POPULATION: 4.4 million (about 65 percent, or about 2.8 million, are ethnic Moldovans)
LANGUAGE: Moldovan (Romanian); Russian
RELIGION: Russian Orthodox Church; Judaism
The area now known as Moldova was occupied as far back as 2000 BC . Over the centuries Moldova has been under the rule of many Eastern European groups as well as the Mongols. In 1349, Prince Bogdan of Hungary established Moldova as an independent principality (state ruled by a prince) under Hungarian rule. The area occupied by Moldova consists of the land between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, formerly known as Bessarabia.
Moldova fell to the Ottoman Turk Empire in 1512 and remained an Ottoman territory for the next three centuries. During the 1700s and 1800s, the Russian Empire battled the Ottomans for control over the region. In 1878, Russia claimed the territory and held onto it until the collapse of the Russian imperial government in 1917. The Bessarabian government voted for a total union with Romania. However, in 1924 the Soviet Union established it as a Soviet republic. One of the worst consequences of Soviet rule was the forced collectivization of agriculture (changing small, private farming into large, state-run agricultural enterprises). Farmers who refused to cooperate with collectivization were deported to Siberia. The ones who stayed in Moldova had to cope with severe famine from 1945 to 1947 caused by drought, crop failure, and poor government policies.
The Soviet authorities changed the name of the Romanian language, spoken by the majority of the population, to Moldavian. They also changed the alphabet from Latin to Cyrillic (the alphabet of Russia). For approximately forty-five years, Moldovans had limited access to their history and culture.
At the end of the 1980s, an independence movement called the Popular Front of Moldavia (PFM) arose. The PFM demanded the end of Communist rule, began the revival of the Romanian language and culture, and wanted to again unite the Moldavian republic with Romania. In 1989, the government restored the use of the Latin alphabet and officially changed the name to the Republic of Moldova.
The movement for territorial unification with Romania has lost most of its momentum. Moldova is gradually building a democratic society and a market economy (an economy based on supply and demand).
The Moldovan homeland is historic Bessarabia—the land between the Prut and Dnestr rivers in the southwestern corner of the former Soviet Union. One of the smallest of the former Soviet republics, Moldova is only slightly larger than the state of Maryland. Most of the terrain consists of hilly plains with many rivers and streams.
Today, about 65 percent of Moldova's 4.4 million inhabitants are ethnic Moldovans. Moldova has historically been home to a large number of ethnic groups, including Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauz (a Turkish group of the Christian faith), Gypsies (Roma), Jews, Poles, and Germans. Although Moldova was the most densely populated of all the former Soviet republics, since its people are traditionally rural, there are few large cities.
The language spoken in Moldova is Romanian. By a recent amendment to the Moldovan Constitution, it is called Moldovan in order to stop the movement toward unification with Romania. Romanian is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It is similar to Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Moldovan was temporarily written in the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet during the Soviet era, but is now written in the Latin alphabet again. Opinions continue to differ on whether to call the language Moldovan or Romanian.
Mihai, Ion, Mircea, Octavian, and Andrei are common boys' names. Elena, Angela, Diana, Christina, and Liliana are common girls' names. Examples of everyday Romanian words include noroc (hello), buna ziua (good afternoon), da (yes), nu (no), poftim (please), multumesc (thank you), and la revedere (goodbye).
Moldova has a long history of folklore, consisting of ballads, songs, tales, jokes, riddles, dances, and games. The ancient folk ballad "Miorita" is the favorite of all ballads in traditional Moldovan culture. Its rhyme reveals the melodiousness and beauty of the Romanian language.
Ileana Cosinzeana and Fat Frumos are the romantic couple present in a number of fairy tales. The brave Fat Frumos frees the beautiful and kind Ileana Cosinzeana from the evil dragon, and they live happily ever after. Pacala and Tindala are two funny men who are the characters of hundreds of jokes.
Because of the influence of Romanian culture, almost all Moldovans belong to the Orthodox Church. In 1992, the Moldovan government guaranteed freedom of religion but required that all religious groups be officially registered with the government.
A pogrom (an organized persecution or massacre) against Moldovan Jews in 1903 severely reduced the urban Jewish population. Jews in Moldova were also harassed during the Soviet era. In the early 1990s, many Jewish newspapers were started, and a synagogue and Jewish high school opened in Chisinau. Also, the Chisinau State University created a Department of Jewish Studies.
The major holidays celebrated widely in Moldova are the traditional Christian holidays, such as Christmas (December 25) and Easter. Christmas is celebrated in much the same way as in Western countries, although it is less commercialized. Easter is a family holiday, when women bake a special kind of bread called pasca and paint eggs red.
Each village has its own holiday once a year, called hram (church). It celebrates the establishment of the village church. In modern times it has lost some of its religious character. It is now a special day when each family prepares delicious food and receives guests from other villages or towns.
Independence Day is on August 27, when Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union. It is a national holiday. Sarbatoarea Limbii Noastre (National Language Day) is on August 31. It marks the day when Romanian became the state language of Moldova and was changed back to the Latin alphabet. During this day, people attend outside concerts and book fairs.
Christian baptism is an important rite of passage for Moldovan children and their parents. High school graduation usually presents a young Moldovan with the choice of either going to work or continuing school in preparation for the university. Many also begin to consider marriage after graduation, because the completion of high school marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. As with many other cultures, the wedding ceremony formally recognizes the union of the couple and the joining of their families.
Social relations in urban and rural areas differ from each other. In villages, even strangers are supposed to say "Buna ziua" (Good day) to each other. In big towns and cities, only acquaintances greet each other. In formal settings, adults greet each other with "Buna ziua." Men shake hands and may also kiss the women's hands.
Young people usually greet each other with "Salut" or "Noroc," which are the Romanian equivalents of "Hi" and "Hello." Close friends may hug and kiss each other on the cheek. Family and relatives greet each other with hugs and kisses. It is very common for parents to kiss and hug their children.
The rural culture of Moldova has always placed a high value on private housing. In the 1990s, private builders were responsilble for 95 percent of construction in rural areas. As of 1994, about 90 percent of the rural, and 36 percent of the urban, apartments were privately owned. Most of the urban housing units were built in the years immediately following World War II (1939–45), because the cities had been heavily bombed during the war. When Moldova became independent in 1991, there was a severe shortage of building materials.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, families with between five and nine children were common in Moldova. Nowadays, most couples have only one or two children. This may be due to financial concerns as well as the fact that usually both parents work full-time and are not able to take care of more children. Family connections are quite strong due to long-standing traditions, and also because of financial dependence. Children depend on the support of their parents for a long time, even after they get married. Parents count on the help of their children when they retire. Quite often grandparents dedicate themselves to babysitting.
The distribution of family duties between men and women is uneven. Most women work full-time, take care of their children, and do most of the shopping, cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Men usually spend most of their time at work. It is not common for men to cook or do the dishes or the laundry.
The traditional national costume is now only found in museums and in some family collections. The female's traditional garment consists of a white embroidered blouse, an embroidered vest trimmed with sheep fleece, and a white skirt with lace on the hem, usually covered by a black embroidered overskirt. The male costume consists of a white embroidered shirt, a vest similar to the women's, white pants, a hat decorated with peacock feathers or flowers, or a sheep fleece cap, and a wide belt. Both men and women wear opinci, leather shoes with leather laces that tie around the ankles
The costumes used to be entirely hand-made. Every young girl was supposed to be able to weave cloth and do elaborate embroidery. Now only folk music and dance groups wear national costumes, but most of these are mass-produced.
People who live in cities and towns dress like other Eastern or Western Europeans. Jeans and T-shirts are popular with teenagers and young people. Villagers wear everyday clothing fit for farming work: women wear flowery cotton or flannel dresses, and kerchiefs on their heads; men wear shirts and pants made of durable cloth, and caps or hats.
Traditional Moldovan dishes resemble those of neighboring countries. Stuffed cabbage or grape leaves are considered part of the national cuisine. So is placinte, a special pastry filled with cheese, potatoes, cherries, cabbage, and other ingredients. A typical breakfast may consist of a sandwich, a piece of cake, an omelet, or porridge, with tea, coffee, or milk. Lunch is an important meal. It consists of a starter (appetizer), soup, and a hot dish. Dinner may also be a hot meal, or may be lighter than lunch. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be found at the local bazaar (market). The availability of fruit and vegetables depends on the season. Moldovans take great pride in their tradition of wine-making.
Moldova has an extensive system of primary and secondary schools. The educational system requires students to complete ten years of basic education. After that, students may choose either a technical school or a university preparation track. In the early 1990s, about 96 percent of the adult population was literate (able to read and write). About 15 percent of all Moldovans age fifteen or older have completed a secondary education.
Since independence, the Moldovan government has restored the Romanian language as the language of instruction. In addition, classes in Romanian literature and history have been added to the curriculum. Ethnic minorities have the right to education in their own languages. Moldova has over fifty technical and vocational schools, and ten universities. Perhaps the most unique educational institution in Moldova is the 150-year-old College of Wine Culture, which graduates about three hundred students from all over Eastern Europe each year.
Moldovan music, dance, and arts share many traits with their Romanian counterparts. Moldovans often play the cobza, a wooden stringed instrument similar to the lute that is common in traditional Romanian music.
The Moldovan government promotes folk culture through Joc, the national dance company, and Doina, the national folk choir. There are numerous semiprofessional and amateur dance and music groups that perform around the country as well. There are also twelve professional theaters.
Moldova shares most of its literary heritage with Romania. Sometimes it is difficult to draw a dividing line between Romanian and Moldovan literature. The nineteenth century produced many outstanding Romanian authors, such as the poet Mihai Eminescu; the storyteller Ion Creanga; the linguist, writer, and historian Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu; the literary critic Titu Maiorescu; and many others. World-famous Romanian writers and philosophers such as Mircea Eliade and Lucian Blaga are widely studied and respected by Moldovans.
Although Moldova has been independent for several years, the condition of the labor force has not changed much since the Soviet years. In the early 1990s, about 75 percent of all employment was in the government sector. Private businesses employed only about 9 percent of the Moldovan labor force in 1995. Unemployment, rated low by official estimates, was probably actually between 10 and 15 percent.
In villages, children begin to help their parents around the house, or on the farm, at an early age. In the city, high school graduates start working when they are around seventeen years old, and college graduates begin working at around twenty-two. Many students have part-time jobs.
During Soviet rule, there was an extensive system of social welfare that provided good pensions for retirees. Due to recent inflation, the pensions are now barely enough to meet basic needs.
Soccer is popular with youths and adults, both for playing and watching as spectators.
Attending family and friends' reunions, the theater, concerts, movies, and discos are typical forms of recreation. The numerous public parks of Chisinau are wonderful recreation spots. On vacations many people travel to the Romanian or the Ukrainian seaside or mountains. Traveling abroad, however, is affordable only to a small percentage of the population.
Pottery, woodcarving, carpet-weaving, and metalwork are the most famous Moldovan handicrafts.
Moldovans face many of the same economic problems as other former Soviet republics in the transition to a market-oriented economy. These include inflation, price deregulation, unemployment, and the weakening of the social welfare system. Wages have not kept up with the increase in prices. Many Moldovans have been plunged into poverty. Retirees, single parents, and the unemployed have been the most vulnerable groups.
There is also some division among Moldovans over whether or not their country (or parts of it) should pursue a political merger with Romania. Tension continues to exist with two regions within the country that have declared their independence from Moldova: the Gagauz region and the Transdnister.
There are many environmental problems in Moldova. Pesticides, herbicides, and artificial fertilizers were used in the past to increase crop output. Because of this, Moldova's ground water and soil are contaminated with chemicals. Deforestation has also contributed to the ongoing soil deterioration problem.
Crimes motivated by money or drugs have become the most common.
Fedor, Helen, ed. Belarus and Moldova: Country Studies . Lanham, Md.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1995.
Moldova. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1993.