Facts about Moldova
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History and Ethnic Relations: Republic of Moldova
Emergence of the Nation: According to official historiography, the Republic of Moldova derives directly from the Moldovan principality that was founded by Dragoş and gained independence from the Hungarian kingdom under the Valachian voievod Bogdan I in 1359. The government thus celebrated the 640th anniversary of statehood in 1999. However, what is today the Republic of Moldova consists only of the central and eastern parts of the original principality. The Transdniestrian region was never part of the principality, but Moldovan colonists settled on the left bank of the Dniestr in the fifteenth century. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the principality extended from the Carpathians to the Dniestr. Under Stephen the Great (1457–1504), who defended the principality successfully against the Ottoman Empire, Moldova flourished. Many churches and monasteries were built under his regency. Stephen is regarded as the main national hero of contemporary Moldova. His statue stands in the city center of Chişinău, the main boulevard is named for him, and his picture is printed on every banknote. However, soon after Stephen died, Moldova lost its independence and became, like the neighboring principality of Valachia, a vassal state of Constantinople.
In the Treaty of Bucharest of 1812, the Ottoman Empire was forced to cede the area between the Prut and the Dniestr to the Russian Empire under the name Bessarabia. In 1859, western Moldova and Valachia formed the united principality of Romania, which gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878. Thus, the Moldovans in Bessarabia were excluded from the Romanian nation-building process and remained in an underdeveloped, remote, agricultural province of the Russian Empire. Only with the upheavals of the World War I and the October Revolution did the Moldovans of Bessarabia join the Romanian nation-state. The Moldovan parliament, the Sfatul Ţării, declared the independence of the "Democratic Republic of Moldova" on 24 January 1918 but then voted for union with Romania on 27 March 1918. The unification was mostly due to the desperate circumstances the young, unstable republic faced and was not applauded by all sections of the population. The following twenty-two years of Romanian rule are considered by many Moldovans and non-Moldovans as a period of colonization and exploitation. The subsequent period of Sovietization and Russification, however, is regarded as the darkest period in the national history. Stalin annexed Bessarabia in June 1940 and again in 1944, when the Soviet Union reconquered the area after temporary Romanian occupation. The northern and southern parts of Bessarabia were transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), and in exchange the western part of what since 1924 had been the Moldovan Autonomous Socialist Republic on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR was given to the newly created Moldovan Socialist Soviet Republic. Having been ruled by foreign powers since the sixteenth century, Moldova declared its independence on 27 August 1991.
After sentiments ran high in favor of unification with Romania at the beginning of the 1990s, the tide turned, and in a 1994 referendum 95 percent of the voters elected to retain independence. As a result of their close historical, linguistic, and cultural ties with Romania, many Moldovans see themselves as Romanian. At the same time, the one hundred eighty years of separation from Romania and the different influences Bessarabia has experienced since the early nineteenth century have preserved and reinforced a distinctive Moldovan identity east of the Prut. Unlike Romanians, a high percentage of Moldovans have an ethnically mixed family background. Consequently, probably less than 5 percent of the people consider themselves to have a pure Romanian identity, whereas another 5 to 10 percent would identify themselves as Moldovan in the sense of being outspokenly non-Romanian. The existence of these two groups is reflected in a fierce debate between "Unionists" and "Moldovanists." Most inhabitants of the titular nation consider their Moldovan identity as their central political one but their Romanian identity as culturally essential. Since discussions on unification with Romania have disappeared from the public agenda, the question of how to form a multi-ethnic nation-state is growing in importance.