As with many newly-independent countries, Moldova has a long history and fascinating culture which are a source of real pride for its people. The country is still struggling to rid itself of remnants of the Soviet era and to evolve with modern Europe while retaining its traditional values and unique identity.
As with the rest of the Balkan region, Moldova has a history that stretches back to the original Neolithic settlers of the vast area between Ukraine’s Dniester River and beyond Romania’s Carpathian Mountains. Between the 1st and 7th centuries AD, the Romans arrived and departed several times, and numerous invasions of Goths, Avars, Huns, Bulgarians, Magyars, Mongols, and Tartars took place up until the early Middle Ages. The Principality of Moldavia was established in the mid-14th century, bound by the Black Sea and the River Danube in the south, the Carpathian Mountains in the west and the River Dneister to the east.
Crimean Tartars continued their invasions until the 15th century arrival of Ottoman forces and by 1538, the country was a tributary state of the Ottoman Empire while retaining internal autonomy. The Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 saw the Ottoman Empire cede the eastern region of the principality to Russia and its renaming to the Oblast of Moldavia and Bessarabia. The Oblast was initially granted a great degree of autonomy, but between 1828 and 1871, the region saw more and more restrictions as Russification took over.
The 19th century saw Russian-encouraged colonization by Cossacks, Ukrainians and other nationals and just before WWI, thousands of citizens were drafted into the Russian Army. The 1917 Russian Revolution saw the creation of the Moldavian Democratic Republic as part of a federal Russian state, but a year later, a combination of the Romanian and French armies saw independence proclaimed and Moldova united with Romania. Newly communist Russia rejected the changes, seizing power again by 1924 and forming the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, recognized by Nazi Germany in 1930.
By 1941, the Axis invasions resulted in cooperation with the Germans, including the extermination or deportation of almost a million Jewish residents and the drafting of over 250,000 Moldovans into the Soviet Army. The Stalin period from 1940 saw massive deportations of Moldovan nationals, severe persecution, and forced migration of Russians to urban areas. After Stalin’s death, patriot leaders were imprisoned or murdered. The Russian Glasnost and Perestroika movements of the 1980s saw a rise in Moldovan nationalistic fervor, resulting in demands for independence, a mass rally in Chisinau in 1989, and continuing riots.
By 1990, democratic elections were underway, and a Declaration of Sovereignty was signed. Despite an attempted Soviet coup in 1991, Moldova finally declared its independence and a year later was recognized by the United Nations. Although the Communist Party has struggled to retain its hold over the country, Moldova is governed by a coalition of Democratic and Liberal parties. Communism is still the leading influence in the breakaway region of Transnistria.
Moldova’s rich culture goes back to Roman times, with the ancient overlay colored by Byzantine, Magyar, Serbian, Ottoman, Russian, and Soviet influences. From the 19th century onwards, European and French elements were added, forming a varied, lively and resilient lifestyle expressed in traditions, festivals, the arts, music, dance, and literature. Elements of folk culture, such as wood carving and embroidery, are shared with other Balkan countries, but many aspects, such as pottery decoration and the 2,000-year old Doina lyrical songs, are unique to Moldova.
The country’s folk traditions and costumes are highly valued at a national level, and preserved in the capital’s museums, its Republic Dance Company and its choir, Doina, as well as forming part of every Moldovan celebration. The Colinda Christmas tradition of masked and costumed singers, musicians and dancers going from door to door to give performances and receive gifts bears a resemblance to the Christian tradition of carolling, but is rooted in pre-Christian pagan practices.
Wine is deeply rooted in Moldovan culture, with the vineyards some of the oldest in the world, known and appreciated by the Romans and a major source of export revenue during the Middle Ages. The Moldovan Roma community has contributed to the field of music, although it is still regarded as a disadvantaged group. Most traditional cultural events relate to agriculture, religion, folklore, or mythology, and are celebrated with joy and feasting.