The 1700s were a bad time for the region as the Ottomans, Russians,
Austrians, and even the local princes fought over power
as army after army swept in. Eventually, in 1774, the region of modern-day
Moldova was passed on to the Russians and this area, along with some surrounding
lands in modern day Ukraine, became known as Bessarabia.
Over the next couple years the wars continued and eventually the lands were divided
between the Russians, who gained all of modern day Moldova, and the Austrians, who
gained much of Bukovina and what is today known as Moldovia (a region in eastern
At the beginning of the 1800s wars with the Ottoman Empire continued until 1812
when Russia solidified control over the region. From this point until about 1828
the region of Bessarabia (modern day Moldova and parts of
Ukraine) was fairly independent as the Russian government
almost wholly ignored it, only using it as a destination for Russian political exiles.
Among the Russians the region was known as the wild west
throughout the 1800s.
In 1828 a new Russian tsar came to power, Nicolas I, and
he clamped down on the lands, forcing the Russian language on the government and
giving his appointed governors full power over the region. This loss of local power
created a backlash among the primarily ethnic Romanian people and the land was then
passed back and forth between the two groups, beginning with going to the Romanians
in 1859 as Moldavia and Wallachia united as a vassal state under Ottoman Rule. The
rule of Nicolas I also began building greater hostilities between the ethnic Russians
In 1878 the Russians defeated the Ottomans for good and Russia
was given the task of protecting the newly formed state of Romania as Russia gained
control over Bessarabia, placing Moldova back under Russian
supervision. Just as hostilities existed between the ethnic Romanians
and Russians earlier, these conflicts again arose as the Russians tried to force
their language on the people by shutting down Romanian language schools and printing
presses; by 1912 every school in the country was taught in Russian. This fueled
greater resentment among the ethnic Romanians and, since most Romanians couldn't
speak Russian, couldn't get into school to be educated and hence the population
became one of the most poorly educated in all of Europe. This helped continue the
rural lifestyle of the people as farming remained the economy of choice for ethnic
Throughout the 1800s, but particularly under Nicolas I, the Russian
tsars encouraged foreigners to settle the region in order to Russify the lands.
This came in the settlement of ethnic Russians, Cossacks (similar to the
Ukrainians), Jews, and dozens more, including Germans.
This settlement of foreigners, in conjunction with the Russian language being forced
on the people, led to a point of open conflict between many of the ethnic Romanians
and the Russians. These hostilities, in union with domestic Russian chaos in the
early 1900s, led to growing independence movements as Bessarabia sought union with
In 1918 Bessarabia began the process to unite with Romania, however recognition
of this move was indecisive by much of the world and in 1924 both Romania and the
newly formed Soviet Union claimed the land, although most of it fell under Romanian
control for the time.
From 1924 until the beginning of World War II (WWII) in 1939 the ethnic
Romanians tried to force their language, religion, customs, and culture
upon the land's minorities, including the Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, and Germans.
This had a similar effect the earlier Russification effort had: it divided the people
and made many people identify more strongly with their ethnic heritage.
Meanwhile, east of the Nistru River (modern day Transnistria and parts of
Ukraine), the land remained under Russian control and the Soviet government
founded what eventually became the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), with
its capital, later moving to Tiraspol.
Before and at the beginning of World War II the Soviets requested the land of Bessarabia
from Romania, a move that the Romanians denied until 1940,
when the war was escalating and the Romanians had little choice. Shortly after this
the Soviet Union took the lands of Bessarabia (including modern day
Moldova) then the Soviet Union altered the borders of the Moldovan SSR to
Moldova's modern day borders, a move done in order to give ethnic Russians and
Ukrainians the Danube River delta, while also creating an ethnically divided Moldova
so more Russians were present, and hence the government had more support in the
By 1941 the Soviets and Germans had flipped sides in the
war so Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany
in order to retake their lost lands, which they did in 1941. However, in 1944 the
Soviets swept back in and re-took the lands from Romania; the Soviets then maintained
these lands in the war's peace treaties, making modern day Moldova a part of
the Soviet Union.
To quell the violence and uprisings in Moldova, in which
most of the ethnic Moldovans fought Soviet rule, the Soviets further encouraged
Russians and Ukrainians to immigrate
to Moldova. Additionally, the most vocal Romanian nationalists
were deported or killed, which was best pronounced in 1950-52 when Leonid Brezhnev
ruled over the Moldovan SSR.
For much of the time under Soviet rule, Moldova became more
industrialized, but remained one of the poorest regions of the Soviet Union and
the most rural region in the Soviet Union. Nearly all industrialization fell under
the control of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians
as the ethnic Moldovans primarily remained farming the fields. During this time,
the Russian language was again forced upon the people, only adding to the continuing
resentment among many. However, for others the battle wasn't as bitter because
healthcare, education, infrastructure, and standards of living greatly improved
under Soviet rule. No matter a person's opinion, generally speaking the Soviet
government suppressed the ethnic Moldovans and their culture. Rarely did anyone
speak out against the government, a move that helped most neutral opinions to sway
in favor of the Soviet government in order to protect one's self and family.
In the 1980s, under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, opinions were more freely allowed
to be expressed and this led to a revival of Romanian nationalism and identity as
suppressed beliefs were now openly expressed. There was great debate as to whether
the people were "Moldovan" or "Romanian," but they put this
issue aside to unite as one people against the Soviet government.
In 1989 Moldova declared Moldovan (similar if not identical
to Romanian) its official language and disagreements between the ethnic Moldovans
(or Romanians) and the minority groups escalated. The regions of Transnistria and
Gagauzia were most vocal in this debate as each fought Moldovan independence. In
1991 Moldova declared independence and in 1992, with the fall of the Soviet Union,
they gained that independence, but the country was thrust into civil war.
Violence erupted between the majority of ethnic Moldovans,
and the minority of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.
This battle primarily took place between Transnistria (the lands east of the Nistru
River) and the rest of Moldova. With the help of defecting Soviet/Russian and Ukrainian
soldiers and the large stockpiles of weapons the Soviets left in the region of Transnistria,
Transnistria won the war and claimed independence. To this day, this region acts
as an independent country with its own currency, government, army, and border control,
although no country has recognized their claim for independence.
Since 1992 Moldova has made slow progress on nearly every
front. They have introduced a free market economy and established Moldovan as the
national language, however have failed to thrive. The division among the ethnic
groups, Transnistria's de facto independence, and even debates among the majority
whether to be "Romanian" or "Moldovan" has led to little unity
and hence little progress as the country remains divided ethnically and in opinions
as each person seems to have a different vision for the country's future.
Moldova's Top Historical Sights:
-The cities of Chisinau and
Learn More about Moldova's History:
-The Moldovans: Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture by Charles
King. Hoover Institution Press. Stanford, CA U.S.A. 2000. (Buy
-Historical Atlas of Central Europe by Paul Robert Magocsi. University
of Washington Press. Seattle, WA U.S.A. 2002. (Buy
-Moldova: Webster's Timeline History, 1197 - 2007 by Icon Group International.
ICON Group International, Inc. San Diego, CA U.S.A. 2010. (Buy