually materialized in the form of Moldova's first independent political organization, Moldova's Popular Front, which began to challenge the Soviet-imposed one-party rule based on the monopoly of the Communist Party, subservient to Moscow. In March 1989, Glasul (The Voice) the first periodical published in the Roman alphabet was clandestinely printed in Latvia. The entire edition was smuggled and distributed in the MSSR where it had the effect of a watershed. A sweeping current of public opinion triggered by these developments determined the Chişinău Supreme Soviet to pass into law the establishment of the native language of the majority as the official language of the MSSR and the return to the Latin alphabet (the Language Law of August 1989).
In June 1990, a largely symbolic proclamation of sovereignty preceded Moldova's further moves towards independence. In March 1991, the MSSR refused to take part in the referendum on preserving the USSR. On 23 May that same year, the name of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was changed to the Republic of Moldova, the vernacular form --Moldova-- superseding the longstanding use of Moldavia in foreign languages and in international documents. Moldova's independence was pronounced in an explosion of popular enthusiasm, on 27 August 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the failed Communist putsch in Moscow. On that day, around 600,000 people from all parts of the country gathered in downtown Chişinău in front of the Communist-era executive power headquarters, in a show of solidarity which determined the republic's legislative body to declare Moldova's independence and separation from the USSR.
On 28 December 1991, the USSR itself was disbanded, but in the Nistru east-bank districts with Russophone majority --where for decades Sovietization had been predominant more than anywhere else in the country-- pro-Russian nostalgia sparked separatist reactions, which soon culminated in an armed conflict. The trans-Nistrian strife took the initial form of an act of cultural and ideological secession, taking issue with Moldova's Language Law. As a reaction, a self-styled "Moldavian Nistrian Soviet Socialist Republic" was proclaimed in Tiraspol in 1990. The events took a violent turn with the outbreak of a short but bloody civil war in 1991-1992, in which Russian troops under the command of General Aleksandr Lebed took an active part. One of the consequences of that conflict is that the trans-Nistrian region --created by Stalin as an extraneous entity in 1924-- continues to host the Tiraspol headquarters of Russia's only military deployment outside Russia's borders in Europe, the Operational Group, a downgraded version of Russia's Fourteenth Army (formerly the Soviet Union's Fourteenth Army). Tiraspol flies the Soviet-era flag and has preserved both Soviet state symbols and much of the tenets of Communist ideology. Currently renamed the "Moldavian Transnistrian Republic," the breakaway entity, which never gained international recognition, enjoys support in Russia's lower legislature, the Moscow State Duma, which passed in 1996 a resolution demanding that the Nistru east-bank region be declared "a zone of special strategic interest for Russia."
Moldova became a member of the United Nations in 1992 and was admitted to the Council of Europe in 1995. It has reaffirmed its right to enjoy full self-determination as defined by the United Nations Charter, the Helsinki Final Act and the norms of international law. In 1997, Moldova ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
The basic tenor of Moldova's progress across history was perhaps best expressed in one of the terse pronouncements of its 1991 Declaration of Independence which states that the Republic of Moldova is a "sovereign, independent and democratic state, free to decide its present and future, without external interference, in keeping with the ideals and aspirations of its people, within the historical and ethnic area of its own national making.”
*Source: The Historical Dictionary of Moldova, (496pp). Authors: Dr. Andrei Brezianu and Vlad Spânu. Scarecrow Press, Maryland, USA. 2007