History & Background
Moldova is a small landlocked southeast European country of 33,843 square kilometers located between Romania in the west and the Ukraine in the east. It was a part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) but declared independence in 1991 and became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In the year 2000, Moldova had a population of over 4 million people, with 23 percent of its population 14 years or younger. The population growth rate was zero, implying a completely stable population. The life expectancy at birth was 64 years. It was among the fifteenth most densely populated nations in Europe with 128 people residing per square kilometer. Administratively, the country is organized into 10 judete (divisions), 1 municipality, the capital Chisinau, and 1 territorial unit, Gagauzia.
Moldova's economy is predominantly agricultural-based with a highly fertile land of which 53 percent is arable. Fifty-three percent of the country's population lives in rural areas. Of the urban population, 60 percent is concentrated in the capital city of Chisinau. However, the country has no mineral deposits and imports most of its fuel from abroad. As a result, Moldova is classified as a low-income group country with approximately three-fourths of the population living below the poverty line.
Moldova, for a large part of its recorded history, has been dominated by other cultures. In ancient times it was an outpost of the Roman Empire. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, an influx of Slavic and Vlach continued in the region until the formation of Basarabia in the 1400s. It narrowly escaped becoming a pashalik (Turkish province) under the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century. However, the Ottoman influence continued in the region until 1739 when it briefly came under Russian military occupation. After the Russo-Turkish War (1806-1812), Russia annexed the region. Russian rule was interrupted by its defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856). At that time, the principalities of Moldova and Wallachia became independent and united to form Romania in 1862. However, this unification did not last long, and, after the Russo-Turkish-Romanian war in 1878, Russia regained southern Bessarabia. The Russian imperialism continued until the end of World War I (1914-1918) when Russia briefly lost control. A provisional self-government, Sfatul Tarii, with a majority of native Moldavians emerged and voted for union with Romania. This union had the blessings of the western powers, but was not recognized by the USSR. Stalin established a largely artificial Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) on the east bank of the Nistru (Dniester) River in the Ukraine. Before the beginning of World War II (1939), under the Russian-German Pact, Moldova once again came under Russian control and Chisinau (Russian Kishinev) became the capital. Germany attacked the Soviets in 1941 and captured Moldova until 1944 when Russians again reclaimed the region.
After World War II, the Russification of Moldova began full scale when private property was abolished, collective farms were established, and a large number of people were deported to Siberia. As a result, the native population became bilingual, speaking both Russian and Romanian. In the 1970s the region was the "bread-basket" of the USSR with its agricultural boom. It was the smallest republic of the old USSR with less than 0.2 percent of the land, but ranked sixth in its agricultural production. However, the undercurrents against the Russification were present throughout the period and gained momentum in 1980s with the introduction of openness and the rebuilding of socio-economic policies by Mikhail Gorbachev. A new political group, the Moldavian Popular Front, demanded self-rule and free elections. At the same time, the USSR was in turmoil, and Gorbachev, surviving a failed coup, declared the dissolution of USSR into the CIS. On August 27, 1991, Moldova became independent with Mircea Snegur as president. It adopted its first constitution in 1994. In 1995 Moldova was admitted to the Council of Europe and ratified its Convention on the Protection of Ethnic Minorities the next year. In 1996, in the first multi-candidate presidential elections, Petru Lucinschi, a member of the Communist Party of Moldova, became the President. Present day Moldova is an ethnically diverse country with about 64 percent ethnic Romanians, 13 percent ethnic Russians, 14 percent ethnic Ukrainians, 3 percent Gagauz (or Turks who migrated in eighteenth century and adopted Christianity), 2 percent Jews, 2 percent Bulgarian, and 2 percent Belarussians and Gypsies. Furthermore, at the advent of twenty-first century, Moldova was reeling under foreign debt and the economy was in disarray with the quality of living at its lowest ebb. In 1999, the debt was 1,572 million lei, and the costs for servicing that loan were as high as 11 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)
The historical evolution of Moldova had important implications in the shaping of its educational system. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a large majority of the population was illiterate, and Romanian was the language spoken by the majority. Under Soviet rule, Russian was emphasized and became the official language. The USSR's education policies made education available to all citizens. However, Russian and Ukrainian ethnic students were given preference in higher education, and laws were passed to suppress Romanian culture. In the 1980s the growing nationalist movement led to the establishment of a literary debating society named after Moldovan poet Alexie Mateevici. This started an intellectual movement to restore the national culture and led to the development of the Moldovan language that reverted to the use of the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic script. Since 1989, Moldovan has been the official language of instruction. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the country, undergoing serious economic crises, was poised toward privatization of education. This occurred primarily in the higher education sector, and Moldova struggled to maintain the benefits accrued from high levels of literacy.
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