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ETHNONYM: Moldavians


Identification. Moldova, covering about 32,500 square kilometers, was geographically the next to the smallest of the fifteen republics of the former USSR. In this article, "Moldavia," the former name of the republic, will be used when referring to the Soviet period.

Location. The present boundaries of landlocked Moldova run from the right bank of the Dniester River (its boundary with Ukraine) south to the Dniester estuary, then, following a jagged course, east to the Danube Delta and on to the Prut River (its boundary with Romania), northward to the Bukovina-Hertz region, then eastward again to the tall, sheer, and jutting cliffs of the Dniester's right bank. Thus, today's official boundaries do not include the historically Moldavian cities of Izmail, Kiliya (Chilia), and Belgorod-Dnestrovsky (Moncastro, Akkerman, Cetatea Alba), but Moldova does correspond fairly closely to the former Bessarabia minus strips on the north, south, and east. It contains the following regions: Baltzy (Baltsi) in the north, Kishinyov (Chisinau) in the center, Tiraspol in the southeast, and Kagul (Cahul) in the south. The capital is Kishinyov.

Moldova is an often hilly plain crisscrossed by many rivers, valleys, and ravines, interspersed occasionally by small wooded islands of oak, maple, and, sometimes, a birch gleaming on the edge of the Balti steppe (as far south as birch will grow). This northern steppe is bordered by a rolling and more level steppe farther south with, here and there, a Bulgarian, Gagauz, or old German village (the latter typically close to the meager water sources)the so-called valley settlements. The more elevated region in the center of the country is called Codri, which in Romanian is the plural of one of the words for "forest," and this, in fact, used to be wild and impassible forestthe home of wolves, bears, and buffalo, and a good place for such heroes as the Haiducq (brigands, often of the Robin Hood type) and, subsequently, partisans. The southeast area in and around the Dniester estuary contains many small lakes, marshes, stagnant pools, channels, and abandoned streams that create not only excessive moisture but are a haven for large flocks of many kinds of birds. In each of these regions farmers and state farms have been clearing forests, draining swamps, diking, and irrigating to plant grapes, vegetables, or fruit trees.

In the country as a whole the sheepherding of earlier times has been replaced by the farming of wheat, maize, barley, tobacco, watermelons, musk melons, and sugar beets. There are many peach orchards, walnut groves, and vineyards; Moldavia produced about one-quarter of the wine of the former Soviet Union. Cattle raising for beef and dairy products is also widespread, as are beekeeping and silkworm breeding. Moldova has a humid and continental climate with hot summers, cold winters, and unpredictable amounts of precipitation (as much as 50 centimeters per year). In winter the Crivats, an easterly wind, brings low temperatures and blizzards.

Demography. According to the 1969 census, the population of Moldavia was 3.531 million and today it is about 4.3 million. With 105 people per square kilometer, the republic ranks eighth among the former Soviet republics in population density. A majority (more than 65 percent) are Romanian, with the other 35 percent consisting of Ukrainians, Russians (13 percent), Gagauz (about 200,000), Jews, Bulgarians, Gypsies, Greeks, Armenians, and Poles, among others.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language spoken in Moldova has local variations but is simply Romanian. Like the culture, it has undergone relatively strong Slavic influence with, for example, a higher frequency of words and expressions of Slavic originreflecting the proximity of Ukraine and the intermingling with Ukrainiansand more than 150 years of political and cultural exposure to Russia. Romanian belongs to the Italic Branch of the Indo-European Language Family; other Romanian dialects of eastern Europe include Aromanian, Meglenoromanian, Istroromanian, and Vlach (Voloh, Voloshan). Because of strong Slavic influence up to the second half of the nineteeth century, the official alphabet used in church and state documents was Cyrillic, not only in Moldavia, but also in Wallachia and Transylvania. The efforts of the Latin school of Transylvania and of outstanding Romanian intellectuals such as Hasdeu, Maiorescu, and Odobescu led to the introduction of the Latin alphabet, used until the Soviet occupation in 1940 when the Cyrillic alphabet was reimposed. Owing to popular demand, the Soviet Union in 1989 agreed to reintroduce the Latin alphabet and to recognize Romanian as the official language of the republic. Legislation was enacted giving non-Russians five years to learn the language. Some Russians and Ukrainians reacted vehemently against this; others started attending adult classes and sending their children to Romanian kindergartens.

History and Cultural Relations

The Bessarabian area, like the rest of Romania originally occupied by the Indo-European Dacians, was colonized by Greeks as early as the seventh century b.c. Trajan occupied the area in 102-104 and made it a Roman province; the Latin-speaking Roman colonists formed the core population that prevailed despite seizure by the Goths (250-270) and invasions and conquests by Huns, Avars, and Magyars. During these centuries Slavs also entered the region; from the ninth to the eleventh centuries it was part of Kievan Russia. Bessarabia was conquered by the Mongols in 1242 (under Batu during his eastward retreat). It contributed to Moldavia's emancipation from Hungarian suzerainty in 1359, but accepted the rule of the Polish king Wladislaw I Jagiello in 1387; a rivalry between Poland and Lithuania over Bessarabia ensued. Subjected to frequent raids by the Tatars of Crimea and Buzhak and attacks by the Ottoman Turks, the principality of Moldavia (which had been formed in 1367) finally accepted peace in 1479, but was again conquered by the Turks and Crimean Tatars in 1513. Many attempts to shake off the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire were mounted with the active assistance of Poland, Hungary, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, and czarist Russia. Some rulers of Moldavia and their families fled to escape Turkish persecution and took up residence in Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, and Transylvania. The principality of Moldavia (including Bessarabia and Bukovina) at this time extended between the Carpathian Mountains and the Dniester River and from Poland to the Danubian Delta and the Black Sea. Bessarabia was occupied by Russia during the First Turkish War (1768-1774) and, after another war (1806-1812), obtained from Turkey by the Treaty of Bucharest. Romania gained the southern part (Belgorod, Kagul, Izmail) from Turkey after the Crimean War by means of the the Treaty of Paris (1856) but, after yet another war, this region was restored to Russia at the Congress of Berlin (1878), following the San Stefano Treaty. Moldavian and Bessarabian volunteers often served in the Russian army during its wars with Ottoman Turkey.

Under Russian rule the Moldavian boyars were integrated into the Russian nobility and regained their ancestral estates that had been lost to the Turks, and some of them played important roles in the politics of the empire: one, who had been elected to the imperial Duma, became involved in the assassination of Rasputin and was also one of the founders of the Russian radical nationalist movement known as the Black Hundreds, which organized the pogroms in Kishinyov; another founded the nationalist radical party known as the Iron Guard. Thus, Moldavians were often conspicuous in the extreme right during the czarist period.

During the civil war and the subsequent struggles many Moldavians, including Moldavian Jews, were active in the Marxist and Communist movements. The anti-Soviet "Council of the Country" in Kishinyov, on the other hand, decided in 1918 to unite the Moldavian Democratic Republic (essentially Bessarabia) with the Kingdom of Romania. In response, the Soviet Union created the Moldavian Autonomous Republic (1924-1940) in a strip of border area along the east bank of the Dniester, with Tiraspol as its capital. On 26 June 1940 the Soviet Union, capitalizing on its agreement with Nazi Germany, sent an ultimatum to the royal government of Romania and obtained Bessarabia and part of Bukovina-Hertza; the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was instituted and hundreds of thousands of Romanian Moldavians died or were deported to Siberia and elsewhere. But in 1941 these territories and also Transnistria (between the Dniester and Bug rivers) were reincorporated into the Romanian kingdom and as such became actively allied with Nazi Germany; many ethnic groups (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, German Mennonites) were almost eliminated and many thousands of Romanian Moldavians perished on the eastern front. The Red Army reconquered all of the Moldavian territories in question in 1944. Wholesale liquidation (execution and deportation) of right-wing and fascist elements followed, especially at the hand of the special branch of the NKVD known as "Smersh" (death to spies).

Under the peace treaty signed in Paris in 1947 Moldavia was again fragmented. Transnistria and Bukovina-Hertz were joined to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and only a few strips of territory along the Dniester were included in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The former capital, Jassy, and the adjacent territory from the Prut River to the Carpathian Mountains remained with the Romanian Republic. Quite a few Moldavian patriots who opposed this were silently removed (at times all the way to Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk), and some skilled technicians and engineers were sent deep into the USSR to improve industrial production.


Early in its history, Bessarabia was divided into the large estates of the boyars and the wealthy monasteries and convents. For protection, villages were often hidden off the main roads on the slopes of hills to avoid the plundering incursions of Tatars, Turks, and others. Today the majority of the population is still rural, although some villages have recently been elevated to the status of towns or even citiesEdintsy and Kotovsk, for example. The twenty larger towns and cities include the capital, Kishinyov, and Tiraspol, Beltsy, Bendery, Kagul, Rybnitsa, Soroki, and Orgeev.

Rural houses are built of bricks made from a mixture of clay and straw. Clay floors and twig fences are typical in the forested areas, whereas clay fences are usual in the steppe to the south. Tile roofs are raremost roofs are covered by fir shingles. A corridor separates the house into two parts: the guest room, ornate with embroidery, pillows, and beautiful carpets on the walls and the floors; and the living room, which includes the kitchen, a wooden table, benches, and footlockers covered with ornate carpets. At present those who can afford it have modern furniture and television. Outhouses or plain latrines are outside the vividly painted houses. The Moldovans plant colorful flowers in front of their houses and even along streets and highways. The Soviet Union promoted the building of modern skyscrapers in urban areas.


Previously Moldova produced grain, grapes, and fruit for the market, whereas sunflower seeds and maize were mainly for home consumption; maize meal mush, the traditional mamaliga, was often eaten instead of bread. The government of Romania introduced agrarian reform by reducing large estates to make more land available to peasants. Soon the peasant allotments became shredded into thousands of narrow ribbons because of inheritance and the dowries of daughters. Peasants struggled in a tangle of dues and taxes and some of them abandoned their homes and looked for employment in cities. Others migrated to the United States. Under Soviet rule, private property was abolished and replaced by state and collective farms. Large-scale mechanized farming has been introduced. The Communists claimed to have increased livestock herds and to have augmented the production of grain, grapes, fruit, vegetables, sugar beets, sunflower, and maize. An optimistic plan for 1990 claimed a harvest of nearly 1.5 million tons of vegetables, 1.3 million tons of grapes, and 1.7 million tons of fruit and berries. The plowed area of Moldova is only 0.5 percent of the plowed area of former Soviet Union, but it grows approximately 25 percent of the area's grapes, and nearly 9 percent of the vegetables. Plum brandy is very popular among the Moldovans. The first large hydropower station on the Dniester was completed at Dubossary, sending energy to Kishinyov, Orgeev, Grigoriopol, Tiraspol, and Dubossary.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. Moldovan families trace descent bilaterally, although the lineage of the father is considered more important. Men usually carry the first name of their father as their middle name. The grandparents play a very important role in the education of the children; often, given the living arrangement, they teach the children side by side with the parents, while also handing down to them a rich heritage of stories, tales, and superstitions. First cousins often grow up together and are almost as close as siblings. The incest taboo extends only to first cousins; marriages among second or third cousins are common, although usually performed following special authorization from the church.

Marriage. Arranged marriages have not been very common. Particularly in the countryside, if parents did attempt to find a spouse for their child, the search would be conducted with the help of relatives and neighbors. The bride or groom would be chosen with as much regard to wealth, ethnicity, and religion as to personal qualities such as beauty, kindness, and, most important, being a hardworking man or woman. Even though parents today have less and less of a role in the choice of partners for their children, their opinion is still very important in making the final decision and, sometimes, the cause of intense disputes if their future daughter- or son-in-law is not considered good enough or is from a different ethnic or religious group such as Jews or Gypsies.

The period of courtship is quite important. During this time a man is supposed to invite a woman to different social outings such as parties with friends, long walks, or, in the country, dancing the traditional Perinitsa or Hora on Sundays after church. The two are supposed to meet each other's families and visit them. Going to each other's houses in the absence of parents is not regarded as very proper, particularly for the woman, since premarital sexual relations are condemned and considered sinful, especially in the country. Among young educated people in urban areas the taboos against premarital sex are disappearing, although living together without marriage still carries a social stigma. Often, in the countryside, young men who are the friends of the groom-to-be dress in traditional attire and walk in procession to the house of the prospective bride to ask her father for her hand.

Even under Communist rule, marriage was most often celebrated in the church, usually after the civil marriage. The godparents are the most important participants in the ceremony. The godmother stands next to the groom and the godfather next to the bride, each holding a large white candle. The godparents are considered to be the defenders of the marriage; they become part of the family. In the country, the wedding party crosses the village with pomp and musical accompaniment (usually accordion and violin) and people come out on their porches or into the street to watch the bride. (It is considered good luck to see a bride.) A wedding without music and dancing is regarded almost an anomaly, both in the country and in the city (where traditional music has largely been replaced with pop music and even rock 'n' roll). In Romanian fairy tales, anonymous ballads, or poems inspired from folklore (such as Calin, by the major national poet Mihai Eminescu, or the anonymous ballad Mioritsa ), weddings are of cosmic proportions, with the godparents representing the moon and the sun, sitting at the heads of the wedding table.

Domestic Unit. After marriage, it is common for the couple to live with the family of the bride. The maternal grandparents participate more in the management of the new household and in the education of the children than do the paternal grandparents. In urban areas, where there is a shortage of housing and usually both the husband and wife work, living with parents is more of a necessity than a matter of choice. Children are left in the care of their grandparents. The typical rural family has three or four children, whereas the urban family generally has one or two. The education of the children is left to the mother, although the authority of the father is usually undisputed. The other members of the family, particularly grandparents, and sometimes aunts and uncles or godparents, also have some role in raising the children, whether in matters of discipline or in sharing their wisdom and knowledge of folklore (such as tales, proverbs, superstitions, and songs) or in the actual teaching of a craft (such as sewing, weaving, or embroidery for girls or wood carving or sewing leather for boys).

Socialization. After marriage, the baptism of children is the most important event in the life of the family and is performed with much attention to the nuances of the religious ritual. The godparents are also crucial to this ceremony. They have to be a married couple, for it is considered bad luck for the child to have single godparents. Although most children are baptized in church, it is not unusual for the rite to take place at home. The godparents carry large candles, tied with blue ribbons for boys and pink ribbons for girls. The godparents have to repeat after the priest a special prayer of purification from any influence of Satan, and thus, through them, the child is also protected from such influence. The godparents establish a lifelong relationship with the children.

For higher education, the populace used to depend on the well-known universities in Jassy and Chernovitsy, outside the boundaries of present-day Moldova. It was not until 1935 that the university of Jassy opened two departments (theological and agricultural) in Kishinyov (Bessarabia). The first university of Soviet Moldavia was inaugurated in 1945, while Kishinyov still lay in ruins, in an old school building that had survived the war. Since that time, seven institutions of higher learning, including the medical, agricultural, and pedagogical institutes and the conservatory, have been opened in Kishinyov. Hundreds of doctors, teachers, agronomists, and other specialists graduate annually and take up positions in Moldovan towns and villages. By the 1970s illiteracy had been eliminated, and over 700,000 children were in eight-year schools, almost all of them finishing the course of study. The Moldovan Academy of Sciences, originally established in 1949, continues to promote research today.

Sociopolitical Organization

By 1993 the Republic of Moldova was one of the eighteen members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and was governed nationally by a unicameral parliament, a president, and a prime minister. The sizable Gagauz minority and the largely Ukrainian Dniester Republic have aspirations of autonomy that have been curtailed. These and other ethnic conflicts (e.g., with Russians, Gypsies, and Jews) are part of a general awakening of national aspirations. In 1989, in major assertions of identity, Moldova adopted the Latin alphabet, many Romanian-language publications appeared, and the Moldovan Democratic Movement and Moldovan Popular Front were formed; the latter, with over 1 million members, won more than two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and the posts of president and prime minister. Thus began a new era under the Romanian tricolor flag (red for the blood shed by soldiers, yellow for the fields covered with ripe grain, blue for the sky in times of peace). On 6 June 1990 Romanians on both sides of the Prut River covered its waters with flowers, and as many as a million people crossed the bridge; amid scenes of joy commingled with mourning for lost loved ones, families were reunited after more than four decades of separation. This event came to be referred to as the "Bridge of Flowers." The ideological thrust of the numerically superior Romanian-speaking population today is toward eventual reunification with Romania but, faced with the choice between the political and economic disaster of Romania itself and political exploitation by Russia (or Ukraine), Moldova for the present seems to be pursuing a path of semi-independence. The degree to which new movements have replaced older power structures at the local and national levels is difficult to ascertain.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The religion of Moldova is Eastern Orthodoxy. A wooden or glass icon representing Christ on the cross or the Virgin Mary and the child is present in almost every household, even when its members are not fervent practitioners. Children are raised in "the fear of God" and are taught how to cross themselves and say prayers at an early age.

Ceremonies. Christmas and Easter are the most important holidays and are celebrated even by those who rarely go to church during the year. These holidays were celebrated even under the Communist regime. The Christmas tree is adorned and the gifts are given on Christmas Eve, and usually there are two festive dinners, one that night and one on the 25th of December itself. The traditional Christmas meal in Moldova is called cutea and is made of boiled wheat grains, poppy seeds, sugar, vanilla, and lemon mixed in boiling water. Other traditional Christmas foods are sarmale (stuffed cabbage or grape leaves), roasted pig, and sausages.

It is customary to fast the week before Easter, or at least on Good Friday. The Saturday midnight service takes place inside and outside the church, and everybody present is supposed to hold a burning candle and protect it against wind or rain as a symbol of Christ's endurance and resurrection. In every household eggs are meticulously painted; in peasant families drawing on eggs often becomes a real art. Very large loaves of bread and poppy or cheese cakes are made for Easter, usually round in shape and called pasca.

Saints' days are celebrated and name days are as important as birthdays. Saint George, Saint Peter, Saint Mary, and Saint Nicholas are some of the most important saints in the religious calendar of the Moldovans. Saint Nicholas, the patron of children, is honored on 6 December, and children receive gifts that night as well as at Christmas.

Arts. One poem depicts the name "Bessarabia" as a church projected into history with four white steeples, the chimes of which have been stolen. Poets in the first part of the twentieth century, such as Todor Plop-Ulmanu, wrote verses about the beauty of the Romanian language and expressed a poetic conscience haunted by the drama of a split national identity. More recently, notable literature has been written by Emilven Bucov, Andrei Lupan, Ion Druta, and Leonida Lari. A resurgence of Romanian ethnic consciousness currently animates the arts. Numerous institutions carry the names of Romanian intellectuals such as "Ion Creanga" for a pedagogical institute, or "G. Muzicescu" for the Kishinyov Institute of Art. Since the 1970s, cultural institutions such as the Moldovan Drama Theater or the Moldovan Opera have hosted the staging by Romanian intellectuals of entirely Romanian productions such as Ovidiu (named after the Roman poet exiled to the Black Sea) and Sînziana and Pepele (two of the most popular folk heroes), or Luceafirul (the name of Eminescu's greatest poem).

Moldovan folk music, dance, and other art forms are also basically Romanian; most folkloristic groups have Romanian names such as "Taraf," and they play on typically Romanian instruments such as the cymbal, panpipe, bagpipe, and cobza (a kind of guitar). The most common dance at Moldovan parties is the Romanian Perinitsa. The decade of the 1980s was marked by ever-increasing struggles to assert a Romanian identity, through demands for a Latin alphabet and the official use of the Romanian language, together with appeals to the authorities to recognize and take measures against the gloom of environmental disaster. Moldovans continue the struggle to be heard as a Romanian nation and to reappropriate the "stolen chimes" for churches.

Death and Afterlife. The best way to describe the beliefs about death and the afterlife of the Moldovans is probably via the Romanian national ballad, Mioritsa. Of three shepherds who are caring for their sheep somewhere in the edenic hills and valleys of the Romanian landscape, the Moldovan one is warned by his closest sheep of a conspiracy by the other two shepherds to kill him and rob him of his flocks. Rather than seeking ways to escape his fate, the Moldovan shepherd greets his imminent death as if it were a cosmic wedding. Death is his bride; the sun and the moon are the godparents; the entire universe, with its stars, trees, mountains, waters, and birds, participates in this grandiose celebration and journey. The funeral and burial rituals of the Moldovans reflect the belief that death is a passage into another stage of existence, sad but not hopeless, a form of marriage with nature and the elements. A dying person has to hold a burning candle. The dead are dressed in their best clothes; virgin girls who have never been married are buried in a white dress, the equivalent of a wedding gown. The corpse has to be watched during a three-day and three-night vigil. Since death is seen as a voyage, a silver coin is often placed on the chest or in the hand of the dead person, to pay the customs at the passage through the other world. For the same reason, food, clothes, and earthen pots and jars are given to people at the funeral, thus symbolically providing for the long voyage ahead.

The traditional food prepared for funerals is called coliva and is made of cooked wheat, sugar, and lemon peel. Nine days, forty days, and six months after the death and then once a year, there are memorial services for the dead; the family prepares coliva, as well as other foods to be given in memory of the dead. Red wine is drunk by the people present and is poured over the grave by the priest performing the service, in the form of a cross; if the service is performed in a church rather than at the grave, the wine is poured on the coliva. In general, graves are carefully tended, flowers and bushes are planted on top of them, and candles are lit with each visit.

The living keep a constant relationship with the dead, often talk to them in their prayers, and ask them for advice and help in trying times as if, once dead, that person has acquired some sort of divine power. Dreams are often interpreted as signs from the dead. Dreaming of the dead is usually considered a good sign, whereas dreaming of small babies is feared as a sign of misfortune and danger.


Calinescu, George (1985). Istoria literaturii Romane de la origini pina in prezent (History of Romanian literature from its origin to the present). Bucharest: Minerva.

Dima, Nicholas (1991). From Moldavia to Moldova: The Soviet-Romanian Territorial Dispute. New York: Columbia University Press.

Kligman, Gail (1988). The Wedding of the Dead. Berkeley: University of California Press.


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POPULATION: 4.4 million (about 65 percent, or about 2.8 million, are ethnic Moldovans)

LANGUAGE: Moldovan (Romanian); Russian

RELIGION: Russian Orthodox Church; Judaism


The area now known as Moldova was occupied as far back as 2000 bc. Over the centuries Moldova has been under the rule of many Eastern European groups as well as the Mongols. In 1349, Prince Bogdan of Hungary established Moldova as an independent principality (state ruled by a prince) under Hungarian rule. The area occupied by Moldova consists of the land between the Prut and Dnestr rivers, formerly known as Bessarabia.

Moldova fell to the Ottoman Turk Empire in 1512 and remained an Ottoman territory for the next three centuries. During the 1700s and 1800s, the Russian Empire battled the Ottomans for control over the region. In 1878, Russia claimed the territory and held onto it until the collapse of the Russian imperial government in 1917. The Bessarabian government voted for a total union with Romania. However, in 1924 the Soviet Union established it as a Soviet republic. One of the worst consequences of Soviet rule was the forced collectivization of agriculture (changing small, private farming into large, state-run agricultural enterprises). Farmers who refused to cooperate with collectivization were deported to Siberia. The ones who stayed in Moldova had to cope with severe famine from 1945 to 1947 caused by drought, crop failure, and poor government policies.

The Soviet authorities changed the name of the Romanian language, spoken by the majority of the population, to Moldavian. They also changed the alphabet from Latin to Cyrillic (the alphabet of Russia). For approximately forty-five years, Moldovans had limited access to their history and culture.

At the end of the 1980s, an independence movement called the Popular Front of Moldavia (PFM) arose. The PFM demanded the end of Communist rule, began the revival of the Romanian language and culture, and wanted to again unite the Moldavian republic with Romania. In 1989, the government restored the use of the Latin alphabet and officially changed the name to the Republic of Moldova.

The movement for territorial unification with Romania has lost most of its momentum. Moldova is gradually building a democratic society and a market economy (an economy based on supply and demand).


The Moldovan homeland is historic Bessarabiathe land between the Prut and Dnestr rivers in the southwestern corner of the former Soviet Union. One of the smallest of the former Soviet republics, Moldova is only slightly larger than the state of Maryland. Most of the terrain consists of hilly plains with many rivers and streams.

Today, about 65 percent of Moldova's 4.4 million inhabitants are ethnic Moldovans. Moldova has historically been home to a large number of ethnic groups, including Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauz (a Turkish group of the Christian faith), Gypsies (Roma), Jews, Poles, and Germans. Although Moldova was the most densely populated of all the former Soviet republics, since its people are traditionally rural, there are few large cities.


The language spoken in Moldova is Romanian. By a recent amendment to the Moldovan Constitution, it is called Moldovan in order to stop the movement toward unification with Romania. Romanian is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It is similar to Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Moldovan was temporarily written in the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet during the Soviet era, but is now written in the Latin alphabet again. Opinions continue to differ on whether to call the language Moldovan or Romanian.

Mihai, Ion, Mircea, Octavian, and Andrei are common boys' names. Elena, Angela, Diana, Christina, and Liliana are common girls' names. Examples of everyday Romanian words include noroc (hello), buna ziua (good afternoon), da (yes), nu (no), poftim (please), multumesc (thank you), and la revedere (goodbye).


Moldova has a long history of folklore, consisting of ballads, songs, tales, jokes, riddles, dances, and games. The ancient folk ballad "Miorita" is the favorite of all ballads in traditional Moldovan culture. Its rhyme reveals the melodiousness and beauty of the Romanian language.

Ileana Cosinzeana and Fat Frumos are the romantic couple present in a number of fairy tales. The brave Fat Frumos frees the beautiful and kind Ileana Cosinzeana from the evil dragon, and they live happily ever after. Pacala and Tindala are two funny men who are the characters of hundreds of jokes.


Because of the influence of Romanian culture, almost all Moldovans belong to the Orthodox Church. In 1992, the Moldovan government guaranteed freedom of religion but required that all religious groups be officially registered with the government.

A pogrom (an organized persecution or massacre) against Moldovan Jews in 1903 severely reduced the urban Jewish population. Jews in Moldova were also harassed during the Soviet era. In the early 1990s, many Jewish newspapers were started, and a synagogue and Jewish high school opened in Chisinau. Also, the Chisinau State University created a Department of Jewish Studies.


The major holidays celebrated widely in Moldova are the traditional Christian holidays, such as Christmas (December 25) and Easter. Christmas is celebrated in much the same way as in Western countries, although it is less commercialized. Easter is a family holiday, when women bake a special kind of bread called pasca and paint eggs red.

Each village has its own holiday once a year, called hram (church). It celebrates the establishment of the village church. In modern times it has lost some of its religious character. It is now a special day when each family prepares delicious food and receives guests from other villages or towns.

Independence Day is on August 27, when Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union. It is a national holiday. Sarbatoarea Limbii Noastre (National Language Day) is on August 31. It marks the day when Romanian became the state language of Moldova and was changed back to the Latin alphabet. During this day, people attend outside concerts and book fairs.


Christian baptism is an important rite of passage for Moldovan children and their parents. High school graduation usually presents a young Moldovan with the choice of either going to work or continuing school in preparation for the university. Many also begin to consider marriage after graduation, because the completion of high school marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. As with many other cultures, the wedding ceremony formally recognizes the union of the couple and the joining of their families.


Social relations in urban and rural areas differ from each other. In villages, even strangers are supposed to say "Buna ziua" (Good day) to each other. In big towns and cities, only acquaintances greet each other. In formal settings, adults greet each other with "Buna ziua." Men shake hands and may also kiss the women's hands.

Young people usually greet each other with "Salut" or "Noroc," which are the Romanian equivalents of "Hi" and "Hello." Close friends may hug and kiss each other on the cheek. Family and relatives greet each other with hugs and kisses. It is very common for parents to kiss and hug their children.


The rural culture of Moldova has always placed a high value on private housing. In the 1990s, private builders were responsilble for 95 percent of construction in rural areas. As of 1994, about 90 percent of the rural, and 36 percent of the urban, apartments were privately owned. Most of the urban housing units were built in the years immediately following World War II (193945), because the cities had been heavily bombed during the war. When Moldova became independent in 1991, there was a severe shortage of building materials.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, families with between five and nine children were common in Moldova. Nowadays, most couples have only one or two children. This may be due to financial concerns as well as the fact that usually both parents work full-time and are not able to take care of more children. Family connections are quite strong due to long-standing traditions, and also because of financial dependence. Children depend on the support of their parents for a long time, even after they get married. Parents count on the help of their children when they retire. Quite often grandparents dedicate themselves to babysitting.

The distribution of family duties between men and women is uneven. Most women work full-time, take care of their children, and do most of the shopping, cooking, laundry, and cleaning. Men usually spend most of their time at work. It is not common for men to cook or do the dishes or the laundry.


The traditional national costume is now only found in museums and in some family collections. The female's traditional garment consists of a white embroidered blouse, an embroidered vest trimmed with sheep fleece, and a white skirt with lace on the hem, usually covered by a black embroidered overskirt. The male costume consists of a white embroidered shirt, a vest similar to the women's, white pants, a hat decorated with peacock feathers or flowers, or a sheep fleece cap, and a wide belt. Both men and women wear opinci, leather shoes with leather laces that tie around the ankles

The costumes used to be entirely hand-made. Every young girl was supposed to be able to weave cloth and do elaborate embroidery. Now only folk music and dance groups wear national costumes, but most of these are mass-produced.

People who live in cities and towns dress like other Eastern or Western Europeans. Jeans and T-shirts are popular with teenagers and young people. Villagers wear everyday clothing fit for farming work: women wear flowery cotton or flannel dresses, and kerchiefs on their heads; men wear shirts and pants made of durable cloth, and caps or hats.

12 FOOD.

Traditional Moldovan dishes resemble those of neighboring countries. Stuffed cabbage or grape leaves are considered part of the national cuisine. So is placinte, a special pastry filled with cheese, potatoes, cherries, cabbage, and other ingredients. A typical breakfast may consist of a sandwich, a piece of cake, an omelet, or porridge, with tea, coffee, or milk. Lunch is an important meal. It consists of a starter (appetizer), soup, and a hot dish. Dinner may also be a hot meal, or may be lighter than lunch. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be found at the local bazaar (market). The availability of fruit and vegetables depends on the season. Moldovans take great pride in their tradition of wine-making.


Moldova has an extensive system of primary and secondary schools. The educational system requires students to complete ten years of basic education. After that, students may choose either a technical school or a university preparation track. In the early 1990s, about 96 percent of the adult population was literate (able to read and write). About 15 percent of all Moldovans age fifteen or older have completed a secondary education.

Since independence, the Moldovan government has restored the Romanian language as the language of instruction. In addition, classes in Romanian literature and history have been added to the curriculum. Ethnic minorities have the right to education in their own languages. Moldova has over fifty technical and vocational schools, and ten universities. Perhaps the most unique educational institution in Moldova is the 150-year-old College of Wine Culture, which graduates about three hundred students from all over Eastern Europe each year.


Moldovan music, dance, and arts share many traits with their Romanian counterparts. Moldovans often play the cobza, a wooden stringed instrument similar to the lute that is common in traditional Romanian music.

The Moldovan government promotes folk culture through Joc, the national dance company, and Doina, the national folk choir. There are numerous semiprofessional and amateur dance and music groups that perform around the country as well. There are also twelve professional theaters.

Moldova shares most of its literary heritage with Romania. Sometimes it is difficult to draw a dividing line between Romanian and Moldovan literature. The nineteenth century produced many outstanding Romanian authors, such as the poet Mihai Eminescu; the storyteller Ion Creanga; the linguist, writer, and historian Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu; the literary critic Titu Maiorescu; and many others. World-famous Romanian writers and philosophers such as Mircea Eliade and Lucian Blaga are widely studied and respected by Moldovans.


Although Moldova has been independent for several years, the condition of the labor force has not changed much since the Soviet years. In the early 1990s, about 75 percent of all employment was in the government sector. Private businesses employed only about 9 percent of the Moldovan labor force in 1995. Unemployment, rated low by official estimates, was probably actually between 10 and 15 percent.

In villages, children begin to help their parents around the house, or on the farm, at an early age. In the city, high school graduates start working when they are around seventeen years old, and college graduates begin working at around twenty-two. Many students have part-time jobs.

During Soviet rule, there was an extensive system of social welfare that provided good pensions for retirees. Due to recent inflation, the pensions are now barely enough to meet basic needs.


Placinte (Filled pastry)


  • 3¾ cups of flour
  • 2 packages of yeast
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 2 Tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


  1. Dissolve the yeast in a bowl in about ¼ cup warm water. Add flour, ½ cup at a time, until the batter is the consistency of thick sour cream. Dust the surface of the batter with flour. Set it aside to rise.
  2. Put remaining flour into a large bowl, indenting the center of it to make a well. Add eggs, melted butter, and oil. Combine with yeast mixture.
  3. Using very clean hands, knead the dough in the bowl, adding more flour a little at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.
  4. Make the filling. Combine ricotta cheese, butter, egg, milk, flour, sugar, and a dash of salt. Mix well.
  5. Roll out the dough and cut it into 3-inch squares. Place a spoonful of cheese in the middle and fold the corners to make an envelope.
  6. Brush with beaten egg and bake at 350°f 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.


Soccer is popular with youths and adults, both for playing and watching as spectators.


Attending family and friends' reunions, the theater, concerts, movies, and discos are typical forms of recreation. The numerous public parks of Chisinau are wonderful recreation spots. On vacations many people travel to the Romanian or the Ukrainian seaside or mountains. Traveling abroad, however, is affordable only to a small percentage of the population.


Pottery, woodcarving, carpet-weaving, and metalwork are the most famous Moldovan handicrafts.


Moldovans face many of the same economic problems as other former Soviet republics in the transition to a market-oriented economy. These include inflation, price deregulation, unemployment, and the weakening of the social welfare system. Wages have not kept up with the increase in prices. Many Moldovans have been plunged into poverty. Retirees, single parents, and the unemployed have been the most vulnerable groups.

There is also some division among Moldovans over whether or not their country (or parts of it) should pursue a political merger with Romania. Tension continues to exist with two regions within the country that have declared their independence from Moldova: the Gagauz region and the Transdnister.

There are many environmental problems in Moldova. Pesticides, herbicides, and artificial fertilizers were used in the past to increase crop output. Because of this, Moldova's ground water and soil are contaminated with chemicals. Deforestation has also contributed to the ongoing soil deterioration problem.

Crimes motivated by money or drugs have become the most common.


Fedor, Helen, ed. Belarus and Moldova: Country Studies. Lanham, Md.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1995.

Moldova. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1993.


Embassy of Moldova, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Moldova. [Online] Available, 1998.

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