Republic of Moldova

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Table of Contents: Overview

The Republic of Moldova is a sovereign state, which is situated at the western edge of the former Soviet Union, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. The largest part of the country leis between two rivers, the Prut and the Dniester, with a long and narrow strip of land, Transnistria, to the east of the Dniester. With a land area of 33, 700 square km., it is the smallest country in the former Soviet Union after Armenia and had the biggest population density, with more than 129 inhabitants per square kilometer. According to the 1990 census, Moldova is home to 4.3 million people, including 64% ethnic Moldovans, 13.8% Ukrainians, 13.5% Russians, and 3.5% Gagauzes. Its south- eastern part has a large proportion of Bulgarians. Other minorities are Greeks, Armenians, and Azerbaijanians, and some other nationalities.

By religion, the greatest part of the population are Eastern Orthodox Christians. Moldovan Gagauzes seem to be the only group of all Turk- origin people who are Orthodox Christians too. Besides that Moldova also has other church communities such as Catholics, as well as small groups of Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists and Jews. There have been no conflicts between these denominations in the republic.

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Historians believe that ancestors of Moldavians to be Thracian tribes of the Dacians. After the Roman conquest of this territory in the second and third centuries A. D., the local population was Romanized, and together with the Roman colonists, they came together to form the population of the lower Danube region and the inner Carpathian Plateau.

After the colonization of the Carpathian- Balkan lands by the Slavs, the remaining part of the local Romanized population entered into close and diverse contacts with the Slavs, which led to the formation of a new ethnic group, the Volokhs. Historians are inclined to believe the Volokhs were direct ancestors of all Eastern Romanian nations.

One of the most successful epochs in the history of independent Moldova was during the reign of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great, 1457- 1504). During these years, Moldova won important victories over Turks, Tartars, Polish, and other invaders. However, these temporary successes could not serve as a guarantee of the future stability of the state. Under a constant threat of aggression, these principalities, which existed in the region in those times, Transylvania, Moldova, and Muntenia, came to realize that the only way to oppose external invasion was unification. Their first unification took place during the rule of Mihai Viteasul in 1593- 1601. This historic event served a precedent for the subsequent unification of two principalities- Tara Romaneasca and Moldova, which joined Romania in 1859.

Basarabia, a region between the Dniester and Prut rivers, which makes up the greater part of present- day Moldova, was annexed by the Russian Empire as a result of the 1806- 1812 Russo- Turkish was. Following the Crimea was, 1856, Russia lost the southern portion of Basarabia to Moldova, only to gain it back from Romania in 1878 at the Berlin Congress .With the collapse of the Russian Empire, Basarabian leaders set up their parliament- Sfatul Tarii (“Council of the Country”), and on March 27, 1918 it voted for unification with Romania.

However, the entire territory has shared this destiny. The authorities of the recently formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) refused to recognize this unification, and in 1924 the “designed” a competitive political entity, the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR), included 14 districts east of the Dniester river, including several districts currently belonging to Ukraine. According to the notorious Molotov- Ribbentrop Pact and its secret appendices that outlined “spheres of influence” for Berlin and Moscow, the region between the Prut and the Dniester was incorporated into USSR, combined with 8 districts of MASSR, and on August 2, 1940 a new Soviet republic was declared, the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR). The historic Moldovan lands to the north of the new Soviet Moldova and to the south, bordering the Black Sea, were given to Ukraine. Moldova had thus been deprived of its outlet to the sea.

In early 1940's, as the World War II was raging through Europe, Romania again claimed the territory of MSSR. Following the war, this region was re- annexed to the Soviet Union. After 1944, the Soviet leadership, seeking to create a uniform, patriotic empire inbred with the Soviet culture, launched an intensive reorganization. This process included a massive population migration, official introduction of the Russian language and Cyrillic alphabet into everyday life, ousting of the Latin script, and cultural re-education of the population in the Soviet traditions.

In June 1991, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet (parliament) announced the republic’s sovereignty, and on August 27, 1991, after and unsuccessful coup attempt in Moscow, declared the state independence of the Republic of Moldova.

After that, the forum has drastically revised the legislation and conducted democratic multiparty elections. One of the first and most important steps of the 1994- elected new Parliament was the adoption of the new Main Law.

After Moldova had adopted the democratic Constitution in summer 1994, the republic made in impressive breakthrough into the international arena. It was admitted into prestigious international organizations, including the Council of Europe- the first of all former Soviet republics (summer 1995). Later on Moldova established relations with European Union, joined the Central European Initiative, and many other organizations.

Expanding its relations with the West, the Moldovan leadership, particularly the new Parliament, sought to preserve its former ties and relations with former Soviet Union (FSU) republics. Although the previous parliament refused to ratify the Agreement on Moldova’s joining the CIS, the legislative forum did ratify the essential document, despite the opposition’s fierce resistance. However, Chisinau made one essential reservation: the Republic of Moldova shall participate only in the CIS economic co-operation, and shall stay away from military and political problems.

The current President of the Republic of Moldova is Vladimir Voronin. He represents Communist Party. Last elections were held in 2001.

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Customs and Traditions

Since ancient times, Moldova has been proud of its popular traditions and customs, which despite all historic hardships, are cherished and handed sown from generation to generation. Situated at a crossroads of Latin and Slavic peoples, Moldova has absorbed their best traditions, thus having enriched its own culture. Simultaneously, the republic shows a bright example of how the cultures of its many nationalities are preserved.

In all times, even during the communist rule with its total atheistic education and de facto ban on religion, the Moldovan people hallowed many religious holidays- Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and other. On such days, city and village streets are raided by groups of maskers dressed in traditional fairy- tale costumes, which congratulate every home on a holy occasion, and wish good and wealth to everybody. After independence these traditions have got their historic breath back, and are even acquiring some new traits. Many of the religious holidays have become official public holidays.

Alongside ancient holidays, there are some new- time “red days” in the calendar, such as August 27, Independence Day, August 31, the Limba Noastra (Our Language) Holiday, and May 9, Heroes Memory Day. Moldova is also famous for its craftsmen who are known in many countries for their masterpieces made of clay, wool, metal, willow, and vine.

Handmade pieces of art created by Moldovan craftsmen have been awarded with hundreds of medals and prizes at international exhibitions. Every year, the republic organizes traditional competitions at which the popular maestro’s demonstrates their best works. They are also put up at traditional selling exhibitions where visitors can not only look at the works, but also buy what they like. Unique pieces of handwork can be seen also in many Moldovan homes, as well as in specialized shops.

A traveler can see hundreds of beautiful water wells along local roads, real masterpieces of architecture with wooden and metal decorations. As a rule, such wells bear elements of religious topics or are decorated with a popular symbols originating from an ancient local legend.

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Culture and Arts

Moldova is a famous for its professional and amateur folk music and dance companies. The indisputable leader here is Jok, a state run academic folk dance company. In Moldovan language “jok” means a merry holiday with dances, and a place in a village where this joyful performance takes place. Vladimir Curbet heads the company “Jok”. The renowned maestro speaks about the national culture- Guests coming to our sunny country are struck not only with its beautiful nature, picturesque Codru woods, the Dniester, endless orchards and vineyards and neat villages, but also the tender care with which Moldovans uphold their ancient traditions, culture, and music. For centuries Moldovans were known for their fiery dances, playing their generally simple national music instruments, and beautiful songs. There are not so many countries left in the world where modern light music companies and stars classed as are inferior to folk performers, both in their number and professional skills. Not many cultures have managed to preserve the art of their ancestors. And since the folklore of different nations are often intertwined, there can hardly be a single human heart which would remain untouched at hearing the gentle sounds of an ancient song, or at seeing the gracious movements of a dancer in his or her medieval costume, or at listening to an ancient ballad sung by history itself.

At every wedding party, at every national holiday, in small villages and big cities, Moldovans enjoy dancing their national dances accompanied by tarafs- national orchestras. You cannot imagine Moldovans without folk songs and dances, like food without a glass of good wine. Even on geographic maps the outline of Moldova resembles a brunch of grapes.

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“Old Mother” Europe is famous for its thousands of cities, ancient and young, beautiful ad no so beautiful, big and small, some noisy and some tranquil, and all of them individual in their own way.

Chisinau is one of these cities, it is not a major European city like London or Paris, nor it is renowned for its outstanding beauty like St. Petersburg or Venice, or a past as heroic as that of Rome and Athens, but like any city, its emits a charm and warmth all of its own.

History has dictated that Chisinau was to become the capital of Moldova, and the leading center of the Dniester- Prut interfluves. Its history proves that Chisinau has been the example of chance, persistence, and ambition. It is difficult to believe that only two centuries ago the capital city of the Republic of Moldova was a simple settlement covering a territory less then any of it present day suburban communities. It is also of interest to note that many other Moldovan cities, like Orhei, Tighina, Lapusna, Soroca, Cetatea, and Alba, were much larger in size and played a more important role in the country than Chisinau did. However, it was destined to become the regions center, and the capital of Moldova.

The history of Chisinau is fairly short, though the place was populated since time imme- morial, as can be established by many of the archaeological findings and historical documents that have been uncovered. The earliest documentary proof of Chisinau existence dates back to 1436. A document of no lesser significance, written in 1466 by Stefan the Great, which certifies the transfer of Chisinau into the ownership of Vlaicu Parcalab. In the Soviet period this document was considered as the first official mentioning of the settlement’s existence.

As a town Chisinau was first mentioned in the XVIIth century document. Its steady development and growth was largely due to its good location on the trade road between Iasi and Tighina. The devastating invasions by Turks and Tartars, who burned the town to ashes, were of course a considerable impediment to its development. However, the residents did not give in and each time restored the place anew. Eventually, by the beginning of the XIXth century, its population had reached approximately 7 thousand residents. The town had about 80 small shops, 50 workshops, 6 churches, and several schools.

The real landmark of its history took place in 1812, when Basarabia acceded to the Russian Empire. Metropolitan Banulescu- Bodoni chose Chisinau as his residence, and the town became the administrative center of the Basarabian province. This circumstance gave a powerful impulse to its development.

The heart of Chisinau is the Square of the Great National Assembly with its two still existing historic elements- the Arch of Triumph and the Cathedral. The Arch was built in 1840 to commemorate the victory of the Russian army over the Ottoman Empire. The Cathedral is one of the most magnificent buildings in Chisinau. It was built in 1830- 1836 in the neoclassical style under the design of Melnikov, a St. Petersburg architect.

The Square’s south- western corner, decorated by the monument of King Stefan cel Mare, was built in 1927. The monument which features the magnificent figure of Stefan, who reigned Moldova for several decades since 1457, has become the symbol of Chisinau. This genuine patriot and warrior successfully defended the country, without any foreign assistance, from the attempted invasions by the Turks, Tartars, Hungarians, Poles, and other aggressors.

In post- World War II decades the city was rapidly developing, building new residential communities, which do not have any ancient- style edifices. The majority of modern buildings are built using the same type of design and construction to look very much alike. Such properties used to be worked out for the whole of the Soviet Union, and due to this fact all new residential communities in Chisinau resemble those in Moscow, Kyiv, Minsk, or in any other city in the former USSR. Some of the most recent buildings are beginning to attract the spectators’ eyes with the originality of the design. Such buildings are the Presidential Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Opera, the Universal Bank, and some others.

Today Chisinau has over 750 thousand residents, and the city territory covers over 170 sq. km. The city accounts for approximately 40% of the national industrial output. Chisinau is home to the central offices of all commercial banks and major investment foundations, all publishing houses, newspapers, and magazines. Chisinau is the nation’s spiritual center, and is home to the Moldova’s first free economic zone.

Despite all historic hardships, wars, aggressions, and conquests, Chisinau each time has risen from the ashes like a Phoenix, walking up from its historic past as a medieval Moldovan settlement to a civilized European city.

Thus, Chisinau is not just a capital city. It is the country’s soul, the place where the country’s history is made, and the city where Moldova begins.

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