Moldova, the least visited European country with the poorest economy per capita and lowest Human Development Index, remains somewhat of a mystery to the modern world. This former principality was annexed to the Russian Empire and ultimately made a Soviet satellite, since 1991 a parliamentary republic — with a neutral status yet ambiguous relationship to both EU/NATO and Russia/CIS today.
In Moldova, 93.3% of the population identify as Orthodox Christian; due to the country’s complicated history, both Russian and Romanian Orthodoxy lay claim as the national church. There is, however, no state religion, with freedom regarding same constitutionally guaranteed. In practice, more than 58% attend church infrequently and another 10% not at all — though 80% claim a high degree of trust in the religious institution.
Moldovans suffered terribly in the Soviet era, with routine deportations to Eastern Siberia as well as arrests and executions, a major drought and export policy-induced famine, and more. The Soviets also established a “Moldovan” identity separate from that of Romanian. A movement for democracy began in 1980s, with independence by 1991; the eastern area of Transnistria declared its independence from Moldova at the same time, though unrecognized as such to this day.
Soviet mass deportations of Moldovans to Siberia, in 1941, 1942, and 1951, resulted in more than 100,000 deaths. Deemed “enemies of the state” and sent for “re-education,” these purges included political and religious figures, academics and other intellectuals, entrepreneurs — and countless children. Considered an “open wound” still today, an annual commemoration takes place each July.
The Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Ukraine had a devastating effect also on neighboring Moldova — so much so, that more than 30 years later many are still struggling with its consequences. More than 80% of the country was contaminated; 672 died from involvement in the liquidation process, while more than 2500 became disabled. The health impact is expected to continue for several decades.
Moldova today is slowly becoming a tourist destination, for its wine production and natural scenery. Though the nation is highest in Europe for alcohol consumption and related disease, and until recently ranked globally as “unhappiest,” things are beginning to improve. Economic and banking upturns were seen in 2018; a change of government in June of this year has resulted in the introduction of reforms: reinforcing democracy and rule of law, decreasing corruption, and addressing human rights concerns.
Moldova has a long cultural tradition, overlapping with that of Romania, and including the full range of the arts. Fine arts, performance, folklore, and especially literature are well represented. A rich heritage includes archaeological sites, monasteries and churches, fortresses, dwellings and artifacts, from as far back as the Paleolothic Era; the people’s rootedness and self-expression run very deep indeed.