Is Moldova a country? When did Moldova declare independence from the Soviet Union? Is Transnistria a sovereign nation? Here’s everything you need to know about Moldova, one of the least visited countries in Europe.
Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is often overshadowed by its larger neighbours, and being largely absent from international headlines and general travel media coverage, it’s one of the least visited countries in Europe.
Is Moldova a Country? That question might seem simple enough, but it opens the door to a fascinating exploration of identity, history and geopolitics, because beneath the relative obscurity of Moldova lies a nation that is anything but inconsequential.
With a unique history shaped by Roman, Ottoman and Russian influences, Moldova has carved out its own space in Eastern Europe, even if many desire a union with Romania, to whom Moldovans are closely related (the Moldovan language is essentially Romanian!). Independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 solidified its status as a sovereign state, but the journey has been fraught with economic, political and social complexities, including an ongoing issue with the breakaway region of Transnistria.
As it navigates its aspirations for closer ties with the European Union and wrestles with its Soviet past, Moldova provides an intriguing case study into nationhood, making it a fantastic off-the-beaten-track destination to visit. If you’re planning a visit, then keep reading, as I answer the question: ‘Is Moldova a country’?.
Table of Contents
Is Moldova a country?
Moldova is often overlooked in discussions of European travel and geopolitics, but its strategic location and distinctive history and culture are in fact, fascinating. The country, which covers approximately 33,846 square kilometres, has a population of only 2.6 million people, with two primary ethnic groups: Moldovans and a substantial minority of ethnic Romanians (as well as smaller populations of Ukrainians, Russians and Gagauz).
One of the most significant aspects of Moldovan culture is its wine-making tradition, which is among the oldest in the world. The country is home to extensive underground wine cellars, some of which are large enough to accommodate vehicles.
Language is another notable feature of the Moldovan identity. While Moldovan is the official language, it is virtually identical to Romanian, owing to a shared history and the cultural overlaps between Moldova and Romania. You’ll find that Russian is widely spoken, especially among the older population and in the breakaway region of Transnistria, which is a Russian-supported, self-declared republic not internationally recognised.
Moldova has struggled with economic and political challenges, including corruption and poverty. However, it has aspirations to join the European Union and has made various legislative and institutional reforms to align itself more closely with EU standards.
Read more: I was the only tourist in Moldova
Important facts about Moldova
The most important facts to know before travelling to Moldova include:
- Official Name: Republic of Moldova
- Capital: Chișinău
- Area: 33,846 square kilometres
- Population: Approx. 2.6 million
- Official Language: Moldovan (virtually identical to Romanian)
- Other Spoken Languages: Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauz
- Currency: Moldovan Leu (MDL)
- Time Zone: Eastern European Time (EET), UTC+2
- Calling Code: +373
- Government: Parliamentary republic
- Current President: Maia Sandu
- Independence Day: 27 August 1991 (from Soviet Union)
- GDP per Capita: Approx. $3,400 USD
- Religion: Primarily Eastern Orthodox Christian
- Ethnic Groups: Moldovans, Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz
- Tourist Attractions: Mileștii Mici (World’s largest wine cellar), Soroca Fortress (historical fortification), Orheiul Vechi (archaeological and natural complex)
- Neighbouring Countries: Romania (west), Ukraine (north, east, south)
- Unresolved Territorial Issue: Transnistria (self-declared republic, not internationally recognised)
- EU Relations: Aspires to join the European Union; has an Association Agreement with the EU since 2014
- UN Membership: Member since 2 March 1992
- Other International Affiliations: Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, Commonwealth of Independent States (observer status)
Read more: Top Things To Do In Chisinau
Where is Moldova?
Moldova is located in Eastern Europe, sharing its western border with Romania and its northern, eastern and southern borders with Ukraine. The country does not have a coastline, making it a landlocked nation. The capital city, Chișinău, is situated in the south-central part of the country.
Geographically, Moldova consists mainly of flat plains and rolling hills, with rivers like the Dniester and the Prut running through its landscape. Despite its relatively small size – covering an area of approximately 33,846 square kilometres – Moldova is a country with a distinct identity, influenced by various cultural and historical factors.
Moldova’s geographical location between Romania and Ukraine places it at a fascinating crossroads of cultures and historical narratives. Despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe, its position has given it a unique role in the geopolitics of the region. For centuries, the territory that is now Moldova has been influenced by the movements and ambitions of various empires and nations, from Roman settlers and Ottoman administrators to Russian governance.
The landscape itself is predominantly flat to hilly, with the highest point being the Bălănești Hill at an elevation of just 430 meters above sea level. The Dniester River, one of the major rivers in the country, separates the breakaway region of Transnistria in the east from the rest of Moldova. The Prut River demarcates Moldova’s western boundary with Romania. These rivers have not just geographical but also historical and cultural importance, often serving as frontiers during different periods.
While the capital, Chișinău, is the political, economic, and cultural hub of the country, other notable cities include Tiraspol (the administrative centre of Transnistria), Bălți and Bender. Each of these cities offers a different lens through which to view Moldova – from Chișinău’s Soviet architecture and burgeoning arts scene to Tiraspol’s distinct, unresolved political status.
A brief history of Moldova
The history of Moldova is complex, but understanding how the nation evolved will help you to understand the country’s sovereign status. Here’s a brief history to get you started:
Ancient and Medieval Periods
- Dacians and Romans: The territory of present-day Moldova was originally inhabited by Dacian tribes. Eventually, parts of it were incorporated into the Roman Empire.
- Migration Period: After the fall of the Roman Empire, various migrating tribes such as the Goths, Huns and Avars passed through the area.
Ottoman and Polish Influence
- 14th-16th Centuries: The Principality of Moldavia (not to be confused with modern Moldova) was established in the 14th century. This medieval state was subjected to frequent invasions and was a vassal to Poland and the Ottoman Empire at different times.
- 19th Century: In 1812, the Treaty of Bucharest resulted in the eastern half of the Principality of Moldavia being annexed by the Russian Empire. This area became known as Bessarabia.
- World War I: Bessarabia briefly became part of Romania after the Russian Revolution but was re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
- World War II: Moldova was occupied by Romanian and Axis troops but was re-conquered by the Soviet Union in 1944.
- Post-War Period: Moldova became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. The period was marked by Russification and industrialisation.
- 1991: Moldova declared its independence on 27 August 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- Transnistria: Shortly after independence, the Transnistria region, predominantly Russian and Ukrainian, sought to break away from Moldova, leading to a conflict that has yet to be fully resolved.
- Political and Economic Struggles: The years following independence have seen ongoing political instability and economic challenges. Moldova remains one of Europe’s poorest countries.
- EU Aspirations: Since the early 2000s, Moldova has been working on closer ties with the European Union. It signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014.
- 21st Century: Moldova has seen a series of protests, political crises, and changes in leadership. Despite these hurdles, the country continues to strive for political stability and economic growth, with an eye on potential EU membership.
When and why did Moldova declare independence?
Moldova declared its independence on 27 August 1991. The move came in the context of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a geopolitical upheaval that allowed several republics to break away and become sovereign nations.
Several factors contributed to Moldova’s decision to declare independence:
National Identity and Cultural Factors
There was a strong desire among many Moldovans to preserve their unique culture, language, and history. During the Soviet era, Moldova, then known as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, experienced a process of Russification. Many people saw independence as a way to reassert the Moldovan identity and reduce external influences, particularly from Russia.
Political Changes in the Soviet Union
The weakening of the central Soviet government, especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s, gave republics like Moldova an opening to assert their sovereignty. The policies of Perestroika and Glasnost initiated by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had unintended consequences, including nationalist and independence movements in various Soviet republics.
Moldova, despite its agricultural potential, was one of the poorer regions in the Soviet Union. Many Moldovans believed that independence would give the country greater control over its economy and allow for reforms that could lead to prosperity.
Even as Moldova was contemplating independence, the region of Transnistria, which had a significant population of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, sought to remain part of the Soviet Union. This early conflict highlighted the ethnic and regional complexities that Moldova had to address, making the question of national sovereignty even more urgent.
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe also played roles in shaping the political landscape. Independence movements were gaining traction worldwide, and international law was increasingly supportive of the rights of nations to self-determination.
Is Moldova part of Romania?
Moldova is not part of Romania. Both are separate, sovereign countries recognised by the international community. Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 27 August 1991 and has its own government, legal system and constitution. Romania is also an independent state and has been a member of the European Union since 2007.
However, the relationship between the two countries is complex and deeply rooted in a shared history, language and cultural heritage that crosses borders and boundaries. From the 14th to the 19th century, the region known as Moldavia (which is different from today’s Moldova) was a principality that included parts of both present-day Moldova and Romania. The eastern part of this principality, known as Bessarabia, was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812.
After World War I and the Russian Revolution, Bessarabia was briefly united with Romania from 1918 until 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Following World War II, it became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR.
Since gaining independence, Moldova has faced various challenges, including the issue of Transnistria, a region that has declared itself an independent republic, although it is not internationally recognised. Moreover, the population of Moldova is ethnically diverse, which adds another layer of complexity to its relations with Romania.
So, while Moldova and Romania share many cultural and historical links, they are distinct political entities. There are some voices in both countries advocating for unification or closer ties, but there are also strong arguments for maintaining the status quo, particularly due to the geopolitical complexities involved.
Could Moldova join Romania?
When I first visited Moldova, I was fascinated by the notion that many of the people I met in Chisinau were thoroughly enthusiastic about the prospect of Moldova one day joining into a union with, or becoming part of, Romania. Much of this was down to the similar language, as well as the attractiveness of having a European Union passport, given the extreme poverty in Moldova.
However, the prospect of Moldova becoming part of Romania is a subject of significant debate and complexity. While the two countries share historical ties, linguistic similarities, and cultural heritage, there are several factors that make this question far from straightforward:
- Historical Background: Moldova and Romania have intertwined histories. After World War I, Bessarabia (the historical region now mainly constituting Moldova) briefly united with Romania until it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. Moldova gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and since then, it has been a sovereign nation.
- Ethnic and Cultural Factors: Moldova is ethnically diverse, with Moldovans, Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz, and other groups living within its borders. The presence of Russian speakers and other minority groups adds layers of complexity to the question of union with Romania.
- Geopolitical Considerations: The geopolitical landscape also plays a crucial role. Romania is a member of the European Union and NATO, while Moldova is not. Russia has historical ties with Moldova, particularly with the breakaway region of Transnistria, and it might not view the unification of Moldova and Romania favourably.
- Domestic Opinions: Public opinion in both Moldova and Romania varies on this issue. While some segments of the population advocate for unification as a natural cultural and historical conclusion, others vehemently oppose it for reasons ranging from national sovereignty to geopolitical pragmatism.
- Legal and Political Challenges: Merging the two countries would involve a multitude of legal, administrative, and political challenges. Harmonising laws, integrating systems and institutions, as well as resolving citizenship issues, would be complex and time-consuming.
- International Stance: Any move toward unification would require international recognition and likely involve consultations or negotiations with multiple international bodies. The stance of global powers and neighbouring countries would significantly impact the feasibility and desirability of such a move.
Is Moldova in the European Union?
Moldova is not a member of the European Union (EU). However, it has been engaged in various forms of cooperation and dialogue with the EU. One significant milestone in this relationship was the signing of an Association Agreement in 2014, which included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This agreement aims to promote political and economic ties and has led to a number of reforms in Moldova, although implementation has been challenging.
Moldova is also part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme, which seeks to build a common area of shared values of democracy, prosperity, stability, and increased cooperation between the EU and six Eastern European partners, including Moldova.
Moreover, Moldova has been granted a visa-free regime with the EU for short stays, which has been in operation since 2014. This allows Moldovan citizens holding a biometric passport to travel within the Schengen Area for up to 90 days within any 180-day period for purposes like tourism, business, or family visits, without needing a visa.
The prospect of full EU membership for Moldova remains uncertain and is likely a long-term objective. The country faces significant challenges, including political instability, corruption, and economic difficulties, all of which complicate its path toward closer EU integration. Additionally, the unresolved status of Transnistria remains a significant obstacle.
What’s the capital of Moldova?
The capital of Moldova is Chișinău. Pronounced ‘Kish-i-now’, the city is the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. Situated in the central part of Moldova, Chișinău plays a pivotal role in the nation’s governance and development. With its numerous government buildings, foreign embassies, educational institutions and commercial enterprises, the city is the hub around which much of Moldovan life revolves.
Founded in 1436, Chișinău has a long history, although much of its historical architecture was destroyed during World War II and later replaced by Soviet-style buildings. Nonetheless, the city has its own character and offers a range of experiences, from parks and museums to theatres and a burgeoning culinary scene. The influence of various cultures, including Romanian, Russian, and others, is palpable in the city’s daily life, reflecting Moldova’s complex history and diverse population.
Chișinău is also the most populous city in Moldova, and it continues to grow as people from other regions come in search of employment opportunities and a higher standard of living. The city remains central to Moldova’s aspirations, whether in terms of economic development or closer ties with European institutions.
How many regions are there in Moldova?
Moldova is divided into several administrative subdivisions, including 32 districts, known as “raions,” as well as three municipalities (Chișinău, Bălți and Bender), two autonomous territorial units (Gagauzia and Transnistria), and the territorial unit of Stinga Nistrului.
Here is a breakdown:
- Districts (Raions): 32 in total. These are the basic units of local government in Moldova.
- Municipalities: 3 in total. These are Chișinău, the capital; Bălți, a significant industrial city in the north; and Bender, which is actually located within the borders of Transnistria, but Moldova officially considers it a separate municipality.
- Autonomous Territorial Units:
- Gagauzia: An autonomous region in the south, home to the Gagauz people, who are a Turkic ethnic group.
- Transnistria: A self-declared independent state, internationally recognised as part of Moldova, with a primarily Russian-speaking population.
- Territorial Unit:
- Stinga Nistrului: This is essentially the part of Moldova on the left bank of the Dniester River that is not under the control of the authorities in Transnistria.
You should note, however, that the situation in Transnistria complicates the administrative division of the country, as it operates its own local governance structures separate from those of Moldova.
Therefore, the number of regions can vary depending on how you count the municipalities, autonomous territorial units, and the territorial unit of Stinga Nistrului, not to mention the self-declared but internationally unrecognised state of Transnistria.
Is Transnistria in Moldova?
Transnistria, also known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), is a self-proclaimed independent state that is internationally recognised as part of Moldova. Geographically, Transnistria occupies a narrow strip of land between the River Dniester and the Ukrainian border. Although Transnistria declared its independence in 1990, it has not been recognised by any United Nations member state, including Moldova.
The situation with Transnistria has been a significant political and territorial issue for Moldova. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Moldova’s subsequent declaration of independence in 1991, tensions between Moldova and Transnistria escalated into armed conflict. The conflict was primarily fuelled by Transnistria’s objection to Moldova’s moves towards independence and its closer ties with Romania, given that the region has a significant Russian-speaking population.
A ceasefire was brokered in 1992, and Russian peacekeepers were deployed to the area. Since then, Transnistria has operated de facto independently with its own government, military, and constitution, but it remains diplomatically isolated and economically reliant on external aid, particularly from Russia.
Various negotiations and talks to resolve the issue have been held over the years under different international formats, but a definitive solution has yet to be found. The situation remains a sensitive and complex issue, affecting not only Moldova’s internal policies but also its international relations and any aspirations it may have towards European integration.
Is Gaugazia in Moldova?
Gagauzia is an autonomous territorial unit within the boundaries of Moldova. Located in the southern part of the country, this region enjoys a degree of administrative independence, including its own local government and legislative body known as the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia. The capital of Gagauzia is Comrat, and the region also includes other significant towns such as Vulcanesti and Ceadir-Lunga.
Gagauzia is named after the Gagauz people, an ethnic group that speaks a Turkic language. The Gagauz are primarily Orthodox Christians, and their presence in the region dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The territory was granted autonomy within Moldova primarily due to linguistic and cultural differences, as well as historical factors that led to a desire for self-governance among the Gagauz population.
The Gagauz autonomy includes certain rights to self-administration, particularly in matters related to culture, education, and local public administration. Additionally, the region has the right to consultative participation in Moldova’s external policy decisions that may impact Gagauzia’s status or rights. However, foreign policy, national defence, and other significant areas of governance remain under the jurisdiction of the central Moldovan government.
The special status of Gagauzia presents both opportunities and challenges for Moldova as it navigates its path towards political stability and potential European integration. The region serves as an example of how Moldova is grappling with its ethnic and cultural diversity.
What type of government does Moldova have?
Moldova is a parliamentary republic. In this system, the President serves as the head of state while the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President and approved by the parliament, serves as the head of government.
The President is elected by direct popular vote for a term of four years and can be re-elected for one additional term. The President’s powers are more limited compared to those of the Prime Minister and the parliament; however, the President does play a role in foreign policy and has the authority to dissolve the parliament under certain conditions.
Moldova’s legislative body is the Parliament, a unicameral assembly consisting of 101 deputies elected for a four-year term. The Parliament is responsible for law-making, approving the budget, and confirming the appointment of the Prime Minister, among other duties.
The judiciary is another pillar of Moldova’s government, meant to function independently of the other branches. It consists of lower courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court of Justice. The judiciary also includes the Constitutional Court, which interprets Moldova’s Constitution and can resolve disputes between branches of government.
The Moldovan political landscape has been marked by fluctuating alliances, various coalition governments, and significant influence from political parties with diverging stances on issues such as European integration, relations with Russia, and domestic reforms. Political instability, changes in leadership, and public protests have been fairly common, reflecting the complex social and geopolitical factors at play.
It’s worth noting that the system of governance in the autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia and the self-declared independent region of Transnistria differ from the rest of Moldova.
What languages are spoken in Moldova?
Moldova is a country of diverse languages and religious practices, reflecting its complex history and geopolitical influences. Primary languages include:
- Moldovan/Romanian: The official language is Moldovan, which is linguistically identical to Romanian. This language is spoken by the majority and is used in government, media, and education.
- Russian: A significant portion of the population speaks Russian, especially in the Transnistria region and among older generations. Russian is also a widely used language in the media and commerce.
- Gagauz: In the autonomous region of Gagauzia, the Turkic Gagauz language is spoken.
- Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Others: Various other languages like Ukrainian and Bulgarian are spoken by minority communities.
Is Moldova a poor country?
Moldova is often considered one of the poorer countries in Europe when evaluated by indicators like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, average income, and infrastructure development. According to the World Bank, Moldova’s GDP per capita was substantially lower than the European average.
Several factors contribute to Moldova’s economic challenges:
- Limited Natural Resources: Moldova lacks significant natural resources, which hampers its economic development. Agriculture is one of the major sectors, but it is vulnerable to climatic variations and market access issues.
- Political Instability: Fluctuating political alliances and governance issues have led to inconsistent economic policies. Corruption is another persistent problem, affecting investment and public trust.
- Brain Drain: Due to limited opportunities, many Moldovans seek employment abroad, leading to a decline in the working-age population and a loss of skilled labour.
- Unresolved Conflicts: The unresolved status of Transnistria, a breakaway region, adds economic and political instability.
- Trade Dependencies: Moldova is economically dependent on its agricultural exports and remittances from abroad, making it vulnerable to economic downturns in other countries.
- Infrastructure: Inadequate infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, is another hurdle for economic development.
However, Moldova has also shown resilience and the capacity for development:
- EU Association Agreement: Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union offers prospects for economic improvement through closer ties with a major economic bloc.
- Wine Industry: Moldova has a robust wine industry, which is a significant export and also a point of national pride.
- IT Sector: The Information Technology sector has shown growth, offering some promise for the future economic landscape.
- Diaspora Remittances: Money sent back by Moldovans working abroad constitutes a significant portion of the country’s income, providing a lifeline for many families.
In summary, while Moldova faces significant economic challenges, it also has sectors with growth potential and relationships that could offer economic benefits in the long term.
Read more: Job Hunting With the Moldovans
So, is Moldova a country?
In summary, the question, ‘Is Moldova a country?’ can be answered with a clear and unequivocal ‘Yes’. As an independent nation that declared its sovereignty in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova has navigated a distinct path marked by its own set of political, economic and cultural challenges. The country has its government, international relations and national symbols, further underscoring its independent status.
While Moldova’s past is intertwined with Romania and its geography places it within a complex web of Eastern European geopolitics, it remains an autonomous entity. It has its administrative quirks, such as the autonomous region of Gagauzia and the contentious area of Transnistria, which further add layers to its national identity.
Moldova is not just a political construct but a nation of diverse cultures, languages, and religions. From its Orthodox Christian heritage to its multilingual society, the country offers a range of experiences that defy simple classification. As Moldova continues to negotiate its position between East and West, it grapples with issues of governance, regional autonomy, and international affiliation, including its ongoing relationship with the European Union.
FAQ: Is Moldova a country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic: ‘Is Moldova a country?’:
Q1. Is Moldova an independent country?
Yes, Moldova is a sovereign nation recognised by the international community. It declared independence from the Soviet Union on 27 August 1991.
Q2. Where is Moldova located?
Moldova is situated in Eastern Europe, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east.
Q3. What is the capital of Moldova?
The capital city of Moldova is Chișinău.
Q4. Is Moldova part of Romania?
No, Moldova is not part of Romania, although the two share a similar linguistic and cultural heritage. Moldova is a separate country with its own government and international relations.
Q5. Does Moldova have autonomous regions?
Yes, Moldova has an autonomous territorial unit called Gagauzia and another disputed region called Transnistria, which declared independence but is internationally recognised as part of Moldova.
Q6. Is Moldova part of the European Union (EU)?
Moldova is not a member of the EU but has an Association Agreement, which fosters closer economic and political ties between the EU and Moldova.
Q7. What language do people speak in Moldova?
The official language is Moldovan, which is linguistically identical to Romanian. Russian is also widely spoken, particularly in Transnistria and among older generations.
Q8. What is the primary religion in Moldova?
The predominant religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but there are also communities of other Christian denominations and smaller groups of other religions.
Q9. What type of government does Moldova have?
Moldova is a parliamentary republic. The President is the head of state, and the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President and approved by Parliament, is the head of government.
Q10. Is Moldova a member of the United Nations?
Yes, Moldova has been a member of the United Nations since its independence in 1991.
Q11. What is the currency used in Moldova?
The Moldovan leu (plural: lei) is the currency of Moldova.
Q12. Is Moldova safe to visit?
While Moldova is generally safe for tourists, like any country, it’s advisable to take general precautions. The situation in the Transnistria region is more complex due to its unresolved political status, so extra caution and research are advised if planning to visit.
Q13. What is Moldova known for?
Moldova is known for its rich cultural history, its wine-making traditions, and its diverse landscapes that range from flat plains to rolling hills.
Q14. Do I need a visa to visit Moldova?
Visa requirements vary based on your nationality. Citizens from EU countries, the U.S., Canada, and several other nations can enter Moldova without a visa for short stays. Always check the latest visa regulations before planning your trip.
Q15. What is the population of Moldova?
The estimated population is around 2.6 million people, although this number has been declining due to emigration.