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Assessment for Slavs in Moldova

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Slavs in Moldova, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3ab4c.html [accessed 25 December 2014]
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Moldova Facts
Area:    33,843 sq. km.
Capital:    Chisinau
Total Population:    4,458,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

As a result of the 1998 agreement between the Moldovan government and the Trans-Dniester leadership (which in turn was inspired by the largely successful Gagauz arrangement), the risks of rebellion by Slavs in Moldova are on decline. Instead of seeking independence, Slav demands currently focus on obtaining a more autonomous status for the Dniester region within Moldova.

This retreat from the group's previous position reflects Moldova's gradual abandonment of plans to reunite with Romania -- the key factor that sparked the conflict in the first place. In addition, the Moldovan government, recognizing that the Dniester Region is the industrial heart of Moldova, has offered to grant the area wide political and linguistic autonomy in order to prevent its secession. Furthermore, Russian troop withdrawal began in earnest in 2002, although some troops remained as well as Russian munitions (although 35 percent of military equipment and munitions had been withdrawn by July 2003). Furthermore, continuing international pressure promotes negotiation of conflict, with mediation being pushed by Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE and the EU.

On the other hand, the potential for escalation of ethnic tensions cannot be totally ruled out. Renewed conflict is possible, but it would require a victory of hard-line Romanian nationalists in the presidency and legislature races. At the moment, this scenario seems rather unlikely, given the overwhelming support (95%) throughout the country for continued independence from both Russia and Romania. Instead, the main threat to civil peace in Moldova seems to be chronic economic decline.

Analytic Summary

The Slavs living in Moldova are geographically dispersed, with a slight concentration in the Dniester region, along the Eastern border with Ukraine. In the Dniester region, Russians and Ukrainians comprise about 53% of population, whereas Romanians account for about 40% (REGIONAL = 1, GROUPCON = 2). Slavs are a diverse group (including ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, and Bulgarians), and questions arise over whether they should be treated as one group or divided along ethnic lines. Two factors seem to support the former position: One is the Russian language which serves as the primary adhesive for keeping the Slavic groups together (LANG = 3). The 1989 census reports that 80.3% of both Gagauz and Bulgarians speak Russian as their first or second language (compared to only 57.6% of Moldovans). Likewise, 79.7% of Ukrainians also speak Russian as either their first or second language. This shows that the non-Moldovan population is much more linguistically assimilated (to Russian culture) than are Moldovans and seems to indicate further reason why most non-Moldovans failed to support Moldovan independence. The other reason why Slavs can be treated as one group is that they have shown themselves capable of unified political action. In a 1990 poll, for example, 76.1% of Russians supported preserving the Soviet Union (with Moldova in it) as did 72.6% of Ukrainians, 94.7% of Gagauz, and 88.8% of Bulgarians.

Historically, the first Slavs settled in Bessarabia (a province that was then under Romanian domination but is now divided between Ukraine and Moldova) in the sixth century. The area now known as the Dniester region was not part of what was traditionally known as Bessarabia and was not part of Romanian territory between the world wars. This area was included in the Moldavian SSR when Stalin created it after World War II. In the peculiar fashion of Stalin, this formerly Ukrainian land was given to Moldavia, while the area of southern Bessarabia (on the Black Sea) was transferred to the Ukrainian SSR. Although the area witnessed several waves of Slavic immigrants, more than two-thirds of the present Russian population of Moldova moved there or descended from people who moved there since 1940 (TRADITN = 5).

Under Soviet rule the Slavs were encouraged both to retain their Slavic heritage and to learn Russian, thus serving as a counterweight to Moldova's identification with Romania. As a result, most Slavs read and speak Russian and seem to identify closely together. In the late 1980s Moldovan nationalists took a series of mostly symbolic steps that were widely seen as moves toward unification with Romania. Most threatening to non-Moldovans was legislation passed by the Moldovan Supreme Soviet in 1989 that made Romanian the only official state language and required all officials to demonstrate proficiency in Romanian, even if serving in Gagauz and Russian-speaking communities. Largely in response to this law, in November 1989, the Slavs in the Dniester region declared their own republic in 1990, and like separatists in Gagauzia, they boycotted the December 1991 presidential elections. Later that winter, Trans-Dniester leaders began a low-level military campaign for complete independence with the tacit support of Russian troops stationed in the region. In 1992, after two years of conflict, a peace agreement was reached between Moldovian authorities and Slav separatists which provided the Dniester region with a special status and with the right to self-determination in case Moldova unites with Romania. Later in 1997, when Moldova's unification with Romania was already abandoned, an updated version of the agreement suggested that the conflicting parties should "develop their relations in the framework of a common state". A year later, a troop reduction accord signed between Moldova and Dniester region helped promote the political process.

At present, most Slavs seem to be satisfied with the existing arrangement. While there is a small group of radicals who call for independence, the majority of Slavs do not seem to support these demands. Instead, they generally call for a greater degree of autonomy for the Dniester region. This retreat from the group's previous position reflects Moldova's gradual abandonment of plans to reunite with Romania -- the key factor that sparked the conflict in the first place. Further facilitating compromise is the fact that Slavs do not seem to have experienced any serious disadvantages vis-a-vis the dominant population (POLDIS01-03 = 0; DEMSTR03 = 0; ECOSTR03 = 0; MIGSTR03 = 0). Nor are they economically disadvantaged compared to Moldovans (ECDIS01-03 = 0). As a result, mutual hostilities and grievances between the two groups are muted.

The 2001 election victory of the Communist party brought renewed negotiations on the final status of the Dniester region. President Voronin reopened the question of a new constitution (as opposed to amending the existing constitution), with a Joint Constitutional Committee convening in 2003.

The group is represented by a number of conventional political parties and organizations, including the TransDniester Moldovan, Edinstvo, and Unity party, among others. The highest level of protest reported in recent years by the group was at the level of verbal opposition (PROT01-03 = 1).

Finally, the conflict's new profile is determined by Russian diplomacy, and more specifically, by the presence of Russian military units in Moldova. Russia is trying to delay the withdrawal of its troops from Moldova despite a 1994 agreement signed by the two countries. Moldova's concern about its sovereignty led it to request political and financial assistance from the OSCE and the US to facilitate the withdrawal. Yet while Moldova managed to gain western cooperation, the prospects for a speedy departure of the Russian troops are not bright. However, by the end of 2003, Russia had withdrawn the bulk of its troops and also 35 percent of its military equipment and munitions (although some withdrawal of equipment was blocked by the leadership of the Dniester region).

A number of regional and international organizations and foreign governments (OSCE, the US, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Estonia, etc.) have provided diplomatic and financial support to facilitate the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Dniester region.

References

Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 1995.

_____. Major Ethnic Groups in Moldova (map).

DeGrasse, Beth C. and Katherine Magraw. "Briefing Book on the Former Soviet Union." (Washington, DC: The Congressional Roundtable on Post-Cold War Relations) 1993.

Keesing's Record of World Events. 1992 to March 1995.

International Crisis Group. August 2003. "Moldova: No Quick Fix." http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/report_archive/A401086_12082003.pdf

International Crisis Group. June 2004. "Moldova: Regional Tensions over Transdniestria" http://www.crisisgroup.org/library/documents/europe/moldova/157_moldova_regional_tensions_over_transdniestria.pdf

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

Reuters News Service.

Seymore, Bruce II, ed. The ACCESS Guide to Ethnic Conflicts in Europe and the Former Soviet Union (Washington, DC: ACCESS) 1993.

Shlapentokh, Vladimir, Munir Sendich and Emil Payin. The New Russian Diaspora: Russian Minorities in the Former Soviet Republics (New York: M. E. Sharpe) 1994.

Smith, Graham, ed. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union (New York: The Longman Group) 1990.

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