The Republic of Moldova occupies most of what has been known as Bessarabia.
Moldova's location has made it a historic passageway between Asia and southern
Europe as well as the victim of frequent warfare. Greeks, Romans, Huns,
and Bulgars invaded the area, which in the 13th century became part of
the Mongol empire. An independent Moldovan state emerged briefly in the
14th century under celebrated leader Stefan the Great, but subsequently
fell under Ottoman Turkish rule in the 16th century.
After the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-12, the eastern half of Moldova
(Bessarabia) between the Prut and the Dniester Rivers was ceded to Russia,
while Romanian Moldova (west of the Prut) remained with the Turks. Romania,
which gained independence in 1878, took control of the Russian half of
Moldova in 1918. The Soviet Union never recognized the action and created
an autonomous Moldavian republic on the east side of the Dniester River
In 1940, Romania was forced to cede eastern Moldova to the Union of
Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), which established the Moldavian
Soviet Socialist Republic by merging the autonomous republic east of the
Dniester and the annexed Bessarabian portion. Romania sought to regain
it by joining with Germany in the 1941 attack on the U.S.S.R. Moldova was
ceded back to Moscow when hostilities between the U.S.S.R. and Romania
ceased at the end of World War II. The present boundary between Moldova
and Romania was established in 1947. Moldova remained part of the U.S.S.R.
until the early 1990s; the Soviet Union was formally dissolved In December
In October 1990, Mircea Snegur was elected president of Moldova by the
Parliament. A former Communist Party official, he endorsed independence
from the Soviet Union and actively sought Western recognition. Moldova
declared its independence from the U.S.S.R. in August 1991. However, Snegur's
opposition to immediate reunification with Romania led to a split with
the Moldovan Popular Front in October 1991 and to his decision to run as
an independent candidate in a December 1991 presidential election. Running
unopposed, he won after the Popular Front's efforts to organize a voter
Moldova's transition to democracy initially had been impeded by an ineffective
Parliament, the lack of a new constitution, a separatist movement led by
the Gagauz (Christian Turkic) minority in the south, and unrest in the
Transnistria region on the left bank of the Nistru/Dniester River, where
a separatist movement--assisted by uniformed Russian military forces in
the region and led by supporters of the 1991 coup attempt in Moscow--declared
a "Dniester republic."
In 1992, the government negotiated a cease-fire arrangement with Russian
and Transnistrian officials, although tensions continue, and negotiations
are ongoing. In February 1994, new legislative elections were held, and
the ineffective Parliament that had been elected in 1990 to a 5-year term
was replaced. A new constitution was adopted in July 1994. The conflict
with the Gagauz minority was defused by the granting of local autonomy
The February 1994 Parliamentary elections were conducted peacefully
and received good ratings from international observers for their fairness.
Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli was re-elected to his post in March 1994,
as was Petru Lucinschi to his post as speaker of the Parliament. Authorities
in Transnistria, however, refused to allow balloting there and discouraged
the local population from participating. Inhabitants of the Gagauz separatist
region did participate in the elections.
In the presidential elections of 1996, Parliamentary speaker Petru Lucinschi
surprised the nation with an upset victory over the incumbent, Mircea Snegur,
in a second round of balloting. The elections were widely judged as free
and fair by international observers, a hallmark that would come to characterize
future nationwide elections in Moldova as well.
Though President Lucinschi managed to institute some very important
reforms--among them the successful fight for the "Pamint" land privatization
program--his tenure was marked by constant legislative struggle with Moldova's
Parliament. Several times, the Parliament considered votes of no confidence
in the President's government, and a succession of moderate, pro-reform
prime ministers were dismissed by a Parliament increasingly dominated by
the Communist Party faction.
In 2000, Parliament passed a decree declaring Moldova a parliamentary
republic, with the presidency henceforth to be decided not by popular vote,
but by parliamentary vote. However, since no single candidate was able
to garner a majority of votes, Lucinschi temporarily remained president.
Later that year, when Parliament failed three times to successfully elect
a new president, Lucinschi exercised his right to dissolve Parliament,
calling for new parliamentary elections in the hope that a new Parliament
would be more open to his initiatives--and, possibly, even rescind the
decree on election of the president.
Widespread popular dissatisfaction with the government and the economy,
however, led to a surprise at the polls in February 2001. In elections
certified by international observers as free and fair, slightly over half
of Moldova's voters cast their ballots for the communists. Under the rules
of Moldova's proportional representation system, the communist faction,
which in the previous parliament consisted of 40 of Parliament's 101 seats,
jumped to 71--a clear majority. Communist deputies were then able to elect
as president Vladimir Voronin, the leader of their faction.
Voronin's tenure has been marked by up and down relations with the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The assistance of these international
financial institutions is critical because large government debts must
be rescheduled. Politically, the government is committed to the reduction
of poverty by allocating more resources to social safety net items such
as health, education, and increasing pensions and salaries. Since election,
President Voronin has proceeded with President Lucinschi's plans to privatize
several important state-owned industries, and has even on occasion broken
with his own party over important issues. Under President Voronin, relations
with the United States remain strong.
From January to April 2002, large demonstrations took place in opposition
to several controversial government proposals, including expanded use of
the Russian language in schools and its designation as an official language.
While the demonstrations were sometimes tense, the government did not use
force, and ultimately, agreed to Council of Europe (CoE) mediation.
Local elections in May and June 2003--the first nationwide contests
since the Communists came to power--did not meet the relatively high electoral
standards set in previous Moldovan elections, according to international
observers. While the voting itself generally met international standards,
the government's behavior in the campaign period--including bias in state
media, misuse of administrative resources, and the arrests of two opposition
mayors--represented a step backward. The Communists won the largest share
of votes, but lost in the country's highest-profile race, for mayor of