According to Homosociety, Moldova is among the smallest countries to emerge from the Soviet dissolution. Since independence, the population has decreased by about 10% due to the high rate of emigration, mainly directed towards the countries of Western Europe. Combined with the economic crisis that followed independence, emigration has resulted in an almost one-third drop in secondary school enrollment over the past decade.
From an ethnic point of view, in the territory controlled by the central government, Moldovans are 78% of the population, Ukrainians 8% and Russians 6%. Russian is spoken as a first language by 11% of the total population, but it is known by the majority of the residents and is often used as a lingua franca. The forced ‘Russification’ of the Soviet period however caused serious conflicts between the Russians and Moldovans.
In fact, in addition to Transnistria, there is another similar case just over a hundred kilometers south of the capital Chișinău: Gagauzia – inhabited by a Turkish-speaking population of Christian-Orthodox religion – which, endowed with ample autonomy, has claimed on the wave of the Ukrainian crisis its independence from Moldova
Transnistria: the country that doesn’t exist
Transnistria, or in the Russian diction Pridnestrovie, is a de facto independent statesince 1992, not internationally recognized as it is officially considered part of Moldova. The region, bordered to the west by the River Nistro and to the east by Ukraine, has given itself a government and a parliament based in Tiraspol, its own currency, a central bank and autonomous customs. Transnistria occupies about a tenth of the territory of present-day Moldova and is home to just over half a million residents. Compared to the Moldovan regions controlled by Chișinău, the population is urbanized (around 70%) and a relative majority of people speak Ukrainian as their first language. Ethnically the composition is mixed: 32% of the population is Moldovan, 30% Russian and 29% Ukrainian. The Transnistrian economy is supported by heavy industry: 60% of its exports and almost a third of the country’s income come from the steel sector. In the Soviet period prior to 1940, Transnistria was part of the Ukrainian SSR under the name of the Republic of Moldova and enjoyed a strong autonomy. Following the Soviet occupation of Romanian Moldova, the constitution of the Moldavian SSR united the two territories under a single jurisdiction, which however remained very different from an ethnic point of view. Unlike the rest of the country, where Moldovans were already predominant, the 1989 census shows that at that time Transnistria was inhabited by a majority (54%) of Russians and Ukrainians, and only 40% of Moldovans. The reasons for this demographic imbalance lie above all in the presence of Soviet industrial plants in Transnistria, to which the communist authorities mainly sent workers from other regions of the USSR. Since 1991 the forces of Transnistria, which had declared its independence the previous year, have clashed with the Moldovan police. In 1992, hostilities turned into open warfare. During the conflict, the Soviet 14th army stationed in Tiraspol, made up of about 14,000 soldiers and assisted by almost 5,000 Russian and Ukrainian volunteers, protected Transnistria until the final withdrawal of the Moldovan army. Moscow did not act in secret: Russian Vice President Aleksander Ruckoj openly encouraged the separatists and so did the Ukrainian government. The ceasefire, signed by Russia and Moldova at the end of the hostilities, provided for the deployment of a contingent of forces of peacekeeping along the Nistro river (for a strip of 255 km in length and 12-20 km in width). Today these forces are made up of 403 Moldovan soldiers, 411 from Transnistria and 385 Russians, while a contingent of about a thousand Russian troops still remain on the territory, although the agreement would require their demobilization. Russia remains the main actor for the resolution of the conflict, also given the considerable political and economic levers to be exercised on both sides. The crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea to Russia have rekindled the secessionist tendencies of the region which has officially asked to be annexed to Moscow. Since March 2014, the 5 + 2 negotiations – started in 2005 – have been repeated with some regularity (Moldova, Trasnistria, OSCE,legal status of Transnistria, guarantees on the neutrality of the country, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the protection of Russian-speaking minorities and property rights acquired by the Russian side.