Culture and civilization in Moldova today are based on the country’s history as a Romanian people going back hundreds of years, though that background has been shaped by multiple encounters with other cultures . The Romanian nation was formed in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by the ethnic and cultural fusion of ancient Daci and Roman cultures. In 1359 Moldova became an independent state, called Basarabia. In a short time, its territory extended from the Danube River to the Black Sea. Lying in the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, the area faced waves of migration of ethnic Nomads, as well as constant invasions by neighboring states, including Poland and Hungary, and especially the Ottoman Empire.
During this time, in the 15th century, Stefan cel Mare (“Steven the Great”) became the central figure, as he fought the Ottoman Turks for Moldovan independence, and reigned as Moldova’s great prince from beginning in 1457. Even now, he is the most prominent figure in Moldovan history, and statues of him appear in cities and villages across the country.
However, in 1484, the Ottoman Empire took control of Moldova. In the succeeding centuries Moldova was ruled at various times by Greeks, Russians, and Austrians From 1711-1721, Greeks ruled from Istanbul. From 1787-1792, Austrians from the Hapsburg Empire. In 1812 the Treaty of Burcuresti annexed the current territory of Moldova to Russia. In 1821, the Turks occupied the land. And, 1828-1829, the Russians, again.
In 1918, the Basarabian parliament proclaimed the independent Moldovan Democratic Republic, and shortly after, Moldova united with Romania. However, in 1924, the Soviet Union refused to recognize unification and created the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (RASSM), and called the area “Moldovia.” The Soviets moved the capital to Tiraspol, and imposed the Cyrillic alphabet over the Romanian language. Even today, some people speak Romanian, but cannot read it because they learned to read in Cyrillic, not Latin, letters. In addition, the greatest holiday and celebration in Moldova is not the day of independence from the Soviet Union, but rather August 31, the day in 1989 when Romanian was proclaimed the official language and the Cyrillic alphabet was out. Romanian is the official language now, but government offices, and much commerce, conduct business in both Romanian and Russian.
Under the Soviets and Stalin, between 1944 and 1949, many Moldovans were deported to Siberia. Following the death of Stalin in 1954, some of them returned. Many people middle-age and older still talk of their experience as children when their family was deported.
In the 20th century, major anti-Jewish pogroms were launched in several cities in Moldova. The first modern pogrom started in Chisinau on Easter Day, 1903. At the time Chisinau was a city of 110,00, nearly half of which were Jews. The pogrom lasted for three days, with no intervention by police, and 49 Jews were slaughtered, nearly were 600 wounded, and more than 700 houses were destroyed. Leo Tolstoy spoke out, and mass rallies took place in Paris, London, and New York. Chisinau saw another pogrom in 1905. And in 1941, German Nazis carried out pogroms in Chisinau, and the cities of Balti and Edinets (and probably others). Many Jews were taken away, and many fled. In Balti, a monument in the city center has been erected in honor of victimized Jews. Because of suppression of religion, especially Jewish religion, some people, including a friend of ours, are just now discovering that they are of Jewish heritage.
After the Soviet Union broke up in 1989, Moldova again became independent, on August 17, 1991. For a time, there was consideration of joining with Romania, though many Romanians and Moldovans objected to that. So the country has been independent since 1991. In spite of hard economic times, they are very proud of their independence, and regularly hold elections which are largely honest and fair. When we went to the poll with a good friend while she voted some five years later, even then she came out of the polling booth with tears in her eyes.
Following independence, a strip of Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dneister) River attempted alliance with Russia rather than with Moldova. Supported by the Russian 14th Army, a brief civil war ensued, with around 100 people killed. Today, a cease fire is enforced by Russian, and Moldovan, and Transnistrian troops, though there are still occasional incidents. Called “Transnistria,” that breakaway republic still views itself as independent, though it is unrecognized as such by any other country, even Russia. Though not recognized as independent, still it elects its own (communist) government, maintains customs-type check points at its border, and prints its own money.
As you might imagine, Moldovan people reflect their turbulent history in their values, their beliefs, and their culture. As difficult as their lives are economically, however, almost none advocate return to domination by anyone else.