While I was floating around the Ukraine exploring the many Orthodox onion-domed churches, it seemed silly not to pop over to Moldova for a few days. Moldova is one of those countries that sounds like the stuff of fiction – a place with dark forests, huge castles clinging to the cliffs on top of them, and evil kings and queens who mean only harm to their people until the love of their life shows them the error of their ways and they morph into an omnipotent ruler, destined for eternal glory.
The reality of the modern state of Moldova is not quite as romantic.
The Republic of Moldova is a small landlocked state in Eastern Europe located between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and south. It declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 having formerly been known as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Moldova’s history dates back to the middle ages when in the fourteenth century the Principality of Moldavia was established. Despite is name of “Moldavia” it was commonly known as “Moldova.” Moldavia was invaded repeatedly by Crimean Tatars and, since the fifteenth century by the Ottoman Turks. In 1538, the principality became a tributary to the Ottoman Empire, but it retained internal and partial external autonomy.
Throughout the nineteenth century, lands that comprise the modern state of Moldova were pushed, pulled, taken and restored many times by the three local powers of the time – the Ottoman empire, the Russian empire and Romania. Due to the influence of these external powers, particularly Russia, from the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth century the Moldovan proportion of the population decreased from 86% to 52%.
Moldova enjoyed independence briefly after WWII as the Moldavian Democratic Republic.
In 1918 Bessarabia [as the region was also known] declared independence from Russia, but by 1919 the Bessarabian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as a government in exile. After a failed uprising in 1924, the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed. The remainder of the twentieth century is a story of Soviet dominance, until 1991. However, a small strip of Moldova’s territory on the east bank of the river Dniester has been under the de facto control of the breakaway government and so-called Autonomous Republic of Transnistria since 1990. Transnistria, though hard to get to, is apparently a throw back to Soviet days – a living antique of a once powerful empire.
The less than romantic reality of modern Moldova is clear when one visits, however, there are certainly many reasons for the curious traveler to visit. And, I did manage to find a great latte as well in Chisinau, the capital city.
In a future post I will recount my time there, and the story of the exile of an Australian national I was traveling with at the hands of the Moldovan authorities.