The Republic of Moldova: Former Homeland of the Bessarabian Germans

Die Republik Moldawien - einstige Heimat der Bessarabiendeutschen

Salzer, Jürgen. "The Republic of Moldova: Former Homeland of the Bessarabian Germans." Neues Leben, 18 April 1997.

We introduce the Republic of Moldova, another country of the former Soviet Union which has become independent and where until 1940 numerous Germans, Bessarabian Germans, used to live. Today, the Republic of Moldova is one of the poorhouses of Europe; however, according to the recently elected president Lucinschi there will be considerable progress in the next two years whereby the help of the West including Germany is counted on.

On January 15, in a speech held after the swearing-in ceremony, the new president Petru Lucinschi expressed his joy to be sworn into office on the birthday of the greatest Rumanian poet, Mihail Eminescu. Did Lucinschi want to give a new spark to supporters of reunification with Romania? Perhaps a look at the history of this country will help.

Around 1353, the Hungarian King Ludwig I integrated the tiny states existing in the area of present-day Moldova and in 1359; the Rumanian Prince Bogdab founded the Moldavian principality to which at that time the area between the Pruth and the Dnestr rivers (part of present-day Moldova); and the Buchenland (today called Bukovinia) belonged; the capital was Jassy (Rumanian: Jasi). Less than 20 years later, the principality fell into the hands of Poland. Then later under Prince Alexander the Good, the borders extended to the Black Sea. In 1420, at the first invasion by the Turks, sovereignty could still be maintained, until the beginning of the 16th century when the country fell under the supremacy of the Turkish Sultan; however, it maintained the right to free elections, kept its administrative autonomy and its own legislation.

In the 18th century the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir, who had been nominated as member of the Berlin Academy because of his Descriptio Moldaviae, participates in the Pruth campaign of Peter the Great (1711). During the course of the Russian-Turkish War the region is repeatedly occupied by the Russian army: Bukovinia falls to Austria in 1774, and after the Russian-Turkish War of 1806-1812 the Turks had, according to the peace treaty of Bucharest, to cede the area between the Pruth and the Dnestr rivers to the Russian Czar. The colonization of what was then called Bessarabia, after the Rumanian dynasty of Basarab, began under the Russian Czar, Alexander I who, in a decree of Nov. 29, 1813, gave land to German settlers and granted them considerable privileges.

The so-called Warsaw Group, i.e. Germans from the Duchee of Warsaw, founded altogether 15 towns with 1,142 families until 1816 and the so-called Württemberg-Bavarian Group and the Swiss Group (1822-1846) were added after 1816. A total of 24 mother colonies were developed between 1814 and 1847. According to statistics of 1914, there were 204 German settlements with a total population of 60,000 Germans.

After the October Revolution in Russia, a freely elected 'district council' (Landsrat) had been formed in Bessarabia; its 150 members reflected the demographies of Bessarabia's multiethnic population. Aside from 105 Rumanians, there were 15 Ukrainians, 7 Russians and 2 Germans as well as other nationalities were represented, among others. When on January 5, 1918, hordes of Bolsheviks invaded Bessarabia, the district council called in Rumanian troops who occupied the country on January 13. In March 1918, 86 representatives voted for the annexation to Romania and only three voted against.

However, no sooner had the communists in the Soviet Union claimed their power, did they establish the Autonomous Republic of Moldova east of the Dnestr River, the Transnistr area, and made no secret [of their intentions] to regain Bessarabia when the time was right. The Moldovan dialect of this area was adopted as the official language; and the Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in order to isolate even more this artificial language from bourgeois Romania. In 1930, a Moldovan grammar was published; and the Russian influence on the language was strengthened.

In the Geheime Zusatzprotokoll (secret amendment) of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact (Molotow-Ribbentrop) of August 23, 1939, the cession of Bessarabia to the Soviet Union and the resettlement of Bessarabian Germans was agreed upon. According to some sources 80,000 and according to other sources 93,000 Germans were settled in the former Warthegau at that time. Bessarabia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. The southern region will go to the Ukraine according to the Soviet strategy `divide et impera' and now the Moldovan Socialistic Soviet Republic is founded on August 2, 1940, together with the Moldovan Autonomous Republic which is the reason why Romania enters the war on the German side and gets back Bessarabia in 1941. However, in the peace treaty of Paris in 1944 this area is lost permanently to the Soviet Union and the Moldovan Socialistic Republic is established. Vast numbers of forced deportations of Rumanians to Siberia are the result; the number of Bessarabian refugees in Romania (and not only Rumanians but especially Russians) increases tremendously. A central supremacy directed from Moscow is formed; it oppresses all national identities.

Following Michail Gorbatschov's inauguration the endeavors of Soviet-participating republics for autonomy grow fast in their activities, the so-called Mateevici-Club speaks up for the rescue of the Moldovan language and cultural identity, and for the reintroduction of the Latin alphabet, causing Moldovan to become the official language on August 31, 1989. Under the leadership of the Moldovan Popular Front, serious nationalistic disturbances arise resulting in Simion Grosu's resignation in November; he had been in office since 1980. The "Moldovan Volksfront", supported by the Rumanian-speaking population, gains a clear victory in the parliamentary elections of February 1990. On June 23, 1990, the Republic of Moldova declares its sovereignty and on August 27, 1991, its independence.

Since then, the development of internal affairs is characterized by two factors: [1] the fight against separatist endeavors which developed from pro-Rumanian politics of the Moldovan government in the Transnistr area and in the south of the country, in Gaugasia, and [2] a split of Moldovan society into Unionists, who advocate a reunification with Romania, and into Moldavians who support Moldova's independence and view the area as the legitimate successor of the Moldovan principality as it existed in the 15th century.

As everybody knows, in September, the Russian minority had called for the Transnistr Republic (capital: Tiraspol) as the answer to nationalistic tendencies of the Moldovan people; and in the southwest region of the country the Gagausians, a christianized Turkish people, had proclaimed their own republic (with the center of Cumrat). The results were numerous casualties and in the spring 1992: The situation in Transnistr escalated to such a degree that it resulted in bloody confrontations between the Moldovan army and paramilitary units of the Russians, with the Russian 14th army stationed in Transnistr participating. Only the agreements of July 27, between the Moldovan president, Mirca Snegur, and Boris Yelzin stabilized to some extent the situation which has not been solved to this day. In contrast, the Gagausia conflict in December 1994, has been settled by allowing a status of autonomy for Gagausia through the Moldavian parliament. Observers of the Council of Europe describe it as exemplary.

At the presidential elections in November of last year, Petru Lucinschi, Moscow's man, could gain 53% of the votes.

The new president faces difficult tasks. In the inaugural address referred to earlier he promised a solution to the Transnistr conflict as soon as possible, a goal that his predecessor considered to be of primary importance. However, from the previous government's unsolved economic problems of this 400 Km long and 150 Km wide area can't wait. The restructuring of the economy does not proceed rapidly and only the former recognized names profited thus far from the cautiously begun privatization. Certainly, the crash of the Moldovan currency, the Moldovan Leu (plural: Lei), could be stabilized with the aid of the world bank and the International Monetary Fund. Representatives of western organizations praise the openness and willingness of Moldovan offices for collaboration but a large part of the population is living in deepest poverty (average wages: 120 Lei = 40 Marks). Even average wage earners cannot cover even one half of the subsistence level from their wages. That in spite of the fertile soil of the Black Sea, which encompasses 86% of Moldova and could take care of a flourishing agriculture; but the Moldovan people are lacking the necessary infrastructure.

During the Soviet-era Moldova was considered the largest wine producing region; but presently, bottling plants for wine are lacking. Moldova produces considerable quantities of attar of roses; but the old markets were lost, and the export to the EC [European Community] is strictly regulated. Furthermore, Moldovan products don't comply with western standards. In 1995, the industry dropped by six percent and a slight increase can be noted only in the food industry. Early 1996, mechanical engineering dropped by 40% in comparison to the previous year. The situation becomes more difficult by the fact that the main sites of heavy industry are in Tiraspol and Tighina, also in Transnistr.

Regarding foreign trade, the export shifted to Western Europe especially the exports to Germany which amounted to $18.2 million in the first half of 1995; that is two and three times as much as compared to 1994.

As in other countries of the former Eastern Bloc, an increased crime rate could be noticed in recent years, especially organized crime and the drug trade, in particular, has gained dimensions never known before.

However, perhaps the greatest complaint is corruption and nepotism. Here, the Moldovan president faces almost impossible problems to be solved. Even the best intentions of a president who, in contrast to his predecessor Snegeur, speaks up for collaboration with Moscow, fail as long as [1] the so-called consul at Moldovan border crossings dares to wangle a double tax for visas from blue-eyed tourists, as long as [2] so-called diplomats in Moldovan embassies, who own several firms in their homeland, want to line their own pockets, instead the pockets of the ailing economy through personal efforts, as long as [3] nepotism, a remainder of the Fanar era, i.e., that era of the 18th century when especially Greeks of the Istanbul suburb of Fanar headed the Moldovan government and distinguished themselves by corruptibility and nepotism, remain Moldovan customs.

The public sentiment in the county is despairing. People in Chisinau definitely know that this small republic is dependent on gas and oil shipments. Agriculture depends on exports to Russia and to the Ukraine, because Brussels has blocked the more interesting markets of EC countries. The dream of a union with the West has vanished, because the EC is not interested in another backward agrarian country-and cannot and will not finance the restructuring of the Moldovan economy. Even the enthusiasm for a union with Rumania has faded, because the Rumanian people look down on their neighbors on the other side of the Pruth River and are treating them as country bumpkins...

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