Country, northeastern Balkan Peninsula, southeastern Europe.
It is bordered by Ukraine and Romania. Area: 13,067 sq mi (33,843 sq
km). Population (2007 est.): 3,794,000. Capital: Chișinău. Nearly half
the population is Moldovan; there also are large numbers of Russians and
Ukrainians, especially in Transdniestria (Transnistria; Pridnestrovie),
the self-proclaimed republic located on the east bank of the Dniester
River. Languages: Moldovan (official), Russian, Ukrainian. Religions:
Christianity (mostly Eastern Orthodox, also other Christians), Islam.
Currency: Moldovan leu. Most of Moldova is a fertile region lying
between the Dniester and Prut rivers; the northern and central regions
of the country are forested. The economy is based on agriculture; the
major farm products are grapes, winter wheat, corn, and dairy products.
Industry is centred on food processing. Moldova is a unitary
parliamentary republic with one legislative body; its head of state is
the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. The
area of present-day Moldova consists of that part of the historic
principality of Moldavia lying east of the Prut River (part of Romania
before 1940) and, adjoining it on the south, the region of Bessarabia
along the Black Sea coast. (See Moldavia for history prior to 1940.) The
two regions were incorporated as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic
in 1940. In 1991 Moldavia declared independence from the Soviet Union.
It adopted the Moldovan spelling of Moldova, having earlier legitimized
use of the Latin rather than the Cyrillic alphabet. Moldova was admitted
to the UN in 1992. In 2000 it abandoned its semipresidential form of
government to become a parliamentary republic.
Official name Republica Moldova (Republic of Moldova)
Form of government unitary parliamentary republic with a single
legislative body (Parliament )
Head of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Official language 1
Official religion none
Monetary unit Moldovan leu (plural lei)2
Population estimate (2008) 3,760,000
Total area (sq mi) 13,067
Total area (sq km) 33,843
1Moldovan, a form of Romanian, is the state (official) language per
article 13 of the constitution.
2The Transdniestrian ruble is the official currency of
country lying in the northeastern corner of the Balkan region of
Europe. Formerly known as Bessarabia, this region was an integral part
of the Romanian principality of Moldavia until 1812, when it was ceded
to Russia by its suzerain, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Bessarabia
remained a province of the Russian Empire until after World War I, when
it became a part of Greater Romania, and it reverted to Russian control
in 1940–41 and again after World War II, when it was joined to a strip
of formerly Ukrainian territory, the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet
Socialist Republic, on the left bank of the Dniester River (Moldovan:
Nistru) to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Upon the
collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991, this republic declared its
independence and took the name Moldova. It became a member of the United
Nations in 1992. The capital city is Chișinău.
Since its independence in 1991, Moldova has been beset with an array
of challenges stemming from four problematic situations. First, the
country has sought to establish a viable state where no tradition of
self-government and sovereignty had existed before. Second, without a
local political tradition, it was difficult for Moldova to agree on a
constitution and to find political leaders untainted by association with
the highly centralized, authoritarian Soviet Union. Third, the
transition from a controlled economy to a free market economy has been
rocky. A largely agricultural economy based on state and collective
farms had been developed under Soviet rule. When many of these farms
were broken up and turned over to individuals after independence,
considerable dislocation, loss of productivity, and allegations of
corruption resulted. Finally, the economic transition was further
impeded by the fact that much of Moldovan industry was located in the
separatist region of Transdniestria, which had proclaimed independence
from Moldova in 1990, resulting in a brief civil war. Although a
cease-fire was declared in 1992, relations remained tense between
Moldova and Transdniestria, and Russian troops are still present in the
security zone. Transdniestria is also the source of much of Moldova’s
electricity, which has been cut off at various times. Thus, Moldova’s
road to nationhood has remained bumpy—from the first efforts at
nation-building to the country’s pursuit of peace and prosperity in the
Moldova is bounded by Ukraine to the north, east, and south and
by Romania to the west. The bulk of the republic lies between the great
meandering Prut and Dniester rivers.
Moldova lies to the east of the great arc of the Carpathian
Mountains. It is underlain mostly by deep sedimentary rocks covering the
southwestern portion of the ancient structural block known as the
Russian, or East European, Plain. Harder crystalline rocks outcrop only
in the north. Its surface is a hilly plain, with an average elevation of
482 feet (147 metres), cut by a deep network of river valleys, ravines,
The uplands of the centre of the republic, the Codri Hills, lie at an
average elevation of about 1,150 to 1,300 feet (350 to 400 metres), and
the highest point, Mount Bălănești, in the west, reaches 1,407 feet (429
metres). These uplands are interlaced by deep, flat valleys, ravines,
and landslide-scoured depressions separated by sharp ridges. Steep
forested slopes account for much of the terrain. The Dniester uplands,
their eastern slopes forming the high right bank of the Dniester River,
border the central uplands on the east and northeast.
The northern landscape of Moldova is characterized by the level plain
of the Bălți steppe (500 to 650 feet [150 to 200 metres] in elevation)
and also by uplands averaging twice this elevation, culminating in
Vysokaya Hill (1,053 feet [321 metres]). The northern uplands include
the strikingly eroded Medobory-Toltry limestone ridges, which border the
In the south, the extensive Bugeac Plain is broken by numerous
ravines and gullies, while, in the east, left-bank Moldova includes
spurs of the Volyn-Podolsk Upland cut into by tributaries of the
Moldova has a well-developed network of rivers and streams, all
draining south to the Black Sea, but only about one-tenth of these
exceed 6 miles (10 km) in length, and even fewer exceed 60 miles (100
km). In fact, many of these are small, shallow streams that dry up
during the summer. The Dniester, the rapidly flowing main artery, is
navigable almost throughout the republic; the river becomes swollen by
spring snowmelt from the Carpathians and by heavy summer rains. It does
not freeze over during warmer winters. The other, smaller, main artery,
the Prut, is a tributary of the Danube River, which it joins at the
extreme southern tip of the country. The Ialpug, Cogâlnic, and other
small southern rivers drain largely into the Danubian estuary in nearby
Ukraine. Underground water, extensively used for the republic’s water
supply, includes more than 2,000 natural springs. The terrain favours
construction of reservoirs.
The soils of Moldova are varied and highly fertile, with
chernozem—rich black soils—covering three-fourths of the republic. The
best-developed chernozem, fostering the growth of grain, tobacco, and
sugar beets, is found in the north and in the low-lying parts of the
central and Dniester uplands, as well as in the left-bank regions. Soil
quality diminishes southward, but grapes and sunflowers still can be
grown. Brown and gray forest soils characterize the uplands: two-fifths
are covered by forests, the rest by orchards, vineyards, and fields of
grain. Alluvial soils characterize the floodplains, while the lower
reaches of the Prut and southern river valleys have saline and marshland
soils. In general, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers,
pesticides, and herbicides during the Soviet period has resulted in
significant contamination of the soil and groundwater.
Moldova’s climate—warm and moderately continental—is characterized
by a lengthy frost-free period, a comparatively mild winter,
considerable temperature fluctuations, and, in the south, extended
droughts. The average annual temperature is in the mid-40s F (about 8
°C) in the north and the low 50s F (about 10 °C) in the south, but the
July averages rise to the upper 60s and low 70s F (about 19 and 23 °C),
respectively, and the mercury seldom drops below the low 20s F (about −3
°C) in January. Extreme lows near −30 °F (about −36 °C) in the north and
excessive highs near 100 °F (about 41 °C) in the south have been
recorded. Moldova receives highly variable amounts of
precipitation—usually averaging about 20 inches (500 mm) annually, with
totals a little lower in the south—but these figures conceal variations
that may double the quantity in some years and result in prolonged dry
spells in others. Most precipitation occurs as rain in the warmer
months, and heavy summer showers, coupled with the irregular terrain,
cause erosion problems and river silting. Winter snow cover is thin.
Winds tend to come from either the northwest or the southeast.
Plant and animal life
Northern and central Moldova is a forest zone, while a steppe belt
crosses the south. There are more than 1,500 species of plants in the
republic, with scenic expanses of forest, covering about 1,150 square
miles (3,000 square km), of particular importance, especially in the
central Codri Hills region. The most common trees are hornbeam and oak,
followed by a rich variety including linden, maple, wild pear, and wild
cherry. Beech forests are found at the sources of the Ikel and Bâc
rivers. At the beginning of the 19th century, forests covered about
one-third of the country; however, a large increase in population
severely reduced the forested areas. The extensive deforestation in the
19th century has also resulted in soil erosion, wind damage, a drop in
the water table, flooding, and loss of fauna. Well aware of the raft of
problems caused by the loss of so much of Moldova’s woodlands,
authorities and scientists have lobbied for increased afforestation
plans, and large-scale reforestation projects have been carried out in
the republic since the early 1990s. The state’s plans have met
resistance from peasants who are fearful that their agricultural and
grazing lands will be converted into less profitable forests, however.
Moldova’s steppes originally were grass-covered, but most of them are
now cultivated. Lush meadows and reed growths occur in the floodplains
of the Dniester and portions of the Prut, while salt-marsh grasslands
flourish in the saline valleys of the Cogâlnic, Ialpug, Botna, and lower
The animal life of Moldova is rich, despite the republic’s small
size. Mammals include wild boar, wolves, badgers, wildcats, ermines,
martins, and polecats. Roe deer, hare, foxes, and muskrat are of
commercial importance. Siberian stags, fallow deer, and spotted deer
also were successively introduced and are now prevalent.
There are many species of birds, both resident and migratory. The
marshy lower reaches of Moldova’s rivers provide sanctuary for wild
geese, migratory ducks, and herons, while white-tailed sea eagles are
found in the floodplain forests. The wood lark, jay, song thrush,
blackbird, hawk, and long-eared owl frequent the republic’s forests.
Plentiful fish supplies include carp (raised in artificial reservoirs),
perch, bream, ruff, and pike.
About three-fourths of Moldova’s population consists of ethnic
Moldovans. There are smaller populations of Ukrainians, Russians,
Gagauz, Roma (Gypsies), and Bulgarians. The Ukrainian population of
Moldova, the largest minority group, is divided between those who are
native to the country (their ancestors having farmed for centuries in
what is now Moldova) and those who migrated to Moldova during the
periods of Russian and Soviet control. The former group makes up the
majority of Ukrainians in Moldova.
Moldova’s Russian population arrived during the periods of Russian
imperial and Soviet rule, usually as civil servants and labourers. The
Gagauz, a mainly rural people, have lived on the Bugeac Plain since the
late 18th century. The country’s ethnic Bulgarians also are mainly rural
and inhabit the southern districts, where they settled at the end of the
18th century. Only a small percentage of Moldovan citizens identify
themselves as Roma.
Moldovan is designated as the country’s official language in the
constitution. During the Russian imperial and Soviet periods, the
Moldavian language (as it was then called) was written in the Cyrillic
alphabet. Soviet scholars, mainly for political reasons, insisted that
this language was an independent Romance language that was distinct from
Daco-Romanian (see Romanian). In fact, Daco-Romanian and Moldovan are
virtually identical, and differences between the two are confined to
phonetics and vocabulary. In 1989 the script of the Moldovan language
was changed to the Latin alphabet; thereupon began a heated debate over
whether the language should be called Romanian or Moldovan. By the
middle of the first decade of the 21st century, there was general
agreement from both sides that Moldovan and Romanian were in fact the
same language. Nevertheless, Moldovan pride in the Moldovan language is
reflected in the country’s national anthem, Limba Noastra (“Our
Language”), and the national motto, Limba Noastra-i o Comoara (“Our
Language is a Treasure”).
Some of Moldova’s ethnic communities have preserved their respective
languages, but not without accommodations brought about by urbanization.
Those who have been drawn to the cities, especially ethnic Moldovans,
often have accepted Russian as a second language. Few, however, have
abandoned their native language, and bilingualism has become the norm.
The Moldovan state acknowledges and protects the right to preserve,
develop, and use Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian, and any other languages
spoken within the country’s borders. Gagauz is the official language in
the autonomous area of Gagauz, but Moldovan, Romanian, and Russian are
spoken there as well. Although the Gagauz language is Turkic in origin,
it was traditionally written with the Cyrillic alphabet; however, since
1989 the Gagauz have developed a Latin script.
During the period of Soviet rule, the influence of churches in
Moldovan public life was limited by the religious policy imposed by the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU): separation of church and
state, exclusion of the churches from education, and subjection of the
faithful to atheistic propaganda. Since the collapse of the Soviet
Union, however, all churches have undergone a revival and have striven
to regain their former prominence. The overwhelming majority of ethnic
Moldovans, Russians, Gagauz, and Ukrainians are Eastern Orthodox
Christians. There are also other Christians and smaller Muslim and
Jewish communities. The Jewish community is overwhelmingly urban and
began to enter present-day Moldova in substantial numbers after 1800,
but its numbers have been greatly reduced by wars, the Holocaust, and
emigration (since the creation of the Moldovan republic, there has been
considerable emigration of Jews to Russia, Ukraine, and Israel). About
one-fifth of Moldova’s residents consider themselves nonreligious.
Economic policies imposed during the Soviet era brought significant
changes to both the countryside and cities. The pace of urbanization was
dramatic, in part because Moldova was the least urban of all the Soviet
republics. Industrialization spurred the growth of large and small
cities in every part of the republic, but nowhere more so than in the
capital, Chișinău, the economic, administrative, and cultural centre of
the republic. The collectivization of agriculture during the Soviet
period concentrated population in large villages, most of which have
between 1,000 and 5,000 inhabitants. As villages assumed new economic
and administrative functions, they became more modern in level of
comfort and in the public services they could provide.
After independence the population of Moldova became even more urban
as the movement from the countryside to the cities became continuous. At
that time ethnic Moldovans were relative newcomers to the cities, and in
the early 21st century they accounted for only about one-third of all
urban inhabitants. The majority of the remainder of ethnic Moldovans
reside in the rural areas in the centre and north of the republic. A
majority of the Ukrainian population lives in urban centres, with
approximately one-fourth of them living in the eastern section of the
breakaway region of Moldova known as Transdniestria (Transnistria;
Pridnestrovie), which is located on the east bank of the Dniester River.
Russians constitute about one-fourth of Moldova’s urban population, but
thousands of them have resettled in Transdniestria.
During the 1960s the population of the republic grew rapidly;
however, starting in 1970 it increased at a steady but slower rate.
Since independence, though, Moldova’s population has decreased, largely
owing to the emigration of Moldovans seeking economic opportunities
elsewhere and to the virtual end of immigration from Russia and Ukraine,
which had contributed to earlier population growth. Moreover, a sharp
decline in the standard of living and in the quality and availability of
public health and medical facilities in the early 1990s lowered life
expectancy. Infant mortality and insufficient health care, especially in
rural areas, were serious problems. The number of stillbirths and infant
deaths, which had fallen significantly from the early 1970s to the early
1980s, rose in the late 1980s and remained high throughout the early
2000s. Although Moldova’s birth rate remains low compared with the world
average, it is higher than that of nearby Romania, Ukraine, and Russia.
During the communist era a diversified industry was established
in Moldova, agriculture was modernized, and transport and the building
industry were overhauled. Following independence, the government began
the gradual transformation from a command (centrally planned) to a
market economy, establishing a program to privatize many state
enterprises primarily through distribution of ownership vouchers to the
public. The transition has been slow and uneven because of corruption,
lack of foreign investment, and other economic pressures. In the early
21st century Moldova was among the poorest countries in Europe.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
More than half of the country’s land is arable, and most of that
land is used to grow temporary crops (those that are sown and harvested
during the same agricultural year). About one-tenth of the land is used
to cultivate permanent crops (those that are planted once but will not
be replanted after each annual harvest). Agriculture has been highly
mechanized, and almost all agricultural jobs are performed by machines.
Virtually all landowners have access to electricity, and chemical
pesticides and mineral fertilizers are widely used. Most Moldovan
farmers dedicate large shares of land for export crops.
There was no large-scale private farming during the Soviet period,
but collective farmers did have small plots for their own use. Private
land ownership, consisting primarily of small holdings, was initiated in
1990. The amount of privately owned land grew slowly at first but
proliferated after the advent of a government program of large-scale
privatization in 1995. Conversely, collective farms (engaged mainly in
cultivation of grain crops and mixed farming) and state farms (usually
specializing in the cultivation and processing of a particular crop)
began to diminish in importance. By the early 21st century, those who
tended to privately owned farms outnumbered those who worked on
collective and state farms 10 to 1.
Since 1940 the area used for vegetables, orchards, berries, and
vineyards has undergone significant expansion. Viticulture, fruit and
vegetable growing, and other specialized farming activities are
particularly important, constituting about one-fourth of the commodity
output of arable farming. Grapes are Moldova’s most important industrial
crop, with the largest vineyards found in the southern and central
regions. Most orchards are situated in northern and southeastern
Moldova. Sunflower seeds, another significant crop, are grown throughout
the republic, though the southeastern regions have the largest
plantations. Sugar beets, a relatively new crop in Moldova, are
cultivated in the north. Moldova also is a major tobacco grower.
Vegetables are grown mainly in the southeast. The chief grain crops are
winter wheat and corn (maize). Wheat is used for the republic’s own
needs, and corn is exported as a seed crop. Most of the grain is grown
in the north. Sheep and cattle breeding also are important, as is pig
High rates of deforestation have greatly affected Moldova’s forestry
sector. About two-thirds of the country’s forests are designated for
wood supply, while the rest is protected in national nature reserves.
Still, there is a shortage of forest resources, and Moldova has to
import some wood from Russia. Wood in Moldova is mainly used for
energy—more than one-half of the timber felled from the country’s
forests is used for fuel. The remainder of the wood supply is used for
construction, the production of furniture and other consumer goods, and
packaging. All forests are owned by the state.
The main types of fish found in Moldova’s lakes and rivers are bream,
carp, roach, catfish, pike, and perch. The country’s fish production
decreased in the mid-1990s; thereafter, most fish-processing companies
were privatized, and the amount of fish imported greatly exceeded the
local catch. Dozens of foreign-owned companies are active in the
importing, processing, and canning of fish. After 1991 aquaculture was
largely privatized, with pond ownership being transferred to local
municipal authorities, who began leasing the ponds for private fish
Resources and power
Moldova’s greatest resources are its fertile soil and its climate,
both of which contribute to the agricultural potential of the country.
Other natural resources include limited quantities of lignite, found in
the southern part of the country, and phosphorite and gypsum, which are
found throughout Moldova. Deposits of natural gas also have been
discovered in the southern part of the country.
Thermoelectric power plants are located in Chișinău, Băīți, and
Tiraspol, and there are hydroelectric stations in Dubăsari and Camenca
(Kamenka), on the Dniester River. The republic provides electricity to
the southern regions of Ukraine and also to Bulgaria through a
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova lost a large
part of its manufacturing sector. This was due in part to the economic
shock of the transition to a market economy and Moldova’s separation
from the integrated economy of the Soviet Union and Soviet bloc.
Moreover, the bulk of the country’s industry is located in the breakaway
region of Transdniestria, though, owing to Transdniestria’s isolation
from the rest of the country, manufacturing in the region has failed to
live up to its potential.
The industrial sector of Moldova’s economy is concentrated mainly on
food processing, with the machine-building, power-engineering,
consumer-goods, and building-materials industries still undergoing
The food industry has numerous branches; sugar refining, wine making,
canning, and oil pressing, as well as the production of essential oils,
are especially significant. Moldova is an important exporter of wine,
champagne, and brandy. For local needs the republic has flour and other
mills and well-developed meat, dairy, and confectionery industries.
Machine building, established in the mid-1950s and centred on
Chișinău, Bălți, Tiraspol, and Tighina, has remained important. Tractors
made in Moldova are specially equipped for use in orchards and
vineyards. Light industry includes the production of furs at Bălți,
garments and knitwear at Chișinău and Tiraspol, footwear at Chișinău,
and silk fabrics at Tighina. Building materials produced in Moldova
include brick, limestone, tile, cement, slate, and concrete blocks.
Râbnița is the leading centre of this industry.
The National Bank of Moldova began issuing its own currency, the
Moldovan leu, in 1993. By the mid-1990s Moldova had stabilized the leu,
brought inflation under control, and balanced the national budget.
Transdniestria has its own currency, the ruble, and its own central
The services sector accounts for about one-third of Moldova’s gross
domestic product. Most of the retail sector is located in the capital.
Tourism (especially rural tourism) has grown since the 1990s. Local
culture in Moldovan villages, traditional festivals, and the country’s
many monasteries are of particular interest to international visitors;
however, owing to its lack of hotels and its poor transportation
infrastructure, the country is not always able to adequately accommodate
Labour and taxation
The pressures of inflation and the economic downturn that followed
independence resulted in widespread unemployment and underemployment. As
a result, average Moldovans have had to struggle to provide for their
families. In many parts of the country, especially in the rural areas,
the necessities of life are procured by barter rather than by purchase.
Individual farmers tend to deliver their own goods to food stores.
A taxation system was created in Moldova in 1992 to facilitate the
transition from a planned economy to a market economy. It was reformed
in 1996 to improve the collection process. There are two levels of tax
collection in Moldova—national and local. National taxes include an
income tax, a value-added tax (VAT), excise taxes, property taxes, and
customs and road duties. Local taxes are collected on land, property,
and use of natural resources.
Prior to 1991 Moldova traded almost exclusively within the Soviet
Union. Today the states of the former Soviet Union remain important
markets for Moldova, whose main trading partners are Russia, Ukraine,
Romania, and Belarus, as well as Germany and Italy. Foodstuffs,
beverages (notably wine), and tobacco products make up the bulk of
Moldova’s exports, followed by apparel and agricultural goods. Moldova’s
main imports are mineral products (notably petroleum products),
machinery, chemical products, and textiles for reexport.
Transportation and telecommunications
Railway and motor transport are the basis of the republic’s transport
system. The railway network includes two main lines—one linking
Tiraspol, Chișinău, and Ungheni and the other linking Tiraspol and Reni.
Incoming freight includes coal, petroleum products, iron and nonferrous
metals, timber, mineral fertilizers, and machines and equipment. Motor
transport generally carries freight inside Moldova, over a road network
that is nearly all paved but generally needing repair. River transport
is of local importance, and air transportation links Moldova with other
countries. The republic’s main airport is in Chișinău.
Telecommunications are regulated by the Ministry of Transport and
Communications. The industry was privatized in 1997; nevertheless,
Moldova has one of the lowest numbers of cellular phone and Internet
users of all the former countries of the Soviet Union.
Government and society
A new constitution, which replaced the 1978 document that had
provided for a Soviet-style government structure, was approved by the
Moldovan parliament in July 1994 and promulgated on August 27 of that
year. Describing the republic as a “sovereign, independent” state in
which “justice and political pluralism” are guaranteed, this
constitution formally established a unicameral parliament whose members
are directly elected to four-year terms. By secret ballot they elect the
president, who serves as the head of state, to a four-year term.The
president shares executive power with the Council of Ministers
(cabinet), which is led by the prime minister, who is designated by the
president (after consultation with the parliamentary majority) and
approved by the parliament. The council is responsible for implementing
the domestic and foreign policy of the state.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Gagauz in the south
and Russians east of the Dniester River declared their own independent
republics. The Moldovan government addressed the desires of the Gagauz
in January 1995 by establishing an autonomous administrative region
known as Găgăuzia. Its capital is in Comrat, where a governor (bașkan),
an executive committee, and a legislature sit (foreign policy, defense,
and monetary issues in Găgăuzia are still under the control of the
Moldovan government). Neither the Moldovan government nor the
international community has recognized the independent republic of
Transdniestria (Pridnestrovie; Transnistria), whose name is derived from
its location beyond (on the eastern side of) the Dniester River. Under
Transdniestria’s constitution its president also serves as prime
minister, and there is a unicameral legislature. The self-proclaimed
republic also has its own flag and anthem. In response to the region’s
aspirations, the 1994 Moldovan constitution had authorized “special
status” for the semiautonomous territory of Transdniestria, as it had
for Găgăuzia. This offer was rejected by Transdniestria’s government,
and an overwhelming majority of Transdniestrian residents voted for
independence in a 2006 referendum (though the subsequent declaration of
independence was not recognized elsewhere).
Following Soviet rule, Moldova was reorganized into județ
(counties), the municipality of Chișinău, and the autonomous region of
Găgăuzia. In 2003 the country was restructured again, with previous
divisions replaced by raione (districts), municipii (municipalities;
including Chișinău), and Găgăuzia. At a more local level, Moldova is
administered by elected town and village councils and mayors; their
activities are coordinated by district councils, which also are elected.
The judicial system comprises the Supreme Court of Justice (with
members appointed by the parliament), a Court of Appeal, and lower
courts (whose members are appointed by the president). The Higher
Magistrates’ Council nominates judges and oversees their transfer and
The Communist Party of Moldavia—until 1990 the only legal party—was
dissolved in 1991 but was legalized as the Party of Communists of the
Republic of Moldova (Partidul Comuniștilor din Republica Moldova; PCRM)
in 1994. Following independence a variety of political parties emerged,
many of them later to divide or to merge with other parties or
coalitions. Some of these parties are based on ethnicity (including the
Gagauz People’s Party) and advocacy of independence or unification with
either Romania or Russia. A national referendum on Moldova’s status as
an independent country was held on March 6, 1994, with a large turnout
of eligible voters. More than 95 percent voted in favour of continued
independence. Moldovans aged 18 or older are eligible to vote in
elections. In elections in the 1990s and early 2000s, about three-fifths
of eligible voters cast ballots.
Health and welfare
Since the mid-1990s the quality and availability of health care in
Moldova have improved. In 1991 the Moldovan government established
social service programs to supplement the monthly income of the average
citizen during the transition from a command to a market economy. These
programs were designed to preserve and strengthen the social safety net
put in place during the Soviet period. The Social Assistance Fund
supplies the needy with medical payments and housing and food subsidies.
The Social Security Fund provides pensions for workers, invalids, and
soldiers, assists workers during illness or temporary disability, and
aids the unemployed.
Significant changes occurred in Moldovan society during the Soviet
era. Illiteracy was eradicated, and, as in other Soviet republics,
emphasis was placed on technical education in order to satisfy the
steadily growing needs of agriculture and industry for specialists and a
highly skilled workforce. Before 1940 the republic had only a few
institutions of higher education and teacher-training colleges, as well
as a theological seminary and an agricultural institute. Since then
several institutions of higher education and numerous specialized middle
schools have been established. Notable universities include the Moldovan
State Agrarian University (founded in 1933 as an offshoot of the
agriculture department of the University of Iași), the Moldova State
University (1946), and the Technical University of Moldova (1964). They
all provide instruction in Romanian and Russian, and since the early
1990s the Moldovan language has increasingly been introduced into the
educational system. A vigorous program of Moldovan instruction in
primary and secondary schools was implemented in 2000.
The Moldova Academy of Sciences, established in Chișinău in 1946,
coordinates the activities of scientific institutions. In addition,
dozens of research centres in the fields of viticulture, horticulture,
beet growing, grain cultivation, and wine making have been set up, and
Moldovan scientists have won international acclaim in these fields.
The historical ties between Bessarabia and Romania and the ethnic
kinship of Moldovans and Romanians are still reflected in the culture of
Moldova. The development of Moldovan culture after World War II,
however, followed the prevailing pattern of the Soviet Union as a whole.
The state assumed responsibility for the content and direction of all
cultural and intellectual life. The theatre, motion pictures,
television, and printed matter were subject to censorship and close
ideological scrutiny. Until the waning days of Soviet influence, private
initiative in cultural endeavours was rare.
Daily life and social customs
As a mainly Eastern Orthodox country, Moldova celebrates Christian
holidays. Its various ethnic groups tend to follow the customs and eat
the foods of their own nationality. Moldova’s Independence Day, August
27, commemorates the country’s breakaway from the Soviet Union (an event
that is not celebrated in Transdniestria, which has retained many Soviet
holidays and symbols of Soviet life). Moldovans observe a calendar of
planting and harvest fairs that feature traditional dancing, singing,
and folk arts. The village of Ivancho, near Chișinău, is a centre for
these traditional cultural activities, as is the Orheiul Vechi, a
restored monastery near the capital. Chișinău remains a musical centre,
boasting dozens of nightclubs, discotheques, and concert halls.
Notable Moldovan artists include painters Mihail Petrik, Valentin
Coreachin, and Vitaly Tiseev and sculptors Iury Kanashin and Vladimir
Moraru. Moldova was known in the Soviet era for the quality of its
musical instruction, with many Russian composers and conductors serving
on the faculty of Chișinău’s Academy of Music. One of the academy’s
graduates is the internationally known composer Arkady Luxemburg.
Moldovan literature experienced the vicissitudes of Soviet literature
generally during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Building socialism and
creating the new Soviet citizen were the dominant themes, and socialist
goals prevailed over aesthetic considerations. Characteristic of these
trends were the early prose and poetry of Emilian Bucov and Andrei
Lupan, who followed the principles of Socialist Realism; later they and
younger writers diversified their techniques and subject matter. Perhaps
the most outstanding modern writer is the dramatist and novelist Ion
Druța. His novel Balade de câmpie (1963; “Ballads of the Steppes”), an
investigation of the psychology of the village, marked a significant
turning point in the evolution of Moldovan fiction, and his play Casa
Mare (1962; “The Parlour”) turned away from the concept of collectivity
to probe the individual conscience. The work of contemporary essayist
and novelist Vitalie Ciobanu is well known in Moldova.
Most of the country’s theatres, museums, music halls, and libraries
are in Chișinău. The most significant museums are the National Museum of
Fine Arts of Moldova and the National History Museum of Moldova. During
the period of Soviet rule, the state gave particular attention to the
expansion of cultural opportunities. Numerous amateur theatres and
musical and art groups were supported. The state also attempted to
preserve the rich heritage of Moldovan folk art and music through such
ensembles as the Doina choir and Zhok popular ballet and through local
and national museums. Economic changes and urbanization, however,
undermined traditional society and curtailed artistic creativity.
Moreover, the economic deprivations and hardships since independence
have left the average Moldovan little time for cultural interests, and
the national budget deficits have left few governmental resources with
which to subsidize cultural activities.
Sports and recreation
Moldovans are avid football (soccer) fans. Games are played
throughout the country by organized local teams that compete each year
for the national Moldovan Cup. Wrestling has become significant, made
popular by Moldovan world champion Lukman Jabrailov. Judo, archery, and
athletics (track and field) are also popular. Other favourite sports are
rugby, tennis, martial arts, cycling, boxing, volleyball, and canoeing.
Chess is a common pastime. In past years ethnic Moldovans have competed
on the Olympic teams of both the Soviet Union and Romania. At the 1992
Games in Barcelona, the country participated as part of the Unified
Team. Moldova competed for the first time as an independent country at
the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Nor. Because Moldova lacks both mountains
and a seashore, many recreational opportunities are limited.
Media and publishing
The 1994 Moldovan constitution protects freedom of expression in the
press; nevertheless, Moldovan media have received widespread criticism
for being overly influenced by the government, and there have been
occasional incidents of politically motivated prosecution of
journalists. There has been concern that Chișinău-based publications
that question Moldova’s independence or promote Transdniestria’s
separatist policies will be subject to censorship.
The initial outpouring of publications at the time of independence
has been considerably reduced in the years since, largely as a result of
economic pressures. Most publications that started as dailies have cut
back production schedules. Notable existing dailies, all published in
Chișinău, are the government organ Moldova Suverenă (“Sovereign
Moldova”), Nezavisimaya Moldova (“Independent Moldova”), and the
Christian Democratic People’s Party (Partidul Popular Creștin și
Democrat; PPCD) organ Țara (“Homeland”). The national news agency, known
by its acronym Moldpres, is the country’s official news service. All
broadcasting activities have been consolidated under the State Radio and
Television Company of Moldova, which was founded in 1994.
Fyodor Nikolayevich Sukhopara
Ernest Latham, Jr.
Bessarabia—the name often given to the region of historical
Moldavia between the Dniester and Prut rivers—has a long and stormy
history. Part of Scythia in the 1st millennium bce, Bessarabia later
came marginally under the control of the Roman Empire as part of Dacia.
Lying on one of the principal land routes into Europe, it was invaded by
successive waves of barbarians, and the area had many masters.
Gradually, under varying influences, the Vlach (or Romanian) nationality
developed. Part of the area came under the rule of Kievan Rus between
the 10th and 12th centuries ce and later passed to the Galician princes.
From 1241 to the 14th century Moldavia was vassal to the Tatars.
The Genoese, founding fortified commercial outposts on the Dniester
in the 14th century, paved the way for contact with Western culture, but
Bessarabia’s development depended on the rise of the principalities of
Moldavia and Walachia, which soon expanded to include the territory. The
southern area, which originally fell into the Walachian sphere, probably
took its name from the Basarab dynasty. The whole province became part
of Moldavia in the 15th century but was soon exposed to the Turkish
onslaught; the key points of Cetatea Albă and Chilia (modern
Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyy and Kiliya, Ukraine, respectively) were captured
in 1484, and this conquest was ratified by treaty (in 1503 and 1513).
The southern part of Bessarabia was again detached and organized by the
Turks into two sanjaks (districts) of the Ottoman Empire.
Beginning with Peter I (the Great), Russia drove toward the Danube
delta. The Russians occupied Moldavia five times between 1711 and 1812
and finally secured Turkey’s cession of Bessarabia—approximately half of
historic Moldavia—in the Treaty of Bucharest (1812).
The Russian administration (1812–1917)
In 1829, in the Treaty of Adrianople, Russia pushed the frontier south
to include the Danube delta. After the Crimean War, the Treaty of Paris
in 1856 restored southern Bessarabia (at that time divided into three
districts: Izmail, Kagul [or Cahul], and Bolgrad) to Moldavia; but in
1878, despite Romania’s having fought on the Russian side against
Turkey, the Treaty of Berlin assigned these three districts once more to
Russia, giving the Dobruja to Romania as compensation.
The Russian administration had at first been liberal. Autonomy had
been granted in 1818 and had remained in force until 1828; a Moldavian
boyar had been made governor and a Moldavian archbishop installed.
Nevertheless, many Moldavian peasants, fearing the introduction of
serfdom, fled across the Prut. The introduction of the zemstvo system in
1869 provided a measure of local autonomy, but a policy of Russification
in both civil and ecclesiastical administration was thereafter pursued,
with little effect on the largely illiterate peasantry. The founding of
the kingdom of Romania (1881) formed a centre of attraction for
Moldavian nationalism, but no lively movement developed in Bessarabia
until after the Russian Revolution of 1905. The movement’s strength was
drawn not from the boyars (largely Russified) but from schoolteachers
and parish priests. Bessarabia achieved some prosperity under Russian
rule. The empire formed a good market for Bessarabia’s agricultural
produce, which was dispatched by river or by the railway system built to
link the region with the north-south main line to Odessa. Chişinău was a
relatively flourishing town, though its large Jewish population suffered
severely in a pogrom in 1903.
World War I and the Russian Revolution
During World War I the Central Powers tempted Romania to side with
them by offering to restore Bessarabia. The scales were tipped in favour
of the Allies, however, by counteroffers of Transylvania and Bukovina,
as well as by the Francophile sentiment of the Romanian people, so that
by 1916 Romania was fighting as Russia’s ally. The revolutionary and
nationalist ferment in the Russian Empire spread quickly to Bessarabia,
which proclaimed support for the moderate Socialist Revolutionary
Aleksandr Kerensky in March 1917. In April the National Moldavian
Committee demanded autonomy, land reform, and the use of the Romanian
language; similar rights were claimed for the Moldavians, about 400,000
in number, settled east of the Dniester. A move toward complete
independence was encouraged by events in Ukraine, and in November 1917 a
council known as the Sfatul Ţării (Sfat) was set up on the model of the
Kiev Rada. On Dec. 15, 1917, the Sfat proclaimed Bessarabia an
autonomous constituent republic of the Federation of Russian Republics.
Disorders caused by the revolutionary Russian soldiery led the Sfat to
appeal to the Allies’ representatives and to the Romanian government at
Iaşi for military help, whereupon the Bolsheviks occupied Chişinău in
January 1918. They were driven out by Romanian forces within two weeks;
and on February 6 the Sfat, again following Kiev, proclaimed Bessarabia
an independent Moldavian republic, renouncing all ties with Russia.
Recognizing the economic impossibility of isolation and alarmed by the
pretensions of the German-sponsored Ukrainian government, the Sfat voted
for conditional union with Romania in April 1918. Reservations about the
union were abandoned with the defeat of the Central Powers and the
creation of Greater Romania, and unconditional union was voted at the
final session of the Sfat in December 1918. The union of Bessarabia with
Romania was recognized by a treaty (part of the Paris Peace Conference)
signed on Oct. 28, 1920, by Romania, Great Britain, France, Italy, and
Japan; the treaty eventually was ratified by all signatories but Japan.
The Soviet Union never recognized Romania’s right to the province, and
in 1924 it established the tiny Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist
Republic on Ukrainian territory across the Dniester. The frontier along
the Dniester was closed, but railway connections were reestablished in
1936, two years after the resumption of diplomatic relations.
The Romanian administration (1918–40)
The Romanian government immediately put through a drastic land
reform, initiated by Sfatul Ţării, whereby the maximum holding allowed
was 247 acres (100 hectares). Notwithstanding this, the province
languished economically. The uncertainty caused by the continued
pretensions of the Soviet Union hindered development; Romania had little
need of Bessarabia’s fruit, grain, and wine; roads were inadequate; the
railway system was geared to that of Russia; and the closing of the
Dniester and the loss of the natural outlet, Odessa, had a disastrous
effect. The province was put under a centralized regime, at times
military in character; in 1938 King Carol II attempted to break up its
historical unity by dividing it among newly created regions. Some tardy
concessions to the minorities were made in 1939.
World War II
After the German-Soviet pact of August 1939, the Soviet Union
revived claims to Bessarabia, and the collapse of the western European
front to the Germans in 1940 precipitated action. In late June a Soviet
ultimatum to Romania demanded the cession of Bessarabia and of northern
Bukovina. The Romanian government was forced to submit, and Soviet
troops marched in (June 28). On July 11 the districts of central
Bessarabia inhabited predominantly by Moldavians were joined to part of
the autonomous Moldavian republic across the Dniester to form, in
August, a Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.), with Chişinău as
its capital. The Hotin district in the north was incorporated into the
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as were the southern districts of
Cetatea Albă and Izmail. Further land was expropriated and
collectivization launched. Many Moldavians left, some Jews entered, and
the whole German population was removed to western Poland under an
agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. In July 1941 Romania,
having entered the war as Germany’s ally against the Soviet Union,
reoccupied Bessarabia. By December 1942 it was fully governed as
Romanian territory, though a formal decree of annexation was postponed
until the end of hostilities. Some Moldavian peasants from
Transdniestria (Transnistria; Pridnestrovie), the newly organized
Romanian province between the Dniester and the Southern Buh, were
settled on the farms of departed Germans, and many Jews were killed or
The Moldavian S.S.R.
Following the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia in 1944, the province
was reintegrated into the Soviet Union as the Moldavian S.S.R.
Thereafter, policies formulated in Moscow became the norms for political
and economic development until the Soviet system began to weaken in the
late 1980s. The Communist Party coordinated all public activities,
justifying its monopoly of power as necessary to create the material
foundations for the building of communism. The party vigorously promoted
industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture, abolishing
private ownership of land and of the means of production and
distribution. So predominant was the party that civil society ceased to
exist. The history of Moldavia during the Soviet period was, in effect,
the history of the Communist Party.
The weakening and eventual collapse of the Communist Party in the
Soviet Union made possible the revival of civil society and open public
debate in Moldavia, and a number of new political parties were formed.
The Moldovan majority took the lead in severing ties with Moscow:
sovereignty was declared in June 1990, and the independent Republic of
Moldova was proclaimed on Aug. 27, 1991. The Gagauz in the south and the
Russians east of the Dniester responded by declaring independent
republics of their own, mainly as a defense against Moldovan
nationalism. The Moldovan majority found itself divided over the
question of union with Romania, and the Moldovan-dominated government
found it impossible militarily to subdue Russian separatists. Such
political stalemates complicated efforts to reshape Moldova’s socialist
economy through investment and trade from abroad.
The parliamentary elections of February 1994 brought about a
political realignment. Shortly before falling into decline, the Agrarian
Democratic Party won an electoral majority, defeating parties that
favoured either unification with Romania or a close alliance with
Russia. In March of that year, Moldovans voted overwhelmingly to
maintain independence, and in April the parliament approved limited
membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States. At the same time
“Moldovanism,” an ideology of self-determination emphasizing the
country’s distinctiveness from Romania, became a significant force in
political and cultural life. A new constitution, ratified by the
parliament on July 28, 1994, granted substantial autonomy to
Transdniestria and Gagauzia, though the former remained problematic
because of the ongoing Russian military presence there. Relations
between Moldova and Transdniestria remained strained over the latter’s
attempt to secure independence, a goal the majority of voters there
supported again in a referendum in 2006.
A constitutional amendment in 2000 refashioned Moldova into a unitary
parliamentary republic, as direct presidential elections were dropped.
The Communist Party was victorious in the 2001 and 2005 elections,
making Moldova the first former Soviet republic to return unreformed
communists to power; though by the time of its 2005 electoral victory,
the party had signaled a shift away from Russia and toward the European
Union (EU). This move relaxed tensions with Romania, which in 2005
offered support for Moldova’s entry into the EU. But Moldova’s concern
with security and independence led to further disputes with Romania,
especially when that country gained entry into the EU in 2007 and
started granting citizenship to Moldovans who applied for it. Moreover,
conflicts with Russia over Transdniestria and trade issues had caused
Russia to interrupt gas shipments to Moldova and to prohibit the
importation of Moldovan wines in 2006. As Moldova moved cautiously
toward a market economy, struggling to complete its post-Soviet
transformation, it continued to suffer economically as one of the
poorest countries in Europe.
Keith Arnold Hitchins
In 2008 the country’s first female prime minister, Zinaida Greceanii,
of the Communist Party, took office. In parliamentary elections in April
2009 the Communist Party demonstrated its continued strength by winning
50 percent of the vote; however, upon hearing of the Communist victory,
crowds of protestors—many of them young people desiring a break with the
country’s Communist past—stormed the parliament building. In May the
Communists tapped Prime Minister Greceanii to succeed outgoing president
Vladimir Voronin, but the parliamentary vote required to elect the new
president failed on two occasions. The body’s opposition parties,
questioning the validity of the April election results, had refused to
participate in either vote, thereby depriving the Communists of the
three-fifths majority needed for Greceanii’s election. Following the
second failed vote, the government called new parliamentary elections,
which took place in July and in which the Communists failed to win a
majority and the four pro-Western opposition parties together gained
enough seats to form a coalition government. Despite their victory,
however, the four parties fell short of the three-fifths majority
required to choose a president.