Moldova is situated in South Eastern Europe. It borders Ukraine and Romania, and has two autonomous regions: Transdniestria (east) and Gagauzia (south). At the moment the population is around 4,5 million of which 800.000 live in the capital called Chisinau (Russ: Kishinev). The country has a varied ethnic origin, with the majority having a Moldovan/Romanian background (65%), 14% Ukrainian, 13% Russian, 4% Gagauzian, 2% Bulgarian and 2% Other. The history of Moldova is complicated by the fact that the republic's present-day territory was not called Moldova or Moldavia until 1940. Present-day Moldova occupies the central two-thirds of a region historically referred to as Bessarabia. For centuries the name Moldova referred to a larger area encompassing Bessarabia and stretching from the Black Sea in the south to Bukovina (Romania/Ukraine), in the north, and from the Siret River in the west to the Dniestr in the east. Established in the 15th century, Moldova has a long history of foreign domination. It fell under Turkish suzerainty in the 16th century, and part of the north was added to the Austrian Empire in the 18th century. From 1812 to 1856 Russians occupied the eastern portion of Moldova, which they named Bessarabia. After Bessarabia was returned to Moldova in 1856, Moldova and Wallachia were united to form the Kingdom of Romania in 1859. This did not last long. In 1878 Russian forces annexed Bessarabia, which remained part of the Russian empire until 1917. In 1918 the Bessarabian legislature voted in favour of unification with Romania, and at the Paris Peace Conference in 1920 the union was officially recognized. However, the new Soviet government did not accept this and it took steps to acquire the lost territories. In 1924 a Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Republic (ASSR) was established. Soviet forces occupied the Bessarabian region in June 1940 and on August 2, 1940, the Moldavian SSR was proclaimed. Also the Transdniestrian Region was transferred to this new republic. It remained part of the 5
USSR until the collapse of Communism in 1991, when an independent Moldovan Republic was established.
In the beginning of the 1990s disputes arose over Transdniestria and Gagauzia. Where the latter was settled peacefully leaving the Gagauz Region (ethnic Turks) with regional autonomy, the Transdniestrian region did not want to settle for anything less than full independence. This led to large scale fighting between the new Moldovan government and Russian backed Transdniestria separatists in 1992. A compromise was reached in 1993 with a Russian-Transdniestrian- Moldovan peace-keeping force. At the moment still no solution has been found for this region. Transdniestria authorities have issued their own passports and money. Following the Lonely Planet it is a museum of the USSR, in which statues of Lenin still fill the squares and policemen are still dressed in Soviet uniforms.
With the end of Communism in 1991 also democracy entered Moldova. In 1991 first elections were held and the communist Mircea Snegur was elected first president. Up till now Communists have won all parliamentary elections and have 70% of the seats in parliament at the moment. Next elections will be held in spring 2005.
Mass protests, up to 50,000 strong were held almost daily from January 2002 onwards, when attempts were made to reinstate the Russian language. While the country is predominately Romanian-speaking. The mysterious disappearance of the opposition leader and the suspension of two other leading parliamentarians added fuel to the fire. The protests grew, with demands for the president's resignation and fresh elections be called. Voronin called in the army, bringing the dissent to an end. Waves of protests have hit the country since, mainly centering on press freedom, and state controlled television and radio in 2003 and 2004. Moldovan authorities administer the country in a very centralist way and leave not much room for...