Communist Occupation and Dictatorship in Moldova (1918-1941; 1944-1991)

The present-day territory of the Republic of Moldova is comprised of two distinct areas, both of which have specific historical legacies. The first one represents two thirds of historical Bessarabia and a small part, about one tenth, of the left bank of the Dniester River, known also as Transnistria, in Romanian, or Pridnestrov’e, in Russian.

Bessarabia and Transnistria had different and divergent backgrounds in many respects, such as the timing of their settlement, state traditions, ethnic composition, linguistic diversity and political culture. For more than four centuries, Bessarabia was part of the medieval and early modern principality of Moldavia, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to the Dniester River in the east, and from Poland’s borders in the north to the Black Sea and Danube delta in the south (totalling around 94,000 km²) while Transnistria had never been an integral part of the Principality of Moldavia.

Situated between several great powers, namely the Ottoman Empire, Hungary and Poland, Moldavia succeeded in fighting either one of them individually or in alliance with one of them for about one century. It prospered and fought successfully especially against the Ottomans, under the legendary ruler Stephen the Great between 1457 and 1504. It is generally acknowledged that he lost only two out of 36 battles.

The 1484 Ottoman seizure of the fortresses of Chilia and Cetatea Albă located on the Danube mouths, and Dniester Liman respectively, anticipated the downfall of the Moldavian Principality. Both fortresses became the Ottomans’ first strongholds in the northern Black Sea region and were consequently converted into military bases (raya)[i].

In 1514 Moldavia finally succumbed to the Sublime Porte. In contrast to most areas south of the Danube and parts of Hungary after 1526 which became pashalyks, i.e. integral parts of the Ottoman Empire, Moldavia and the other Romanian principality, Wallachia maintained autonomy status.

Only after a row of attempts by the local voivodes to shake off their Ottoman rulers did the Sultan decide to establish a tighter grip on Moldavia by creating more rayas along the Dniester River. After an abortive attempt to shook the Ottoman yoke was made in 1538 by a son of Stephen the Great, Petru Rareș, two rayas have been established, at Ismail, on the mouths of Danube, and Bender (Tighina, in Romanian). A more northern raya was established at Hotin in 1716 after the final and most important failed uprising by a Moldavian prince, Dimitrie Cantemir (1709-1711)[ii].

The strategic importance of the region was clear, as the Russian Empire’s Peter the Great was present to support the Moldavian troops in the decisive battle, at Stănilești, on the Prut River. Cantemir’s alliance with Russia was signed at the Treaty of Lutsk (April 13, 1711) following Peter’s victory over Sweden at Poltava and the subsequent refusal by the Ottomans to turn over King Charles XII sheltered at Varnița, near the fortress of Bender[iii]. Other Turkish-Russian wars followed in the next two centuries over the dominance of the Balkans. Following the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji in 1774, the Tsarist Empire gained the right to protect Christians in the Ottoman Empire and intervene in case the Turks would abuse the Christians in Moldavia and Wallachia.

Meanwhile the Austrians, also participating in the war effort against the Turks, annexed in 1775 the northern part of Moldavia and renamed it Bukovina which tempted the Russians to get their share as well. The next Turkish-Russian war of 1787-1792 was equally successful for Saint Petersburg. In accordance with the Treaty of Jassy (January 1792) Russia annexed the northern Black Sea territories, including present-day Transnistria and, most notably, the area that would become modern-day Odessa. Transnistria, now part of the Republic of Moldova, has never been a part of the Principality of Moldavia, except for a few years in the 17th century when Gheorghe Duca, the voivode of Moldavia, was also named hetman of Ukraine (1680-1684).

It thus took until the late 18th century for the Principality of Moldavia to share a border with the Tsarist Empire along the Dniester River for the very first time. However, Russia did not stop there and annexed the Eastern part of the Principality of Moldavia from the Ottoman Empire. Following the Treaty of Bucharest (May 1812), the new territory was named Bessarabia and had natural borders in the east (Dniester), west (Prut) and south (Black Sea). Previously, only a tiny area in the south close to the Danube delta had been called Bessarabia in memory of a short period in the 15th century when it was seized by Wallachia and ruled by the Bessarab dynasty. This would be the last territorial acquisition of the Tsarist Empire in the South East Europe[iv].

Between 1818 and 1871, Bessarabia was an oblast’ in the Russian Empire and was turned into a gubernia until 1917. Only for a short period, from 1818 to 1828, did Bessarabia enjoy a degree of autonomy comparable with that of Finland or Poland[v]. The linguistic Russification of the province was driven by the Orthodox Church, especially after 1859 when Western Moldavia united with Wallachia to create the modern Romanian state. By the early 1860s all publications and educational materials in Romanian/Moldavian were prohibited altogether.

The share of Romanian-speaking Moldavians would decrease steadily from about 80 % in 1818 to 47 % in 1897 when the first imperial census took place. Though some historians contest the accuracy of these findings, it is beyond doubt that huge ethno-demographic changes took place and were caused by a wide range of policies: administrative Russification, linguistic and educational Russification, and the colonisation of southern Bessarabia by Bulgarians, Gagauz and Germans. The south which was termed Budzhak by the Turks had been granted to the Crimean Nogai Tatars prior to 1812, so they could use it as pastureland for livestock breeding. After 1812, the Tartars were resettled in Crimea and thus the area was had to be populated[vi].

The national Moldavian movement emerged slowly and rather late compared to those in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and even Ukraine. Only after 1898 were the graduates of the Chișinău seminary, usually the sons of rural priests and the backbone of the future, the national elites, were admitted for university studies in main imperial cities or towns with a university tradition.

After graduating from the universities in Kyiv, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Odessa and especially Dorpat (Tartu) most of these students returned home. In time, they would become leaders of the national revivals of 1905-1907 and 1917-1918 as well as in the interwar years. Some Bessarabian intellectuals first turned into narodniks and were exiled to Siberia.

One way of escaping Tsarist repression was to flee to Romania. Constantin Stere and Zamfir Arbore are just two examples[vii]. In the tumultuous first Russian Revolution between 1905 and 1907, Stere helped the local intelligentsia to publish the first Latin-alphabet newspaper called Basarabia which was consequently prohibited by the Russian authorities following the publication of the Romanian national hymn Wake up, Romanian! [viii]

Just like the Soviets later, the Tsarist regime tolerated national intelligentsia and the expression of national identity in a narrow, regional sense. Still, it was – for understandable reasons – unacceptable for the Tsarist administration to even consider accepting the incorporation of the Romanian-speaking population of Bessarabia into what would soon become the nation state of Romania.

At the end of the First World War, the nations within the Russian Empire witnessed a period of extraordinary national revival. The hard experiences in the trenches of the Eastern Front and the abrogation of monarchy in early 1917 contributed to the rise of cultural, linguistic and, most importantly, political nationalism of non-Russians.

The Bessarabian soldiers mobilised in the Russian Army numbered around 300,000 and became the leading social strata to push for change in both the political and national sense in 1917. The soldiers’ Congress of Bessarabians in Odessa decided to establish the Sfatul Țării, the Council of the Country.

The latter was convoked in its first session on December 2nd 1917 in Chișinău and declared the creation of the Democratic Moldavian Republic (DMR) as an integral part of the future Russian Federation. Much like other similar institutions formed by other nations within the former Russian Empire, the Sfatul Țării was a quasi-parliament created to decide on the nation’s fate on the principle of representation of all main social, religious, ethnic and political groups.

Shortly after the Bolsheviks disbanded on January 6th 1918 (old style) the only legally representative institution of Russia, the Constituent Assembly, the Sfatul Țării adopted the declaration of independence of the DMR on January 24th 1918. Following the Bolshevik peace of Brest-Litovsk with the German Empire in early March, the Sfatul Țării declared the union of Bessarabia with Romania on March 27th 1918 (April 9, new style). Curiously, the union was endorsed by representatives of both Entente (France and Britain) and Central Powers (Germany)[ix].

Soviet Russia, however, did not recognise the union of Bessarabia with Romania and tried to regain the former territory of the Russian Empire, first by staging a rebellion at Bender in May 1919, and later at Tatarbunar in September 1924[x]. Both failed because of the lack of societal support. Following the second failed rebellion, Moscow decided to create an Autonomous Moldavian Republic on the left bank of the Dniester River on October 12th 1924. 

Comprising only 30 % of the Romanian-speaking population, the establishment of the MASSR was the first application of the so-called Piedmont principle within the Soviet nationalities policy and was aimed at the internationalisation of the Bessarabian issue[xi]. The interwar MASSR served as a kind of laboratory for policies to be implemented later in the Soviet-occupied Bessarabia in 1940-1941 and after 1944.

After an unsuccessful attempt at creating a new Moldavian language based on local popular vernacular without any literary tradition, Moscow pursued a policy of Romanianisation from 1932 to 1938.

The Latin alphabet was introduced and modern Romanian, which was already the literary standard of Bessarabia and Romania, was adopted in the areas of education and culture[xii]. Behind the idea of Romanianisation in the MASSR was the goal to create a new, national, Communist elite which would Sovietise Bessarabia in the future and prepare spies and agitators fluent in Romanian to be sent to Romanian Bessarabia in the 1930s. As a result of the Great Terror of 1937-1938, however, the very elite created by Moscow was decimated on Stalin’s orders even though he was the one to introduce Romanianisation in the early 1930s.

In the late 1930s, Moscow perceived the national Communist elites of the MASSR as potential enemies and spies. This meant that during the summer of 1940 when the Red Army occupied Bessarabia, the Soviet Union could not rely on a national elite fluent in Romanian to rule Bessarabia. The members of the clandestine Bessarabian section of the Romanian Communist Party, with just a few exceptions, were denied co-option in power both in 1940-1941, and after 1944.


Political movements and parties in Bessarabia, 1870s - 1918

The classic Soviet narrative on the revolutionary movement in Tsarist Bessarabia begins with the early 1820s. At that time, Chișinău hosted several circles and personalities that would later be known as members or supporters of the Dekabrists.  Indeed, Chișinău was one of the main centres in southern Russia to witness the establishment of would-be-Dekabrist organisations initiated and led by M.F. Orlov, the chief of the 16th division which found itself relocated in the Bessarabian capital.

Other important members of the rebellious intelligentsia were V.F. Rayevski, K. A. Okhotnikov P.S. Pushchin, and A. G. Nepenin. Alexander Pushkin, the greatest Russian poet, often attended the meetings of the Chișinău organisation while being exiled in the region (1820-1823)[xiii].

The second most important political idea to bring about modern political parties in the Russian Empire was the Narodnik tradition, animated by the organisation called the Will of the People. In Bessarabia, this current was represented in the 1870s-1880s by Russian revolutionaries N. G. Kulyabko-Koretski and A. A. Kvyatkovski alongside the Moldavians N.G. Zubcu-Codreanu and C. F. Ursu[xiv]. Along with Odessa and Rostov-on-Don, Chișinău was the third city in the southern part of the Empire to register activities of the Union of Workers from southern Russia led by E. O. Zaslavsky (1875). The first circle of workers attended mainly by railway workers was established in Bessarabia in 1880 by F.M. Denish.

Soon after the first volume of Marx’s Capital was published in the Russian language in Saint Petersburg in 1872, it also entered the private libraries of Bessarabian intellectuals. Just like in other parts of the Empire, however, decades passed until the first Marxist groups would convene. Marxist organisations in Chișinău were set up in 1896, its membership largely made up by workers, intelligentsia and students.

Four years later, in January 1900, a social democratic circle with members such as M. Veltman-Pavlovich, Ja. Bograd, I. Basovski, M. Volgin, L. Gimpshman, R. Duganov and V. Broască was founded[xv]. The Chișinău Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Party of Workers (RSDPW) was set up in December 1902.

In 1907, the local organisation of the RSDPW had 350 members, whereas the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks combined saw their support dwindle to just 30 in 1909, a result of years of discontent[xvi]. Their impact on society as a whole was rather limited in comparison to that in other important industrial centres of the Russian Empire – simply put, there was no proper social basis for such radical political ideas.

By 1900, Bessarabia was a backwater of Tsarism, mainly an agricultural area with a tiny share of industry and an insignificant proletariat. In 1902, there were just about 130 small industrial enterprises in the gubernia of Bessarabia, only 3,500 workers and around 30,000 artisan workers altogether. In 1907, these local businesses would average between two and nine workers each.

This is one of the main reasons it was difficult to organise mass strikes against small salaries, bad working conditions and other issues that affected the everyday life of the working class and poor urban population more generally. Between 1901-1903, 19 small-scale strikes were organised in Chișinău and several other towns. Lenin’s Iskra was published in Chișinău in 1902-1903 and allegedly became a success story with the local social democrats. It had already been published abroad previously.

In contrast, the peasant rebellions were bigger in terms of participants and area affected, but it is not very clear what role Mensheviks, Bolsheviks or Social-Revolutionaries (SR) played in stirring up the mass protests that would often turn violent. Between 1901-1904 at least 25 peasant protests were officially reported; the biggest and most violent was the protest in Trifănești, Soroca county, with 600 participants[xvii]. The apogee of the peasant uprisings coincided with the first Russian Revolution (1905-1907). About 100 violent peasant protests were registered[xviii].

These actions involved burning the landowners’ properties which would regularly prompt the brutal intervention of police forces and even the military. The revolution was followed by a period which saw the implementation of harsh measures as to discourage mass protest and hamper any further democratisation of Russia. One of the strategies pursued by the Tsarist regime to maintain its hold on power was to displace traditional rural communities.

Bearing certain positive economic results, the new policy known as the Stolypin reforms led to the large-scale voluntary resettlement of peasants across the Russian Empire. Some 60,000 Bessarabians migrated to Siberia and Kazakhstan between 1907-1914, two thirds of whom would never return. The resettlement policy did not, however, help ease the social tensions in rural areas.

In 1911-1913 alone, more than 50 peasant rebellions were officially registered in Bessarabia. Their causes were diverse; in some cases protests targeted peasants that had only recently become rich as a result of the Stolypin reforms. The other target of dissatisfaction were the landowners who would often suffer arson and destruction of  property similar to the disruption in 1905-1907.

The extent of the peasants‘ discontent on the eve of the First World War is testified by a high number of fines applied by authorities against rural inhabitants during that time. Between 1910-1913, around 18,000 fines were registered[xix].

In the more urban areas, the post-1907 reactionary policies accelerated the further fragmentation of the political spectrum as well. In 1910, out of the 51 Chișinău City Duma members 22 represented monarchists, there were 22 Octobrists, one Constitutional Democrat (cadet), and six representatives of other political parties.

The social democrats enjoyed a certain support among the working class. This was especially true with respect to Mensheviks and Bundists (half of the population of Chișinău was Jewish). The Bolsheviks were not particularly popular and did not figure as an important political organization.

The outbreak of WWI in 1914 created further turmoil amidst the rural dwellers. Taxes went up, and food requisitioning became commonplace in 1916. In the beginning of that year, around 250,000 Bessarabians, mainly peasants, were drafted into the Russian Army.

Another 72,000 were mobilised for various military support roles, such as digging trenches. In addition, horses were requisitioned for the front. These policies added further hurdles to the agricultural sector which now suffered a shortage of both manpower and draft animals. This is not to say that the urban population remained unaffected by the war; access to staple food became difficult and became unaffordable.

The war also pressured the Russian Empire into a massive overhaul and expansion of its railway network. In early 1917, there were about 80,000 workers mobilised for railway and defense constructions, the majority of them coming from Ukraine and Russia. The newcomers ended up strengthening the social base for anti-Tsarist and left-leaning parties.

However, time and again, the winners in this battle for the masses were by no means the Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks and SR started dominating the local Soviets in late March 1917 until the end of that year. The local Bolshevik organisations became stronger in November-December 1917 after Lenin’s followers were sent in, mainly from Petrograd and Moscow. For much of 1917, the new republic witnessed tensions between the Provisional Government and the Soviets, and other tertiary actors.

In Bessarabia, the Sfatul Țării, the Council of the Country, became the third important actor in the struggle for power. Since fall 1917, the council had been largely dominated by the organisations of the Bessarabian/Moldavian soldiers set up in Odessa and Kiev. Created on the same principles as the Ukrainian Rada, the Sfatul Țării sought to reconcile various social, political and ethnic divisions in Bessarabia. Initially, it comprised 120 members, later expanding its membership to 150. Two thirds of the seats went to ethnic Moldavians/Romanians which by no means formed a politically united front. The remaining third of the council’s seats went to ethnic minorities.

The greatest political party represented in the Sfatul Țării was the Moldavian National Party (about 100 members) which was in favour of uniting with Romania. The second-most important faction was the Peasant Bloc which focused on agrarian reforms rather than cultural and educational questions.

The Mensheviks, SR and Bolsheviks had their own factions as well. Lenin’s adepts were in the minority in most of the local Soviets, including in Chișinău. All parties, including the Bolsheviks, recognised the legitimacy of the Sfatul Țării. In late December 1917-early January 1918, however, the authority of the latter started to be contested violently. This change was triggered by the decision of leaders of the Sfatul Țării to ask the Romanian government to send troops to Bessarabia.

The demobilisation of the Russian Army on the Romanian front resulted in anarchy and lawlessness; crime was rampant. General Shcherbatchev, commander of the Russian troops, endorsed the idea of sending Romanian troops to Bessarabia in order to re-establish public order as quickly as possible.

For the Bolsheviks, the prospect of an incursion by the Romanian Army was unacceptable. Thus, they launched a military offensive modelled on a battle used by their party in Petrograd in late October 1917. The Bolsheviks were strengthened not just by cadres sent in from the centre and Odessa (Rumcherod), but also as a result of their proficient use of propaganda, leading to some success in mobilising a part of the local population in support of their cause.

Regardless of the Bolsheviks’ efforts, the Romanian army had received a carte blanche from Germany, France and Britain[xx] to assert control over Bessarabia; by the end of January 1918, all Bolshevik resistance was crushed[xxi].


1924-1940: Moldavian Regional Committee of the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of Ukraine (Moldavian ASSR)

1921-1940: Bessarabian section of Communist Party from Romania (CPfR/PCdR)

1940-1952: Communist (Bolshevik) Party of Moldavia

1952-1991: Communist Party of Moldavia

The Communist (Bolshevik) Party of Moldavia (C(b)PM) created in 1940 is the heir of the party organisation that had previously existed in the MASSR, nominally a part of Ukraine in the interwar period (1924-1940). The Bessarabian section of the Communist Party from Romania (this is the exact translation from Romanian, “din România”) was disbanded in 1940 and its members were accepted into the C(b)PSU, to which the C(b)PM belonged only after thorough verification on an individual basis. The merit of the clandestine Bessarabian section in the interwar Romania was a thorny issue from 1940 up until the end of the Soviet Union. Only in June 1989, the CC of CPM officially recognised the collective rights of those that had previously belonged to the clandestine Bessarabian section of the CPfR[i].

In terms of membership, the clandestine Bessarabian section of the Communist Party from Romania had about 400 members in 1940(while the country had a population of 3.2 million), while the whole Romanian party organisation totalled about 1,000 members[ii]. The low membership rate has multiple explanations, for instance the notion that the CPfR was outlawed in April 1924 because it was a part of the Comintern.

It was assumed that it was subordinate to a foreign power that claimed one of its territories (Bessarabia). Even more pressingly, Moscow contested the very existence of Romania (as part of the notorious 21 conditions) via the Comintern [iii]. Overall, however, there were at least 10,000 sympathisers of the CPfR active in various umbrella organisations, as a recent piece of research completed by historians from Bucharest University on the interwar period testifies[iv].

In January 1940 the Communist organisation of the Moldavian ASSR numbered 6,875 members with the general population totaling about half a million[v]. On August 2nd 1940, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR declared the creation of a new union republic, namely the Moldavian SSR. Contrary, however, to what Pravda announced in early July, the new republic was smaller in territory comprising just two thirds of Bessarabia and about half of the MASSR (the left bank, today’s Transnistria, or breakaway PMR).

By February 1941, the MSSR party organisation numbered about 9,000 members that could be divided into two main categories: 4,223 permanent members, meaning they were local residents of the MSSR, mostly ex-MASSR, and 4,771 temporary members, i.e. sent in from other republics. The high ranks of the nomenklatura both at the republican and county level, in the party as well as in the government bodies was filled with Russians, Ukrainians, Jews and Moldavians from the former MASSR. Bessarabians were excluded altogether from party-state administration at all levels in 1940-1941[vi].

By June 1944 when the Red Army occupied/liberated the northern part of the MSSR, there were registered 1099 communists. By 1947, that number had risen to 17,207 members. Between 1944-1949, 4,412 members were accepted among local MSSR residents, out of which only 1,213 were ethnic Moldavians/Romanians (27 %); it is not known, however, how many of them were from Bessarabia.

In 1956, the Moldavian Communist party organisation had about 40,000 members, out of which about 20 % were ethnic Moldavians/Romanians. In the same period, Moldavians were under-represented in higher positions as well: out of 2,405 party secretaries, only 619 (26 %) were representatives of the titular nationality[vii].

Thirty years later, in 1986, the local party organisation numbered 189,400 members, and the share of Moldavians/Romanians had increased to about 48 %. With the exception of rural areas, however, they were still under-represented in the higher echelons of party organisation. By the next year, however, due to Perestroika, Glasnost and a generally higher sensibility to questions of legitimacy, Moldavians/Romanians made up around 54% in the CPM. Meanwhile the share of the titular nationality in government and state positions increased from 42.5 % in 1965 to 49 % in 1984[viii].

Between 1940 and 1991, the CPM had 10 first secretaries with an average period in office of five years. The first leader of the party organisation of the MSSR was Pyotr Borodin (August 1940-September 1942), former chief of party structures of the MASSR. Borodin was succeeded by Nikita Salogor who also came from the MASSR establishment and held an ad interim position for four years (September 1942-July 1946). In the summer of 1946, Moscow’s Politburo appointed Nicolae Coval, a left banker as well, as first secretary. Coval would run the party organisation until 1950, when for the first time a person not connected to the MSSR by ethnicity or birth was appointed: Leonid Brezhnev (1950-1952). Brezhnev was followed by Dumitru Gladchi (1952-1954), and Zinovii Serdiuk (1954-1961), a close friend of Khrushchev (See more in Ruslan Șevcenco, Viața politică în RSS Moldovenească, 1944-1961. Chișinău: Pontos, 2007).

The resumption of the tradition of appointing ethnic Moldavians/Romanians to the position of first secretary was made in 1961 when Ivan Bodiul, previously second secretary of the CPM (1959-1961) was appointed to head the MSSR party organisation. Bodiul was, however, Moldavian only according to his passport; he was born in the Ukrainian oblast of Nikolaev and hardly spoke any Romanian (called Moldavian in line with the Soviet dogma). Due to his good relations with Brezhnev, he stayed in office for about two decades until 1980. The last leaders of the CPM between 1980-1991 were Simion Grossu (December 1980-November 1989), Petru Lucinschi (November 1989-February 1991), and Grigore Eremei (February 1991-August 1991).

To summarise, seven out of the 10 first secretaries were Moldavian/Romanian, one Russian (Borodin), one Ukrainian (Serdiuk) and one Ukrainian/Russian (Brezhnev changed his ethnicity from Ukrainian to Russian in 1952). Only three out of those ten were born in Bessarabia (Grossu, Lucinschi and Eremei, all ethnic Moldavians/Romanians).

The first Moldavian/Romanian from Bessarabia to ever become a member of the Bureau of the CC CPM was Dumitru Cornovan in 1961. The first person with such a background to be appointed minister of MSSR was Vasile Rusu in 1966. Before that, only former MASSR cadres or those from other parts of the USSR were appointed as ministers. Transnistrians/left bankers, usually with a lesser sense of national identity, were preferred in both party and state positions.

For example, Ion Guțu was the first Moldavian/Romanian born in Bessarabia to be appointed second secretary of CPM, a key position dealing with the cadres’ policy in 1989. The same went for other key government positions: the first Moldavian/Romanian born in Bessarabia to be the first chief of the republican KGB was Tudor Botnaru (1990-1991), Ion Costaș would become the first Minister of Interior (1989-1992) and Mircea Druc became the chairman of the government in 1989-1990[ix].

The careful selection of the first secretaries of the CPM as well as, in comparison to other union republics, a lower sense of national identity among the wider Moldavian society prevented the emergence of nationally minded Communist leadership. Moldavia thus did not experience the so-called national-communism phenomenon that was registered in the Baltic and Caucasian republics for much of the existence of the USSR. Another complicating factor was the fact that Soviet Moldavia represented the only Soviet republic to be considered irredenta of the neighbouring Communist state, and thus the ideological control, and the cadres’ policy were more tightly supervised by Moscow.

In 1988-1990, Soviet Moldavia was at the forefront of anti-Moscow public manifestations alongside the Baltic republics and Georgia[x]. The main opposition organisation to mobilise society against the Soviet regime was the Popular Front of Moldavia, created in May 1989, based on several non-government organisations such as the literary-musical club named after Alexe Mateevici and the Democratic Movement for the Support of Perestroika (founded in January, and June 1988, respectively).

Public protests commenced in March 1989 and continued almost weekly until early November that year. The main ideas galvanising society against the state were the condemnation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in June 1940, mass deportations of 1941, 1949 and 1951, the mass famine of 1946-1947, but also structural issues such as the discrimination of ethnic Moldavians/Romanians in urban areas. These ideas contributed to the delegitimisation of the Soviet regime and preceded the declaration of the independence on August 27th 1991. The text enshrined the condemnation of the Soviet occupation and the crimes it perpetrated.

The Communist Party of Soviet Moldavia did not split in two with one loyal to Moscow and one pro independence, as was the case in Estonia or Latvia, for instance. There was, however, an attempt to transform the Communist Party into a social-democratic party along Eurocommunist lines (the Democratic Platform led by Anton Grăjdieru), but it ultimately failed. The Communist Party was declared illegal by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova on August 23rd 1991 as it was held responsible for supporting the abortive anti-Gorbachev coup in Moscow a few days prior[xi]. In 1993, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova was registered. From a legal point of view, it was different from Communist Party of the MSSR, but in reality it effectively acted as its direct successor.

The Transnistrian conflict, economic slowdown, Russian financial crisis of 1998 and a general lack of unity within Moldavian society about the question of national identity helped the Party of Communists to win an absolute majority of parliamentary seats in the 2001 elections, and a relative majority in 2005.

After nine years of almost unchecked power in the domestic arena, the Party of Communists failed, however, to fundamentally reshape the identity politics as well as the pro-European stance proclaimed since the anti-Soviet meetings of 1989. Indeed, this tradition was stipulated both in the declaration of the Great National Assembly of August 27th 1989 (supported by more than 100,000 participants in downtown Chișinău) and later in the Declaration of Independence of August 27th 1991. In the end, society proved to be more resilient and stronger than the state.



The present-day territory of the Republic of Moldova (Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic 1940-1991) includes about 4,000 km² located on the left bank of the Dniester River. This territory was the first one to be sovietised, in 1917 to be precise. Starting in 1924, the left bank was included in the Moldavian ASSR, a part of Soviet Ukraine.

Large swaths of population from all walks of life became victims of Red, and White Terror unleashed during the Russian Civil War, including in the future MASSR. The research that has been done so far counts at least 3,000-4,000 victims of Red Terror in 1917-1921, especially among the local peasantry who was repressed as part of grain requisitioning campaigns or peasant rebellions against both Bolsheviks and Whites[i]. Between 1921-1929, the years of the New Economic Policy (NEP), state terror subsided.

However, with Stalin’s Great Turn, the civil war-like terror methods and scale were resumed as part of the drive for total collectivization and rapid industrialisation (1929-1933)[ii]. About 12,000 MASSR peasants labelled as kulaks and other socially inimical elements were deported to the Russian tundra and taiga. Among the victims of the Soviet regime in this period were also those who lost their lives due to the mass famine of 1932-1933, known in Ukraine as Holodomor. The death toll in the MASSR due to starvation that was the direct result of Stalin’s policies and forced requisition of grain stands at about 40,000[iii].

At the same time, there were about 9,000 victims of the Great Terror of 1937-1938 in the MASSR, of whom about a half were sentenced to death. There were also victims within the NKVD of the MASSR as well; these persecutions would soon be called the ‘purge of the purgers’ campaign. The official termination of wide-spread operations was announced in mid-November 1938[iv].

As mentioned above, Bessarabia became part of the modern Romanian state in the interwar period. However, Bolshevik Russia did not recognise the union of 1918, claiming that the Romanian Army crushed the Soviet forces in the province in January 1918. As a matter of fact, as Soviet diplomats confessed unofficially to their Romanian counterparts, Moscow needed Bessarabia to act as a buffer zone for Odessa which would simultaneously offer access to the strategically important Danube delta.

Later, while negotiating the divisions of spheres of influences in Eastern Europe with Nazi Germany in 1939, the Soviets insisted on Bessarabia among other regions. In comparison to the seizure of the Baltic States which occurred in stages, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina were forcefully annexed following a direct military invasion by the Red Army on June 28th 1940.

In the first year of Soviet occupation, several groups of people faced repressions in one way or another, orchestrated by the political and civil police, called NKVD. Among the most notable groups were former members of the Bessarabian parliament, the Sfatul Tării, that had voted in favour of the union with Romania in 1918, as well as representatives of the erstwhile Tsarist administration, ex-Duma members, and ex-White guards. The local NKVD asked Beria to organise a public trial for these “perpetrators”, but for unknown reasons this did not come to fruition. Instead, they were deported to Siberia in late fall 1940, and the majority died in the following years due to illness, starvation, and age[v].

The peak of the Soviet repression in Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina came in mid-June 1941, when a total of 32,000 persons were deported to Siberia, and Kazakhstan. As opposed to post-war deportations, the heads of the families were separated from their wives and children in this deportation. The former were sent to Gulags, prison-like camps resembling the ones of Kolyma as described by Shalamov in his memoirs. Other family members, however, were consigned to special settlements which had a less severe regime, but nonetheless brought suffering to many[vi].

Another category of victims in 1940-41 was executed by shooting. The archives of the KGB in Chișinău hold files of 136 persons from this category. Some of them were former domestic agents or operatives of the Romanian political police in the interwar period (Siguranța), while others were recruited spies sent to Soviet Union for reconnaissance missions. The third group were refugees from the Soviet Union to Romania who had crossed the Dniester River illegally, either in the 1930s as a result of the collectivisation, the famine of 1929-1933, or the Great Terror in 1937-1938[vii].

On June 22nd 1941, Romania joined Nazi Germany as part of Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. In contrast to Finland, however, Romania did not stop after regaining its recently lost territories, but continued the war effort in Crimea, Kuban, and even Stalingrad. Hitler aptly manipulated both Ion Antonescu, the Romanian military dictator, and Admiral Horthy, the military dictator of Hungary, by promising to give the whole of Transylvania to the country that would contribute more to the anti-Bolshevik crusade[viii].

Romania also aligned its anti-Semitic policies with those of Germany, ultimately pursuing a policy of total ethnic cleansing in Bessarabia, killing thousands of Jews in the first weeks of the war alongside the German Einsatzgruppe D. Survivors were deported to Transnistria, a newly created administrative unit. The district stretched from the Dniester River in the west to the Bug River in the east, included Odessa and was placed under Romanian civil administration. Reportedly, about 300,000-400,000 Bessarabian and local Jews lost their lives in Transnistria, making the Romanian Holocaust one of the most lethal in Europe[ix].

The Soviets returned to Bessarabia in 1944 and resumed the mass repression campaigns with new vigour and determination as part of the re-Sovietisation process and the fight against those that had collaborated with the Romanians and Germans. Deportations of individuals and small groups started almost immediately and continued up until the death of Stalin in 1953. Mass operations were organised in 1949 and 1951.

The most extensive mass deportation took place in July 1949 and affected the lives of 34,000 persons from Bessarabian districts alone[x]. Another 1,000 people were deportees from Transnistria’s left bank, predominantly consisting of Bessarabian peasants resettled in 1941-1944 under the Romanian administration[xi]. The main targets of the 1949 mass deportation were the so-called kulaks, perceived as potential enemies of the socialist reconstruction of society, namely the mass collectivisation campaign that followed immediately.

In April 1951, another mass deportation, albeit smaller in scale (2,480 persons) was organised to target one particular religious minority, Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were perceived as being particularly hostile against Communist ideology and allegedly influenced by foreign powers as their global headquarters were in Brooklyn, New York. Other religious followers were forcefully resettled from other territories gained through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These deportations proved to be counterproductive; Jehovah’s Witnesses ended up spreading their religion to other Soviet areas previously not under their purview[xii].

One should also count those who died during the mass famine of 1946-47 as victims of late Stalinism in Soviet Moldavia. The famine was experienced all over the Soviet Union, including Russia and Ukraine, but the MSSR was hit disproportionately; at least 123,000 persons, around 5% of the total population, died as a result. In absolute numbers, Russia’s excess deaths were the highest (at least 500,000, representing 0,6 % of the total population), followed by Ukraine (300,000 excess deaths, or 1 % of the population)[xiii]. The famine had multiple causes, such as a severe drought combined with the impact of the war, but the high number of victims is due to Stalin’s policy of rapid reconstruction adopted in early 1946. This approach redirected most resources to industrial and military needs in particular.

In Moldavia, important resources in 1946-47 were directed to the extension of vineyards as one of the main priorities of the first post-war Five-year plan. Mass repressions ended after 1953, both in Soviet Moldavia and in other republics. Stalin’s state terror was condemned by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, in February 1956, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU. The condemnation of the 'cult of personality', however, was by no means complete and wholeheartedly embraced.

The 'Secret Speech' did not make any reference to the victims of collectivisation and Soviet-induced famine of 1932-33 (at least 5.5 million died) and mentioned just members of both the party and the armed forces as victims of the Great Terror (a minority as part of the 680,000 total casualties)[xiv]. By 1960, about 80 % of the deportees (95,000 in total as of January 1953) returned home[xv], but never regained their social, economic and political status. Often, they did not have the right to come back to their own homes.

While condemning Stalin, the post-1953 Soviet regime continued its repression policies but did so at much a smaller scale and with more sophisticated methods. Effectively, repression affected only separate individuals or small groups, but the definition of political crimes continued to be fundamentally Stalinist. In Soviet Moldavia, the first victims of political repressions after March 1953 were those who expressed their joy at the death of Stalin, be it publicly or in private[xvi].

A new turn in repressive policy came after the Hungarian Revolution was crushed in November 1956. All in all, according to one source, several hundred individuals were arrested and deported to Gulags, prison or labour colonies up until the mid-1980s[xvii]. Another specificity of post-Stalinist repression was the use of political psychiatry against the dissidents and undesirables. Among the most important cases of the latter category of victims in Soviet Moldavia were Ivan Sevastianov (Russian, worker, 1958), Gheorghe Muruziuc (Moldavian/Romanian, worker, 1966) and Gheorghe David (Moldavian/Romanian, engineer, 1986).

Those who opposed the Soviet regime in the Moldavian SSR after 1953 could be divided into two categories: dissenters (e.g., Zaharia Doncev, Lilia Neagu, Asea Andruh, Gheorghe Muruziuc) and dissidents (for instance, Mihai Moroșanu, Nicolae Dragoș and his group, Gheorghe David; Alexandru Usatiuc, Gheorghe Ghimpu and their group). While dissenters engaged in obstructing the state rather spontaneously, while the dissidents formulated their protest in a more elaborated and coherent manner. It is important to note that those who called for the union of Bessarabia with Romania after 1953 were likely to be punished just as harshly as in the Stalinist period. One example is the National Patriotic Front of early 1970s; its leaders were sentenced to 7 years of Gulag internment, 5 years of exile (Alexandru Usatiuc), and 6 years in a labour correction camp (Gheorghe Ghimpu)[xviii].


One of the main aims of the Soviet regime was to offer an alternative model of modernisation, one that was more viable, and advanced than the classical, Western approach. Among the specificities of the Soviet model of modernisation was the abolition of private property, market relations, and the exploitation of workers and peasants alike (none of which were true in practice)[i]. Other particularities of the Soviet model of economic modernisation were the encouragement of heavy industry to the detriment of other domains, and prioritising accumulation to the detriment of consumption[ii].

This Soviet model transformed agriculture and the rural economy into a domestic colony to be exploited for the sake of industrialisation[iii]. By squeezing the village as a source of capital, especially by selling grain abroad to get modern technology, Stalin inflicted disastrous suffering on the general population. In 1932-33 and 1946-1947, at least 5.5 million[iv] and one million Soviet citizens respectively died from starvation[v].

In 1940, Bessarabia was the least industrialised and modernised province of Romania. Industry represented only 3 % of the economy. This was a result of long-term factors such as the legacy of Tsarism, but also of short-term ones such as the status of an insecure borderland province in the interwar period which often meant violent Soviet provocations along the Dniester.

These realities prevented any meaningful influx of capital for the Bessarabian economy. In the first year of the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia (1940-1941), industrial enterprises, transport, trade and banks were nationalised. The collectivisation process was not a political priority and thus progressed at a slow pace (by June 1941, about 4 % of peasant households were collectivised)[vi]. After 1944, when the Soviet administration regained the territory from the Axis Powers, collectivisation would once again be delayed despite being the main element of Sovietising the countryside; indeed, this was the case for other territories that had been acquired as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as well.

It was often claimed that the post-war famine in Soviet Moldavia was intended to force peasants to enter kolkhozes, but this is not a very accurate statement. Indeed, the consulted Chișinău and Moscow archives tell a different story: in reality, the collectivisation rate in Bessarabian districts prior to the famine (autumn 1946) was 3 % and only grew to 7 % over the next year. It is true, however, that the rate grew to 70-90% in those southern districts that had suffered most from the famine. Nonetheless, there is no direct relation between the famine and collectivisation on a nation-wide scale.

Collectivisation continued in late 1949 (at 80%) after the July mass deportation of 35,000 persons to Siberia and Kazakhstan[vii]. The pattern of forcibly resettling parts of society to inhospitable areas was also employed in the three Baltic republics, as well as Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia[viii].

In 1952, the MSSR’s economic focus and specialisation was finally decided upon. The food-processing industry has been defined as the primary industrial domain and would receive one billion roubles over the next few years. In parallel, however, there were also impressive investments in the heavy industry sector in line with the Stalinist dogma of modernisation, a policy that would in part be carried on even beyond his death in 1953.

By 1969, the MSSR’s economy had been transformed into an industrial-agricultural one, with industry contributing more than a half to its GDP. For the most part of the Soviet period, agriculture received about 40 % of all capital investments, but it still had a lower productivity rate compared to the industrial sector. In contrast, the MSSR’s industrial progress was the highest among the 15 union republics in the post-war decades.

However, both in 1965[ix] and again in the late 1980s, the MSSR lagged behind the European republics of the USSR as was registered by the economic development rating. This is explained, at least partially, by the fact that even though the overall capital investment in the industrial domain was higher than that in other republics, the per-capita investment rate remained below the all-Union average.

The overall economic and industrial progress did hide huge regional disparities. Between 1950-1989, the left bank districts represented less than 1/10 of the territory while the population would regularly receive between 30-40 % of the total industrial investments. That was the result of the leading positions held by left bankers in the MSSR’s party-state institutions. There was also a tendency to use Bessarabian districts as a source of raw materials, mainly agricultural ones, for the left bank. This had a negative impact on the economic development of the post-1991 reality since the left bank districts are not a de facto integral part of independent Moldova and are controlled by a breakaway regime supported militarily, financially and ideologically by Moscow[x]

In comparison to the Baltic republics, the share of industrial enterprises subordinated to the political centre was much higher in the MSSR (25% compared to the average 10%). This explains the existence in the MSSR of an economy more oriented to satisfy the necessities of the central ministries and departments to the detriment of the needs of the local population, especially with regards to commodity goods.

At the same time, the structure of the MSSR’s economy testifies to the existence of a more subservient republican nomenklatura that often carries and enables the interests of the centre. Even Ivan Bodiul, the first secretary of the CC of the CPM (1961-1980) who had a good relationship with Brezhnev, was not able to lobby too openly for local interests in Moscow[xi].

Society and culture

The Soviet regime aimed not only at creating a modern economy, but also a new society and a new man, the Homo Sovieticus[i] endowed with a new, higher morality. The Moral Code of the Communist Builder, an integral part of the 3rd Programme of the CPSU adopted in 1961[ii], stressed that one of the main features of the new man should be impatience and intolerance toward the remnants of the past and of bourgeois society altogether.

Bringing about a new Soviet, multinational society presupposed the struggle against nationalism, among other factors. Nationalism was perceived as societal narrowness and thus to be eradicated altogether. In its place, the party encouraged internationalism, friendship of peoples, openness toward the other, and borrowings from more developed nations and peoples. The expected result was the creation of a Soviet melting pot, a multicultural and meta-ethnic community[iii]. In practice, one of the underlying features of this policy was to promote the Russian language and Russian culture as the most superior and hegemonic[iv].

Nations with a developed sense of national identity prior to the advent of Bolshevism and Soviet rulers resisted more or less successfully against the total demise of their language, culture and traditions. Among them were the Baltic nations, the Georgians, Armenians, and partially the Azerbaijanis and Ukrainians. Conversely, the Moldavians and Byelorussians did not have a very strong sense of modern national identity and thus the impact of Soviet nationality policies was felt more intensively.

The difference, however, was that Moldavians did not lose their language. On the contrary, it became an everyday instrument of communication – not just for the people but also the state apparatus after 1989, even more than Ukrainian did in Ukraine.

To use Miroslav Hroch’s classification[v], by 1917 Moldavians were just entering phase B of national construction, the nationalisation of the elites. By the late 1930s, due to the spreading of the primary mandatory educational system in interwar Romania, Moldavians of Bessarabia were witnessing the beginning of the phase C, the nationalisation of the masses. This included the acceptance of a common name for all people who live in one state, speak one language and share a partly mythologised, partly factual, but common past: Romanian.

By occupying and annexing Bessarabia in 1940, and again in 1944, the Soviets brutally interrupted this process of modern nation-building – this happened by various means, such as marginalising the national elites and indeed liquidating most of them physically through execution, mass deportations, and famine. In their place, a new generation of intellectuals was educated (the aim of the ‘cultural revolution’) to instil the masses with the sense of national identity that was designed by the Soviet regime. In essence, it was about elevating the medieval regional and state identity, Moldavian, to the level of national identity[vi] (similar, to some extent, to the creation of Austrian identity or the Macedonian one after WWII, and before that, of Karelian vs Finnish[vii]).

However, due to the geographical proximity and the impossibility of total isolation from cultural and human contact with neighbouring Romania – which had turned Communist following WWII – the Soviet attempts at building a new, Soviet Moldavian nation ethnically and linguistically distinct from Romanian succeeded only partially and had come to a complete standstill by the end of the 1980s.

In 1988-1989, what had seemed to be an irreversible process proved to be rescindable. In this period, Moldavians witnessed an unprecedented process of national revival on a grand scale, made possible thanks to Perestroika which weakened control through the KGB and the party. The national revival came true also due to the partial abolition of censorship, even for thorny historical issues like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalinist deportations, famine, and the Great Terror in the MASSR.

The declaration of independence of August 1991 enshrined many ideas of the late 1980s in terms of national identity, such as a shared history with Romania, the Romanian language and new politics of memory. This new approached revolved around the condemnation of the Soviets’ nationality policy in the MSSR, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its consequences, the Soviet occupation of 1940/1944 and subsequent colonial-type policies.

Among those who had a special merit in ensuring the survival of memory despite Soviet propaganda in the MSSR is the writer Ion Druță. His novels of the 1960s, especially The Burden of Our Goodness, raised for the first time the issue of the postwar famine in Soviet Moldavia and condemned the Soviet regime in ambiguous terms as not being able to understand the mentality of the peasants.

Nevertheless, the message was very strong in the context of that particular epoch and had a strong impact on the next generation of Moldavian intellectuals. Initially, Druță’s novel were prohibited from publication in the MSSR, but were published in late 1960s in Moscow. As this case suggests, sometimes the ideological control in the centre of power was less rigorous than in the national peripheries.

Druță’s novels encouraged the national intelligentsia to express their thoughts more or less openly. As a result, these intellectuals of the Khrushchev Thaw and 1960s would inspire and lead the national revival of the late 1980s and early 1990s (Mihai Cimpoi, Vasile Vasilache, Vladimir Beșleagă, Vasile Romanciuc, Aureliu Busuioc, Dumitru Matcovschi, Grigore Vieru, Leonida Lari, Gheorghe Malarciuc, and many more)[viii].

In other words, in contrast to the political nomenklatura, the MSSR witnessed the phenomenon of national communism also in the domain of culture. Among the most important figures in this respect were the poets Emilian Bucov, Andrei Lupan and George Meniuc. Using their credentials as young communists in interwar Romanian Bessarabia, they did much to preserve the vocabulary of the modern Romanian language and help rehabilitate the classics of Romanian writers and republish their works, except in Cyrillic, in Chișinău, beginning in the late 1950s. 

In the Soviet period, bilingualism was promoted officially as a central element in forging  Soviet multinational society. In reality, almost every non-Russian learned Russian, but the Russians and other Russian-speaking minorities very rarely returned the favour, especially in republics like Moldavia.

The Romanian language was present only on a symbolical level in urban areas, schools, and universities. The theatres were highly russified; the National Moldavian Theatre, for example, bore the name of Pushkin (regardless, his works were highly regarded among Moldavian intellectuals).

A new generation of nationally-minded actors and directors emerged in the 1960s as they completed their university studies in Moscow’s best schools. Upon their return to Moldavia, they recreated the theatre Luceafărul, bearing the name of one of the most well-known poems by the greatest Romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu. This theatre became the home of many famous actors such as Ion Ungureanu, Sandri Ion Șcurea, Dumitru Caraciobanu, Eugenia Todorașcu, Vera Grigoriev, Nina Doni, Nina Vodă, Dumitru Fusu, V. Constantinov, Victor Ciutac, Iulian Pâslariuc and others.

In those villages with a Moldavian majority, schools taught exclusively in Romanian. What set Moldavian apart from Romanian were primarily the use of the Cyrillic alphabet and the tendency to use archaisms rather than neologisms. Notwithstanding systematic efforts in language planning, there was no Romanian-Moldavian dictionary published in the Soviet Union. Had one been published, it could have been considered proof that Moldavian does not exist as a separate language, even not as a dialect. In Moscow, linguists published works on Romance languages, but rarely mentioned Moldavian as a separate language from Romanian[ix]. The republican leadership protested against such offence against the existence of Moldavian as an independent language, but to no avail[x]. The Soviet social sciences and humanities were not totally under the purview of the Communist Party.

Conversely, in the villages with minority populations such as Bulgarians, Gagauz or Ukrainians, the language of instruction was Russian. This helped them integrate better with the wider Soviet Union but erected walls of communication within the republic. The Soviet language policy is still felt in Moldova three decades after the collapse of the USSR. 

In the musical domain the Moldavian group Noroc rose to fame across the Soviet Union in the late 1960s; some even called them the Soviet Beatles. Following a concert in Odessa in 1970, the band was disbanded because it included in its repertoire several prohibited Western songs deemed ideologically harmful. At the all-Union music contests and concerts, Moldavia was known for having singers with a bilingual repertoire – Romanian and Russian – such as Sofia Rotaru, Ion Suruceanu, Mihai Dolgan, Ștefan Petrache, Nadezhda Cepraga and others. The most well-known Moldavian composer was Eugen Doga, who created soundtracks for more than 100 Soviet movies, notably A Hunting Accident (“Мой ласковый и нежный зверь”), which was screened at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival. In the domain of ballet, Soviet Moldavia was known at the all-Union level and abroad with names like Maria Bieșu and Mihai Munteanu.

In the cinema domain, Emil Loteanu was the most notorious director of movies such as Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven (1975, “Табор уходит в небо”) and Fiddlers (“Lăutarii”), with the latter even receiving a Silver Shell at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in 1971. Eugen Doga was responsible for the soundtrack of both the aforementioned and many other movies directed by Loteanu[xi].


Following the defeat of the Axis Powers in 1945, the Soviet Union and the United States of America became world’s only superpowers. The struggle for supremacy was long and tumultuous, having started back in 1917. The Bolsheviks felt encircled by capitalist countries and thus focused on building a strong military to defend themselves from both external and internal enemies.

A strong army was also necessary so that the Soviet Union would be ready to spread the world revolution, a euphemism for Soviet expansionism. The memory of the Russian Civil War was vivid for the upper echelons, not just in the interwar period, but also during the Cold War. In the wake of the German invasion in WWII, the Red Army had to retreat from most of its European territories.

Bessarabia was evacuated in late July 1941, when it was reported that about 300,000 soldiers had already been in full retreat. Among the evacuated, some were military and party-state nomenklatura, while others were rank-and-file citizens, including Jews who fled from certain German genocide. Meanwhile, Romania mobilised about 30,000 Bessarabian recruits within its own army. This relatively small contribution was justified officially by the fact that the Bessarabians had already suffered a lot from the Soviet repressions and mass deportation.

Other explanations could be that the Antonescu regime did not trust the Bessarabians and especially after the battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 / early 1943, or, alternatively, he tried to protect them from Soviet revenge. The Soviets, indeed, did not trust the Bessarabians in their own army either, sending them to the front line at Stalingrad only in the last moment when the situation was dire.

Caught between Romania and the Soviet Union, Bessarabians understandably found it hard to develop resilient state loyalty[i]. Nevertheless, in 1944, at least 240,000 Bessarabians were mobilised into the Red Army, including former Romanian soldiers of Bessarabian origin. About 30,000 of them died in the battles taking place in Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany.

Those who served in the Red Army and risked their lives for the Soviet Motherland were supposed to be amnestied with regards to their previous military collaboration with the enemy. These promises were widely kept, but only for those who were awarded Soviet medals for their courage on the frontlines. However local officials had to fill deportation quotas and thus frequently resorted to putting distinguished veterans of WWII on those lists as well[ii].

As was the case in Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic republics, Soviet Moldavia acted as an important border area during the Cold War. It was thus highly militarised, with Chișinău being declared a regime city of the first category, meaning that the entry of certain persons both from abroad and from outside the MSSR was restricted. From the mid-1950s up to the mid-1980s, the local military, militia troops, KGB, and the local aktiv stood ready to counter an alleged Western invasion that was supposed to be launched from NATO bases in Turkey. The preparations and trainings for this kind of attack were organised within the framework of a secret operation codenamed Groza (Thunder).

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, there was a plan for the evacuation of Chișinău. It included the withdrawal of all party-state institutions, government, Central Committee, KGB, but also universities, schools, and even cultural institutions north of the capital. In case of a nuclear war, it was expected that Americans would attack Chișinău with nuclear missiles[iii]. This is also confirmed in recently declassified CIA documents. 

Military units stationed in the MSSR had special privileges. One of them was related to the provision of better housing conditions. Out of all apartments built in Chișinău, Bender, Tiraspol, Bălți, Ungheni and Cahul, 10 % were allocated to house members of the Soviet military.

Several strategically important highways were built in Soviet Moldavia for military purposes. One of them was Chișinău-Leușeni, started in 1958 and finished after 1968 when Soviet-Romanian relations worsened following Ceaușescu’s critique of the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Other highways were also built, including Bălți-Chișinău, and Chișinău-Tarutino (unfinished); these highways were designed so they could also serve as runways for military aircraft. Chișinău was the headquarters of the military forces of the Treaty of Warsaw Organisation for South East Europe. It was also home to several important military factories, such as Mezon.

From a military administration point of view, the Moldavian SSR was included in the Odessa Military District. The main military units in the MSSR were part of the 14th Soviet Army, created in 1956. It had its headquarters in Chișinău until the late 1980s when it moved to Tiraspol, on the left bank. The units of the 14th Army were spread across various cities like Bălți, Bender, Ungheni, and Florești.

The main military airport for MIG type aircraft was located in the north, at Mărculești, a former Jewish town. The Soviet 14th Army and its commander, General Alexandr Lebed’ had a decisive role in the establishment of the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Moldavian Republic. 

The former Soviet troops that were stationed in the breakaway region were officially transformed into the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Moldova in 1995. According to both international law and the Constitution of Moldova, the Russian military forces based on the left bank of the Dniester River are an army of occupation. At an OSCE meeting in Istanbul in 1999, the Russian President Boris Yeltsin promised the withdrawal of the Russian Army from Moldova, but this would never materialise.



Historical introduction:

[i] See more in Șerban Papacostea, Stephen the Great: Prince of Moldavia, 1457-1504 (Bucharest: Editura Enciclopedică, 1996). For a more recent account on the same subject see Jonathan Eagles, Stephen the Great and Balkan Nationalism: Moldova and Eastern European History (London: I.B. Tauris. 2014).

[ii] Dimitrie Cantemir was a scholar as well. He became a member of the Berlin Academy and published many books. One of them was Descriptio Moldaviae (1716), also published in German in 1770. The first Romanian version was printed in 1825.

[iii] See more Robert R. Denndorf, Als König Karl XII. von Schweden Gast der Rumänen war der Kalabalik von Bender (Hamburg: Norderstedt Books, 2017). Romanian version available as well (Chiăinau: Lexicon Prim, 2019).

[iv] See more in Vlad Georgescu, Romanians: A History (London: Tauris, 1991).

[v] George F. Jewsbury, The Russian Annexation of Bessarabia. A Study in Imperial Expansion, 1774-1828 (Boulder, Co: East European Monographs, 1976).

[vi] See Andrei Cușco, Viktor Taki, Oleg Gromm, Bessarabia v sostave Rossiiskoj Imperii, 1812-1917 (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie: 2012).

[vii] See more in Andrei Cușco, A Contested Borderland. Competing Russian and Romanian Visions of Bessarabia in Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century (Budapest: CEU Press, 2017), pp. 193-210.

[viii] See more in Gheorghe Negru, Țarismul și mișcarea națională a românilor din Basarabia (Chișinău: Prut Internațional, 2000); Iurie Colesnic, Un dosar uitat al istoriei: pământenia basarabeană de la Dorpat – prima organizație națională (Chișinău: Museum, 2008); Andrei Cușco, “Russians, Romanians, or Neither? Mobilization of Ethnicity and „National Indifference” in early 20th Century Bessarabia”, in Kritika. Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, vol. 20, no. 1 (2019), 7-38. 

[ix] Glenn Torrey, Romania and World War I (Iași-Oxford-Portland: The Center for Romanian Civilization), 1999, 326.

[x] Ludmila Rotari, Mișcarea subversivă din Basarabia în anii 1918-1924 (București: Editura Enciclopedică, 2004), 237-262.

[xi] See more in Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire. Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1938 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001), 274.

[xii] See more in Charles King, The Moldovans. Romania, Russia, and the Politics of Culture (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1999).

[xiii] Istoria MSSR s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnej (Chișinău: Știința, 1984), 181.

[xiv] Ocherki istorii Kommunisticheskoy Partii Moldavii (Chișinău : Cartea Moldovenească, 1981) p. 17.

[xv] Ocherki istorii KPM, p. 21.

[xvi] Istoria MSSR, 237.

[xvii] Ocherki istorii KPM, 27.

[xviii] Istoria MSSR, 232.

[xix] Istoria MSSR, 240.

[xx] Torey, Romania, 326. For a comparative view with the Baltic states, see a recent and original book on the impact of WWI on Lithuania by Tomas Balkelis, War, Revolution, and Nation-Making in Lithuania, 1914-1923 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). 

[xxi] See more in Valeriu Popovschi, Biroul de organizare a Sfatului Țării. Republica Democratică Moldovenească (Brăila: Editura Academiei Române – Editura Istros, 2017); I. Levit, Moldavskaia respiblika, noiabr’ 1917-noiabr’ 1918 (Chișinău: Tipografia Centrală, 1999).


[i] Anton Moraru, Istoria românilor. Basarabia și Transnistria, 1812-1993 (Chișinău: Tipografia Centrală, 1994), p. 322.

[ii] See more in Veaceslav Stăvilă, De la Basarabia românească la Basarabia sovietică (Chișinău: Tipografia Centrală, 2000).

[iii] See more in Vladimir Tismăneanu, Stalinism for All Seasons. A political History of Romanian Communism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 37-84.

[iv] Adrian Cioroianu, Comuniștii înainte de Comunism: Procese și condamnări ale ilegaliștilor din România (București: Editura Universității București, 2014).

[v] Moraru, Istoria românilor, p. 322.

[vi] See more in Igor Cașu“Instaurarea regimului sovietic în Basarabia, 1940-1941”, in Revista  de  istorie a Moldovei, no. 3-4, 1999; The Archive of the Social-Political Organizations of the Republic of Moldova (AOSPRM, party archive), Fond 51, inv. 1, d. 25, 32-34.

[vii] Moraru, Istoria românilor, p. 410-411. See more in Ruslan Șevcenco, Viața politică în RSS Moldovenească (1944-1961) (Chișinău: Pontos 2007) and Marius Tărîță, ed., Cadrele de partid și sovietice din RASSM și RSSM, 1924-1956. Culegere de Studii (Chișinău : Tehnica-Info), 2015.

[viii] See more in Veaceslav Stăvilă, “Evoluția componenței naționale a elitei politico-economice a RSSM”, in Revista de Istorie a Moldovei, no. 4, 1996, p. 38-41.

[ix] See more in Igor Cașu, “Was the Soviet Union an Empire? A View from Chișinău”, in Dystopia. Journal of Totalitarian Ideologies and Regimes, vol. 1, 2012, pp. 277-290.

[x] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, La gloire des nations ou La fin de l'empire soviétique (Paris : Fayard, 1992).

[xi] Игорь Кашу, Игорь Шаров, составители, Республика Молдовы от Перестройки к независимости (1989-1991). Секретные документы из архивa ЦК КПМ (Chișinău: Cartdidact, 2011) 692 c. Full text available at


[i] Alexei Memei, Teroarea comunistă în RASSM (1924-1940) și RSSM (1944-1947) (Chișinău: Serebia, 2012), pp. 59-67. For the Red and White Terror as a whole, the best is Alter Litvin, Krasnyi i Belyi Terror v Rossii, 1918-1922 (Moscow: Iauza-Eksmo, 2004).

[ii] See more in V. Danilov, R. Manning, L. Viola, eds., Tragedia sovetskoj derevni. Kollektivizatsia i raskulachivanie. Dokumenty i materaily, vol. 1-5 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1999).

[iii] Chiril Stratievschi, Golod 1932-1933 gg. v Moldavskoj ASSR (Chișinău: CETINI, 2001); Igor Cașu, Dușmanul de clasă. Violență, represiuni politice și rezistență în R(A)SS Moldovenească, 1924-1956 (Chișinău: Cartier, 2014), p. 64.

[iv] See my chapter on the purge of the purgers in MASSR in Marc Junge, Lynne Viola, Jeff Rossman, eds., Chekisty na skam’e posudimykh. Snornik statej (Moscow: Probel-M, 2017), pp. 596-630.

[v] Elena Postică, “Deputaţii Sfatului Ţării represaţi în anul 1940”, în Cugetul, martie, 1998, p. 92-98.

[vi] See more Valeriu Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy istorii Moldovy (1940-1950-e gody) (Moscow: Terra, 1994).

[vii] Cașu, Dușmanul de clasă, pp. 133-136.

[viii] Florin Constantiniu, Trecerea Nistrului, 1941: o decizie controversată (București: Albatros, 1995).

[ix] See more in Vladimir Solonari, Purifying the Nation: Population Exchange and Ethnic Cleansing in Nazi-Allied Romania (Washington, DC: John Hopkins University Press, 2009); Diana Dumitru, The State, Antisemitism, and Collaboration in the Holocaust. The Borderlands of Romania and the Soviet Union (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Traşcă, Ottmar, ed. „Chestiunea evreiască” în documente militare române, 1941-1944 (Iaşi: Institutul European & Bucureşti, Institutul „Elie Wiesel”, 2010).

[x] See more in Viorica Olaru-Cemîrtan, Deportările din Basarabia, 1940-1941, 1944-1956 (Chișinău: Pontos, 2014).

[xi] Serguei Digol, “Operatsia IUG v levoberezhnoj Moldavii: zabytyi fragment reabilitirovannoj pamyati”, in Ab Imperio, no. 2, 2004, pp. 269-296.

[xii] See more in Emily B Baran, Dissent on the Margins. How Soviet Jehovah’s Witnesses defied Communism and lived to Preach About it (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016) and Nicolae Fuștei, Persecutarea organizației religioase Martorii lui Iehova. Operația Sever (1951) în RSSM (Chișinău: Cuvântul-ABC, 2013).

[xiii] Ellman, Michael. „The 1947 Soviet famine and the entitlement approach to famines”, în Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 24 (September 2000), p. 613.

[xiv] See more in Igor Cașu, Mark Sandle, “Discontent and Uncertainty in the Borderlands: Soviet Moldavia and the Secret Speech 1956–1957”, in Europe-Asia Studies, 64:4, 2014, pp. 613-644.

[xv] Pasat, Trudnye stranitsy, pp. 746-747.

[xvi] Mihai Tașcă, “Zece ani pentru ochii lui Stalin”, in Historia, 2, 2011, available at (accessed on May 20, 2020)

[xvii] See Elena Postică, ed., Cartea Memoriei. Catalog al victimelor totalitarismului comunist (Chișinău: Știința, 1999-2005), vol. I-IV.

[xviii] See more on that in Igor Caşu, „Political Repressions in Moldavian SSR after 1956: towards a Typology based on MGB files”, în Dystopia. Journal of Totalitarian Ideologies and Regimes, vol. I, no. 1-2, pp. 89-127.


[i] Elena Osokina, Za fasadom stalinskogo izobilia (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2008); James Heinzen, The Art of Bribe. Corruption under Stalin, 1943-1953 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016).

[ii] Alexander Erlich, The Soviet Industrial Debate, 1922-1928, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1960; Alex Nove, ed., Economic Rationality and Soviet Politics, New York: Praeger, 1964, p. 17-39. For a more recent discussion, see Stephen Kotkin, “Modern Times: The Soviet Union and the Interwar Conjuncture,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 2, no. 1 (2001): 111-164, and Mark Edele, Stalinist Society, 1928-1953, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 193-212.

[iii] The concept of ‘internal colonialism was developed by Michael Hechter (1975) and extended to Russia and the Soviet Union by Alexander Etkind, Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience, Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011.

[iv] Robert W. Davies, Stephen Wheatcroft, The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 401.

[v] Michael Ellman, “The 1947 Soviet Famine and the Entitlement Approach to Famines,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 24 (2000): 613.  Se more on the postwar famine: Veniamin Zima, Golod v SSSR, 1946-1947: Prichiny i posledvstviia (Moscow: Institut Rossiiskoj Istorii RAN, 1996) and Nicholas Ganson, The Soviet Famine of 1946-47 in Global and Historical Perspective (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). On famine in Soviet Moldavia see A. M. Ţăranu, I. I. Şişcanu, M. Gribincea et al., eds., Golod v Moldove, 1946-1947. Sbornik dokumentov, Chişinău, Ştiinţa, 1993 and Igor Cașu, “Golod 1946-1947 gg. v Moldavskoj SSR: prichiny i posledstvia”, in З Архiвiв ВУЧК-ГПУ-НКВД-КГБ, 2 (43), 2014, 211-256.

[vi] Ion Șișcanu, Desțărănirea țărănească a Basarabiei (Chișinău: Adrian, 1994), p. 159.

[vii] See more in Коллективизация крестьянских хозяйств в правобережных районах Молдавской ССР. Документы и материалы, Кишинев, составители В. И. Царанов, С.Я. Афтенюк, К. Е. Олейник, М.К. Сытник, И. И. Терехина, Картя Молдовеняскэ, 1969.

[viii] Elena Zubkova, Pribaltika in Kreml’ (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2008); Constantin Iordachi, Arnd Bauerkamper, eds. The Collectivization of Agriculture in Communist Eastern Europe. Comparison and Entanglements (Budapest: CEU Press, 2014).

[ix] Voprosy Ekonomiki, no. 4, 1970, p. 128.

[x] See more in Igor Cașu, “Modernizarea economică în Basarabia, 1944-1989: abordare comparativă”, in Revista de istorie a Moldovei, no. 3-4, 1998. See also V. I. Țaranov, V. I. Po puti industrializatsii (Chişinău: Ştiinţa, 1975), and Sergiu Chircă, Regional’nye problemy processa sozdanija material’no – tehnicheskoj bazy komunizma v SSSR (Chişinău: Cartea Moldovenească, 1979).

[xi] See more in Ivan I. Bodiul, Dorogoj zhizni. Vremea, sobytia, razdum’ja. Vospominania (Chișinău: Kușnir i CO, 2001).

Society and culture:

[i] Alexander Zinoviev, Homo Sovieticus (London: Paladin Grafton Books, 1986); Octavian Țîcu, Homo Moldovanus Sovietic. Teorii și practice de construcție identitară în R(A) SSM, 1924-1989 (Chișinău : ARC, 2019).

[ii] See more in Deborah A. Field, Private Life and Communist Morality in Khrushchev’s Russia (New York: Peter Lang, 2007).

[iii] Ju. Bromley, Etnos i etnografia (Moscow: Nauka, 1973); Valery Tishkov, Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in and after the Soviet Union (London: Sage, 1997).

[iv] Bilinsky, V. „The Concept of the Soviet People and its implications for Soviet Nationality Policy”, in Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in the United States, vol. 13, no. 37-38, 1978.

[v] Miroslav Hroch, National Preconditions of National Revival in Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

[vi] See Igor Cașu, „Politica națională” în Moldova Sovietică, 1944-1989 (Chișinău: Cartdidact, 2000); and „Was the Soviet Union an Empire? A View from Chișinău”, in Dystopia. Journal of Totalitarian Ideologies and Regimes, vol. 1, 2012, pp. 277-290 (the Russian version has been published in Russian, in Neprikosnovennyi Zapas, vol. 78, 4/2011, available at:

[vii] Schrad, Mark Lawrence. “Rag doll nations and the politics of differentiation on arbitrary borders: Karelia and Moldova”, in Nationalities Papers, vol. 32, no.2, 2004, pp. 457-496.

[viii] More in Igor Cașu, ”The Quiet Revolution”: Revisiting the National Identity Issue in Soviet Moldavia at the height of Khrushchev’s Thaw (1956), in Euxeinos, University of Saint Gallen, (Switzerland), no. 15-16, 2014, pp. 77-91. See also Petru Negură, Ni héros, ni traîtres. Les écrivains moldaves face au pouvoir soviétique sous Staline (Paris : L’Harmattan, 2009).

[ix] See more in Michael Bruchis, Nations, nationalities, peoples: a study of the nationalities policy of Communist Party in Soviet Moldavia (Boulder Co.: East European Monographs 1984); Dennis Deletant, “What self-determination mean for the Moldavians”, in The Soviet Union and the challenge of the future, vol. 3, Ideology, culture and nationality (New York: Paragon House, 1987); Derbyshire, W.W. “Russification versus De-Russification: some Linguistic Thoughts”, in Allworth, P. Ethnic Russia in the USSR. The Dilemma of Dominance (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980).

[x] See more in Klaus Heitmann, Limbă și politică în Republica Moldova (Chișinău: ARC, 1998).

[xi] See more in Anton Moraru, Istoria Românilor. Basarabia și Transnistria, 1812-1993 (Chișinău: Tipografia Centrală, 1994), pp. 431-450; 490-523; Octavian Țîcu, O istorie ilustrată a românilor de la est de Prut, 1791-prezent (Chișinău: Litera, 2019); Mihai Ștefan Poiată, ROCK-ul, NOROC-ul și noi (Chișinău: ARC, 2013).



[i] Svetlana Suveică, “Loyalties in the Age of Extremes: Local Officials in Bessarabia during World War II (1939–1945)” in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Volume 65, Number 4, January 2018, pp. 560-596.

[ii] See for instance, the memoirs of Boris Vasiliev, Stalin mi-a furat copilăria (Chişinău: Editura Baştina-Radog, 2010).

[iii] To the best of my knowledge, there are currently no publications on the Soviet military in the Moldavian SSR. This section is based on unpublished documents from the Archive of the Social-Political Organisations of the Republic of Moldova, and the former archive of the Institute of the Party’s History within the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Moldavia (in Romanian: Arhiva Organizațiilor Social-Politice din Republica Moldova, AOSPRM), as well as the archive of the ex-MVD of MSSR (AMAIRM-MVD) and ex-KGB of MSSR (ASISRM-KGB).