A historic passageway between Asia and S Europe, Moldova was often subject to invasion and warfare. It is historically part of a greater Moldavia, the main part of which was an independent principality in the 14th cent. and came under Ottoman Turkish rule in the 16th cent. It became a highly fortified Turkish border region and was a frequent target in Russo-Turkish wars. East Moldavia passed to Russia in 1791. Russia acquired further Moldavian territory in 1793 and especially in 1812, when the Russians received all of Bessarabia (the name for the area of Moldavia between the Prut and Dniester rivers). The rest of Moldavia remained with the Turks and later passed to Romania, which seized Bessarabia in 1918.
In 1924, the USSR, refusing to sanction the seizure, established the Moldavian ASSR in Ukraine, with Balta and then (1929) Tiraspol as the capital. Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia to the USSR in 1940. The predominantly Ukrainian districts in the south and around Khotin in the north were incorporated into Ukraine, as were parts of the Moldavian ASSR; the rest was merged with what remained of the Moldavian ASSR and made a constituent republic (the Moldavian SSR). Taken by Romania in 1941, the republic was reconquered by the USSR in 1944. In June, 1990, the Moldavian SSR adopted a measure calling for greater sovereignty within the USSR. In Aug., 1991, Moldova, which is the Romanian name of the region, was declared an independent republic; Mircea Snegur was elected president, and it reluctantly joined the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
With independence, a guerrilla war began that sought secession of the Trans-Dniester Region, where there were many ethnic Russians who feared a Moldovan merger with Romania. In 1992 a cease-fire went into effect that granted limited autonomy to the region, and Russian troops were stationed there. In 1995, in a move termed illegal by the central government, residents overwhelmingly voted for independence from Moldova. A peace accord was signed in 1997, giving the region more autonomy but agreeing that Moldova would remain a single state; relations between the region and central government are occasionally tense. Gagauzia, a region dominated by ethnic Turks, was granted limited autonomy in 1994, with the right to secede in the event Moldova should merge with Romania.
In the first post-Soviet parliamentary elections in Moldova (1994), Snegur's Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP), running on a centrist platform and in opposition to unification with Romania, won a majority. Intraparty conflicts led to a split in the ADP in mid-1995, when Snegur organized the new centrist Party of Revival and Harmony. The pro-Moscow faction remained within the ADP. A crisis was precipitated in Mar., 1996, when Snegur attempted to remove the defense minister. The largely ADP army resisted Snegur's order, and his actions were subsequently ruled unconstitutional.
Petru Lucinschi, a former Communist running as an independent, won a presidential runoff election against Snegur in Dec., 1996. A coalition of center-right parties formed a goverment following legislative elections in 1998, although Communists won the largest bloc of seats in parliament. In 1999, Russia agreed to withdraw its remaining troops from Moldova by 2001, but about 1,500 remain in the Trans-Dniester Region. The Communist party won nearly 50% of the vote and 71 parliamentary seats in the 2001 elections; subsequently, Vladimir Voronin, a Communist, was elected president. Although they came to power advocating closer relations with Russia (and provoked antigovernment demonstrations by attempting to require Russian in schools and make it a second official language), the Communists became somewhat more pro-Western during the subsequent four years.
A Russian-sponsored accord on the Trans-Dniester Region was rejected in Nov., 2003, after mass demonstrations against it by Moldovans; the agreement would have permitted Russian troops to stay in the region in a buffer zone until 2020. An attempt by Trans-Dniester to force the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in its Moldovan-language schools led to heightened tensions between the breakaway region and Moldova in 2004, and led to economic retaliation by Moldova.
In the 2005 parliamentary elections the Communists won 46% of the vote and 56 seats, and the new parliament reelected Voronin. In mid-2005 the parliament passed a law that offered Trans-Dniester a special regional status in exchange for an end to its separatist movement. Moldova secured some leverage over Trans-Dniester in Mar., 2006, when Ukraine, partly in response to European Union concerns about smuggling, began requiring that goods coming from Trans-Dniester clear Moldovan customs. Russia subsequently (Apr., 2006) imposed a ban on the importation of Moldovan wines, brandies, and meat, ostensibly for sanitary reasons.
In Sept., 2006, Trans-Dniester held a referendum in which voters called for the region's independence and union with Russia, but it had little effect on the stalemate concerning the region's status. After Moldova threatened (Nov., 2006) to link its trade dispute with Russia to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization, Russia and Moldova reached an agreement under which the importation bans were lifted. In Apr., 2008, there were talks between the leaders of Moldova and Trans-Dniester following signs of an accommodation between Moldova and Russia over Moldovan ties with the West. Further talks have been held since then, but have produced no significant change in the situation.
In Apr., 2009, the Communists again won the parliamentary elections, with roughly half the vote and 60 seats. The opposition accused the government of fraud and demanded a recount or a re-vote, and protests in the capital turned violent, leading to the storming of government buildings. The president accused Romania fomenting the violence, which Romania angrily denied; Moldova also expelled the Romanian ambassador. After the violence, President Voronin, who had rejected a recount, called for one. The recount confirmed the results, but the opposition called the recount procedure too narrow and boycotted it. The Communists, however, lacked enough seats in parliament to elect a president, and after two unsuccessful votes, parliament was dissolved in June and new elections called for July.
Although the Communists won a plurality of the seats, three pro-European opposition parties combined won a majority. In September, Voronin, who had remained on as acting president, resigned, and Mihai Ghimpu, the parliamentary speaker elected by the pro-European coalition, became acting president. The governing coalition, however, also was unable to secure enough votes to elect a president. A Sept., 2010, referendum on electing the president by direct popular vote failed to secure a large enough turnout to be binding, and parliament was subsequently dissolved. Elections in November again gave a majority to the pro-European coalition, but not enough to guarantee that they could elect a president. Marian Lupu was elected parliamentary speaker in Jan., 2011, and became acting president; subsequent attempts to elect a president were unsuccessful until Mar., 2012, when Nicolae Timofti, a senior judge, was narrowly elected to the office.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.