GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY

 

The Republic of Moldova is a Southeast European country, bordering Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east. Moldova is landlocked, although it is connected to the Black Sea through a port on the Danube near the village of Giurgiulești. Moldova is a small country in comparison to its neighbours Ukraine and Romania. It has a landmass of less than 34,000 sq. km and a population of less than 2.8 million people (excluding Transnistria). The capital city is Chișinău, pronounced Kish-ee-NOW.

The largest part of Moldova covers the region that became known as Bessarabia after the Russian Empire annexed it from the Principality of Moldavia in 1812 following a series of Russian-Turkish wars. Following the Russian Revolution Bessarabia united with Romania, only to be re-occupied by Stalin in 1940. The Second World War saw the creation of an Axis-occupied Transnistria (‘Beyond the Dniester River’) Governorate, covering parts of present-day Moldova and Ukraine. Many Jews perished in the Holocaust in both Bessarabia and Transnistria, as well as Northern Bukovina. In the course of the war the Soviet Union reconquered Bessarabia and shaped a Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic out of Bessarabia and a smaller, heavily industrialised Transnistrian strip. The post-war years were marked by a severe famine and mass deportations by the Stalinist regime. In 1991 the Moldavian SSR declared independence from the Soviet Union as the Republic of Moldova. Following an armed conflict that lasted from 1990 to 1992, the internationally unrecognised Republic of Transnistria (or “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”) became de facto independent from Moldova, propped up by a heavy Russian military and economic presence and espousing an ideology mixing Soviet-style friendship between the peoples and continuity with the military tradition of the Russian Empire. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries and relies heavily on remittances by migrant workers. In 2014 Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union.

 

The official language of Moldova is Romanian (Moldovan), and Russian is also widely spoken. Gagauz, a Turkic language considered critically endangered by UNESCO, is still spoken in some areas. English is not widespread, though it is now being taught at school from the first years of study.

 

Moldova is perhaps best known for its wine, which is absolutely delicious. Most Moldovan families make wine at home, so the wineries chiefly produce wines for export. This is a traditional, age-old industry in Moldova, but new-style wineries are growing fast. If our conference had taken place in Chișinău as planned, you would have had ample opportunity to sample the local wines and perhaps even stay for the annual wine festival, held for the past 15 years during the first weekend of October, or spend a few days at one of the rural wineries that offer accommodation. Do visit when the pandemic is over: citizens of most countries don’t need a visa to enter the country. In the meantime, the Institute of Oral History has specially commissioned two hour-long video excursions that touch upon local memory issues: one of Chișinău's old town and of Holocaust-related sites in Transnistria. These videos will be made available (in Russian, with English subtitles) through the PoSoCoMeS YouTube channel shortly before the conference.