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close this bookEthnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (UNU, 1996, 298 pages)
close this folder5. Dynamics of the Moldova Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict (late 1990s to early 1990s)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1 Introduction
View the document2 Historical background
View the document3 Linguistic disputes and growth of ethnic political activism in Moldova
View the document4 First power shift and proclamation of sovereignty
View the document5 From declaring sovereignty to declaring independence
View the document6 The august 1991 coup attempt and the transition to independence
View the document7 Large-scale inter-ethnic violence
View the document8 Bloodshed and conflict settlement in Bendery
View the document9 Socio-political change and inter-ethnic violence
View the document10 Ethno-political legitimacy crisis as transition to violence

2 Historical background

Two major historical-territorial areas can be distinguished within contemporary Moldova: "right-bank" Moldova - Bessarabia proper - extending between the Prut and the Dniester rivers to the west of the Dniester; and "left-bank" Moldova - Transdniestria, or Trans-Dniester - situated to the east of the Dniester. The larger part of modern Moldova's territory was included in the Russian Empire in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After the 178791 Russian-Turkish war, the Yassy Peace Treaty (1791) allocated the southern part of left-bank Moldova (Tyraspol and Dubossary districts) to Russia. Two years later, the northern part of left-bank Moldova, previously under Polish control, passed to Russian rule. The Bucharest Treaty after the 1806-1812 Russian-Turkish war accorded the territory between the Prut and the Dniester (Bessarabia) to the Russian Empire. Under the terms of the Paris Treaty of 1856, Romania received southern Bessarabia, but this was returned to Russia two decades later at the Berlin Congress in 1878.

After World War I the territory of Moldova was divided once again. In October 1917, the collapse of the Russian Empire permitted the national liberation of the Moldovan people. Nationalist-democratic forces who came to power in right-bank Moldova proclaimed the independence of the Bessarabian People's Democratic Republic. The Bessarabian Parliament (Sfatul Tserij) appealed to the Western powers for recognition and assistance. In December 1917, Romanian troops marched into the Bessarabian republic. In 1918, the Sfatul Tserij voted for union with Romania. Left-bank Moldova, however, became a Ukrainian possession. By February 1920, civil war in the Ukraine had led to the establishment of a Soviet regime there.

After the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922, left-bank Moldova became an administrative region within the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, recognized as a Union republic within the Soviet federation. The Soviet government did not recognize the legitimacy of the inclusion of Bessarabia into Romania; in 1924, at the Soviet-Romanian conference in Vienna it demanded that a plebiscite be held in right-bank Moldova, a demand refused by the Romanian government. On 12 October 1924, the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) was created as a national-territorial unit within the Ukrainian SSR, a Soviet protest against the recovery of Bessarabia by Romania.

The agreement reached between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939) saw Romanian Bessarabia as being within the sphere of Soviet interests and guaranteed tacit German approval of eventual Soviet occupation of the territory. On 26 June 1940, the Soviet government presented Romania with an ultimatum to cede Bessarabia. Romania yielded and two days later Red Army troops entered right-bank Moldova. On 2 August 1940, the USSR Supreme Soviet adopted a law on the formation of the Moldavian SSR (MSSR), a new Union republic within the USSR, which included five western districts of the abrogated MASSR within the Ukraine (Grigoriopol, Kamenka, Rybnitsy, Slobodzeja, and Tyraspol districts) and most of the incorporated Bessarabia.

In June 1941, the Romanians, fighting as Germany's allies, reincorporated the whole of Bessarabia, but the Soviet Army reconquered it in the autumn of 1944 and the MSSR was restored. In February 1947 the Paris Treaty with Romania recognized the 1940 Soviet Romanian frontier; thus, political control of the whole of Moldova remained in Soviet hands.

It is only natural to assume that historical developments have contributed not only to the mixed ethnic composition of the population but also to the aggravation of inter-ethnic tensions and grievances resulting from the perceived injustices of territorial attribution and ethnic coercion in Moldova.

Moldovans, the titular nationality of the MSSR and of the Moldova Republic after the collapse of the Soviet Union, constitute slightly less than two-thirds of the total population of the republic. Ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians in non-Russian republics of the former USSR are usually referred to as the Russophone minority because they either indicate Russian as their mother tongue or speak mainly Russian rather than the language of the titular nationality of these republics.

Demographically, Moldovans are the largest ethnic group in both right-bank and left-bank Moldova. However, while in right-bank Moldova the Moldovans predominate both among the urban and the rural population, in left-bank Moldova (Trans-Dniester) the ethnodemographic situation is considerably more complex. Here, the Moldovans, though numerically constituting the largest single ethnic group, represent only a relative numerical majority (39.9 per cent of the Moldovans against 53.3 per cent of the Russophones). The Moldovans predominate in rural areas, while the Russophones form an almost overwhelming numerical majority in the large industrial centres like Tyraspol, Rybuitsy, Bendery, and Dubossary. In Tyraspol, the Russophones comprise 87 per cent of the city population, in Rybnitsy 64 per cent. A similar situation is found regarding the ethnic distribution of the population in Southern Moldova, where the Gaganz, a Christian Turkish group which migrated to Bessarabia from Bulgaria in the early nineteenth century, predominate.