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Moldova, The People of Moldova

Ion Druta, Miorita, Dniester River, Turkic people, Turkic peoples

Moldova has a population (2002 estimate) of 4,434,547, giving it an average population density of 132 persons per sq km (341 per sq mi). The country’s inhabitants are concentrated in the northern and central portions of the country. During the Soviet period, Moldova had the highest population density of any Soviet republic, although it was one of the least urbanized. Some 53 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Chisinau, the capital, is located on the Byk River in the central part of the country. Other important cities include Tiraspol and Tighina (also called Bender), both located on the Dniester River in eastern Moldova, and Balti, in north central Moldova. The rural population is clustered in large villages.

Ethnic Moldovans constitute about 65 percent of Moldova’s population. The next largest ethnic group is Ukrainians, who make up about 14 percent of the population, followed by Russians, who constitute about 13 percent. Russians and Ukrainians migrated to Moldova in large numbers after World War II (1939-1945), although settlement by these peoples also predated the war. Both groups live almost exclusively in Moldova’s major urban centers and in the Trans-Dniester region in the east, where they constitute slightly more than half of the population. Other ethnic groups include Gagauz (a Turkic people) and Bulgarians; these two groups reside primarily in the southernmost regions of Moldova, having settled there in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The state language of Moldova is called Moldovan. It is essentially a dialect of Romanian, a Romance language derived mainly from the Latin language. In 1938 the Soviet government mandated that the Cyrillic alphabet (the script of the Russian language) be used for Moldovan instead of the Latin (or Roman) alphabet, in part to bolster its claim that the Moldovan and Romanian languages were separate. In 1989 Moldovan officials passed a law that made Romanian the official language and reintroduced the Latin alphabet. In the constitution adopted in 1994 the language was officially renamed Moldovan. Russian is widely spoken in Moldova and is the predominant language in the Trans-Dniester region. The Gagauz people traditionally speak Gagauz, a Turkic language, although many are also fluent in Russian. Russian missionaries created a Cyrillic alphabet for the Gagauz language in 1895.

Christianity is the predominant religion in Moldova. Nearly half of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and there is also a small Roman Catholic community. Unlike most other Turkic peoples, who are traditionally Muslim, the Gagauz are adherents of Orthodox Christianity. The Communist regime of the Soviet period was officially atheistic and hostile toward religion. Moldova began to experience an upsurge in religious practice in the late 1980s, when the regime relaxed restrictions. This increased after independence, when all restrictions on religious expression were lifted.

Moldova has an adult literacy rate of 100 percent. Illiteracy is slightly higher among the female population than the male population. Education in Moldova is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 17, or through the first cycle of secondary education (the second cycle lasts an additional three years). During the Soviet period, the government established a comprehensive system of universal and tuition-free education. Most schools taught in the Russian language, and education was the primary method of Communist indoctrination. In the early 1990s the government of independent Moldova introduced sweeping changes in educational content, especially in the areas of literature, language, and history. Institutes of higher education include Moldovan State University (founded in 1945), the Technical University of Moldova (1964), the State Agricultural University of Moldova (1932), and the Moldovan G. Musicescu Academy of Music (1940), all located in Chisinau. The capital is also the site of the Moldovan State Art Museum.

The cultural development of Moldova was tied historically to that of Romania, reflecting the Romanian origin of Moldova’s majority population. The first Moldovan books were religious texts that appeared in the mid-17th century. Prominent figures in Moldova’s cultural development include the author Ion Creanga and the poet Mihai Eminescu, both of whom wrote during the 19th century. After the USSR annexed Moldova in the 1940s, the Soviet government sought to sever the region’s close cultural ties with Romania. Romanian literature was officially banned, and many ethnic Romanian intellectuals were executed or deported. During the Soviet period, a government-mandated genre called socialist realism transformed art and literature into a form of Communist propaganda. The characteristics of socialist realism were strongly evident in the early works of Moldovan writers Emelian Bucov and Andrei Lupan, among others. Perhaps the most well-known Moldovan writer during the Soviet period was Ion Druta, whose works include the play Casa mare (The Parlor, 1962) and the novel Balade de cimpie (Ballad of the Steppes, 1963).

Moldova has a rich folk culture, which flourished during the Soviet period. The Soviet government strongly promoted Moldovan folk music and dance, but it also introduced subtle distortions to hide the folk traditions’ Romanian origins. For example, the national folk costume was changed to replace the Romanian opinca, a traditional moccasin, with the Russian boot. An ancient folk ballad, the Miorita, holds special significance in Moldovan folk culture. Folk traditions such as ceramics and weaving continue to be practiced in rural areas.



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