Moldova’s Latin influence arises from its position on the fringes of the Roman Empire between AD 105 and 270. Over the next thousand years, the region variously came under the control of Huns, Ostrogoths, Magyars and Mongols. The Hungarians were in occupation when, in 1349, Prince Bogdan established an independent principality (hence its original name of Bogdania before its present title, taken from the Moldova River in modern-day Romania). In 1512, the Ottomans moved in and more or less kept hold of the territory for the next three centuries. As an imperial border state (once again), Moldova was subject to frequent incursions by neighboring powers, mainly the Russians who finally took over Moldova in 1792 under the terms of the treaty of Iasi.
By 1861, Moldova had assumed its present form, including the sliver of land known as Transdnistria, to the east of the Dniester River and stretching east as far as the Romanian border (the territory went through more divisions, reallocations and occupation in the period up to 1945). The decision to ally with one or the other of its two more powerful neighbors – Russia and Romania – dominated Moldovan politics during the 20th century. Moldova next experienced a period of independence in 1918, in the course of the Russian Revolution, and then voted to become part of Romania. However, the Soviet Union objected and brought it within the Soviet orbit. It was then occupied by Soviet forces in 1940 under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The German invasion of the Soviet Union put Moldova back under Nazi control; a brief period of unification with Romania followed before the Red Army overran it in 1944.
The Moscow government pursued a policy of attempting to detach Moldova – which was now confirmed as one of the 15 constituent republics of the Soviet Union – from its Romanian roots. This policy was pursued with notable vigour by Leonid Brezhnev, the Communist party leader in Moldova in the early 1950s, who later rose to become leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 until 1982. Gorbachev’s reform program reversed the suppression of national characteristics within the Soviet Union and, by the late 1980s, Romanian was in common and official use in Moldova. Along with the other peripheral Soviet republics, Moldova started to move towards independence from 1991 onwards. At the end of that year, an ex-communist reformer, Mircea Snegur, won an election for the presidency. Four months later, the country achieved formal recognition as an independent state at the United Nations.
Backed by the country’s principal political party, the Communist Party of Moldova (PCRM), Snegur remained in office until the end of 1996, when he lost the presidential election to Petru Lusinchi, backed by the PCRM’s main opponent at the time, the Agrarian Democratic Party. An agreement was forged amongst all the main parties opposed to the PCRM to unite around a single candidate for the presidency and to form a coalition in the Parlamentul (parliament). Thus in 1998, a three-party coalition took control of the government with the PCRM as the principal opposition. However, in 2001, the PCRM recovered control of both the assembly, in which it now enjoys a substantial majority, and the presidency. Vladimir Voronin is the new President, and Vasile Tarlev the Prime Minister. The government’s program proposed major reform in three areas: modernization of the country’s ancient administrative structures, liberalization of the economy, and the creation of a ‘civil society’ – institutions and organizations operating outside state control.
Since independence, Moldovan politics have been dominated by the friction between the Transdnistria region, a small sliver of land lying to the east of the Dniester River and mainly populated by ethnic Russians, and the rest of the country. Attached to Moldova by Stalinist social engineering, Transdnistria remains essential to Moldova for largely economic reasons. Immediately after independence, the new Moldovan government accepted a status quo under which Transdinstria functioned as an autonomous region pending a final settlement. Russian troops remained in a ‘peacekeeping’ capacity. The latest attempt to resolve the political limbo was tabled in June 2002 and proposed a federal system under which Transdnistria and the predominantly Turkic area of Gagauz would enjoy constitutional autonomy. After protracted negotiation and modifications, all parties accepted the plan. However, in the face of violent popular protest, the Moldovan government backed away in November 2003. The future is now uncertain.
Meanwhile, the Moldovan government also faces formidable economic problems, especially after the failure of the 2003 harvest. Relations with the IMF and the World Bank have been difficult and the country seems set to remain among the poorest in Europe for the time being; see the Economy section.
Under the 1994 constitution, the president, who is head of state, is directly elected and holds executive power along with the Council of Ministers who are appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Legislative power is vested in the 101-member Parlamentul which is elected for a four-year term by proportional representation.
Moldova’s economy is dominated by agriculture, food processing and related industries which account for over half of total output. The land is very fertile: some 85 per cent is cultivated. The republic was the largest wine-growing region in the former Soviet Union and this is still a major source of revenue. It also grows fruit, vegetables, tobacco and grain, and produces dairy and meat products in large quantities. Other than food and drink processing, Moldova’s industrial sector is dominated by metals and machinery, textiles and footwear. The once thriving electronics industry has declined due to the dissolution and/or contraction of its major clients in the Russian space and defense sector. Under the Soviet system of economic planning, Moldova exported much of its output to other Soviet republics in exchange for raw materials and fuel products. The demise of the Soviet system triggered a major collapse which saw Moldovan economic output decline by 15 per cent annually during the early 1990s. This catastrophic decline has been arrested but there are few signs of economic growth, and Moldova is now one of the poorest countries in an already impoverished region. In 1992, Moldova joined the IMF, World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) as a ‘Country of Operation’. After an uncertain start, a reform program got under way in Moldova and by 1999 much of the economy had been privatized and deregulated. However, the IMF and World Bank then cut off financial support when the government refused to sell off the key tobacco and wine industries. Following some shifts in policy, the government has since been able to secure funding from the EBRD and occasional small packages from the IMF and World Bank. But relations with the latter pair are still difficult. At the beginning of 2003, the government announced its intention to liberalize the economy further.
The national currency, the Leu, introduced in November 1993, has been reasonably stable apart from the period immediately after the 1998 Russian financial crisis. Russia remains Moldova’s largest trading partner, followed by the Belarus, Romania, Ukraine and Germany. In May 2001, Moldova joined the World Trade Organization. Moldova eventually hopes to join the European Union. That aspiration depends on the results of the 2004 expansion and Moldova’s own economic performance.