Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic
After the creation of the Soviet Union in December 1922, the Soviet government moved in 1924 to establish the Moldavian Autonomous Oblast on land east of the Nistru River in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR). The capital of the oblast was at Balta (Balta, in Ukrainian), in present-day Ukraine. Seven months later, the oblast was upgraded to the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian ASSR), even though its population was only 30 percent ethnic Romanian. The capital remained at Balta until 1929, when it was moved to Tiraspol (Tiraspol', in Russian).
In June 1940, Bessarabia was occupied by Soviet forces as a consequence of a secret protocol attached to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. On August 2, 1940, the Soviet government created the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldavian SSR), with its capital at Chisinau (Kishinëv, in Russian), by joining most of Bessarabia with a portion of the Moldavian ASSR (the rest was returned to the Ukrainian SSR). Part of the far northern Moldavian ASSR (Herta -- in present-day Ukraine), northern Bukovina, and southern Bessarabia (bordering on the Black Sea) were taken from Romania and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR, leaving the Moldavian SSR landlocked.
In 1940, Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), which established the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic by merging the autonomous republic east of the Dniester and the annexed Bessarabian portion. Stalin also stripped the three southern counties along the Black Sea coast from Moldova and incorporated them in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Romania sought to regain Bessarabia by joining with Germany in the 1941 attack on the Soviet Union. On June 22, 1941, German and Romanian troops crossed the border and deportations of the Jews from Bessarabia began immediately. By September 1941, most of the Jews of Bessarabia and Bukovina had been transported in convoys and force marched to concentration camps in Transnistria. About 185,000 Jews were in the Transnistria area in concentration camps by 1942 in abysmal conditions. Very few were left alive in these camps when the Soviets reoccupied Bessarabia in 1944.
In June 1941, German and Romanian troops attacked the Moldavian SSR and the Ukrainian SSR; the Nazis gave Romania, their ally, not only Bessarabia and northern Bukovina but also the land between the Nistru and Pivdennyy Buh (Yuzhnyy Bug, in Russian) rivers, north to Bar in Ukraine, which Romania named and administered as Transnistria. This arrangement lasted until August 1944, when Soviet forces reoccupied Bessarabia and Transnistria. A 1947 treaty formally returned Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and Transnistria to the Soviet Union, and the previous Soviet administrative divisions and Russian place-names were re-imposed.
With the restoration of Soviet power in the Moldavian SSR, Joseph V. Stalin's government policy was to Russify the population of the Moldavian SSR and destroy any remaining ties it had with Romania. Secret police struck at nationalist groups; the Cyrillic alphabet was imposed on the "Moldavian" language; and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians were encouraged to immigrate to the Moldavian SSR, especially to Transnistria. The government's policies -- requisitioning large amounts of agricultural products despite a poor harvest--induced a famine following the catastrophic drought of 1945-47, and political, communist party, and academic positions were given to members of non-Romanian ethnic groups (only 14 percent of the Moldavian SSR's political leaders were ethnic Romanians in 1946).
The conditions imposed during the reestablishment of Soviet rule became the basis of deep resentment toward Soviet authorities -- a resentment that soon manifested itself. During Leonid I. Brezhnev's 1950-52 tenure as first secretary of the Communist Party of Moldavia (CPM), he put down a rebellion of ethnic Romanians by killing or deporting thousands of people and instituting forced collectivization. Although Brezhnev and other CPM first secretaries were largely successful in suppressing "Moldavian" nationalism, the hostility of "Moldavians" smoldered for another three decades, until after Mikhail S. Gorbachev came to power. His policies of glasnost and perestroika (see Glossary) created conditions in which national feelings could be openly expressed and in which the Soviet republics could consider reforms.
In this climate of openness, political self-assertion escalated in the Moldavian SSR in 1988. The year 1989 saw the formation of the Moldovan Popular Front (commonly called the Popular Front), an association of independent cultural and political groups that had finally gained official recognition. Large demonstrations by ethnic Romanians led to the designation of Romanian as the official language and the replacement of the head of the CPM. However, opposition was growing to the increasing influence of ethnic Romanians, especially in Transnistria, where the Yedinstvo-Unitatea (Unity) Intermovement had been formed in 1988 by the Slavic minorities, and in the south, where Gagauz Halkî (Gagauz People), formed in November 1989, came to represent the Gagauz, a Turkic-speaking minority there.
The first democratic elections to the Moldavian SSR's Supreme Soviet were held February 25, 1990. Runoff elections were held in March. The Popular Front won a majority of the votes. After the elections, Mircea Snegur, a communist, was elected chairman of the Supreme Soviet; in September he became president of the republic. The reformist government that took over in May 1990 made many changes that did not please the minorities, including changing the republic's name in June from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova and declaring it sovereign the same month.
During the 1991 August coup d'état in Moscow, commanders of the Soviet Union's Southwestern Theater of Military Operations tried to impose a state of emergency in Moldova, but they were overruled by the Moldovan government, which declared its support for Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin. On August 27, 1991, following the coup's collapse, Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union. In October, Moldova began to organize its own armed forces. The Soviet Union was falling apart quickly, and Moldova had to rely on itself to prevent the spread of violence from the "Dnestr Republic" to the rest of the country. The December elections of Stepan Topal and Igor' Smirnov as presidents of their respective "republics," and the official dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the year, led to increased tensions in Moldova.
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