Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

5. Dynamics of the Moldova Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict (late 1990s to early 1990s)

Airat R. Aklaev

Airat R. Aklaev

1 Introduction
2 Historical background
3 Linguistic disputes and growth of ethnic political activism in Moldova
4 First power shift and proclamation of sovereignty
5 From declaring sovereignty to declaring independence
6 The august 1991 coup attempt and the transition to independence
7 Large-scale inter-ethnic violence
8 Bloodshed and conflict settlement in Bendery
9 Socio-political change and inter-ethnic violence
10 Ethno-political legitimacy crisis as transition to violence

1 Introduction

Assessment and study of the specific context in which inter-ethnic violence erupts are fundamental for a more adequate understanding of its nature and for the search for effective strategies to promote peaceful alternatives. The overwhelming majority of current violent ethnic conflicts in the republics of the former Soviet Union are predominantly political in nature. These are ethnic disputes over group status in the political structures of the ethnically divided societies of these new nations, and intergroup struggles for the redistribution of power arrangements.

Rapid and turbulent socio-political change, the ongoing processes of state building in these new nations, and transition to inter-state relations between these ex-Soviet republics, form another integral part of the context of present-day inter-ethnic violence within the borders of the former Soviet Union. This swift and vertiginous sociopolitical transition, amidst the complicated legacy of unresolved and deeply felt ethnic problems left behind after the collapse of the Soviet Union, provides both motivation and opportunity for ethnic groups to mobilize as political actors and to engage in militant struggles for power.

The burgeoning pressure of politicized ethnic assertiveness and the escalation of claims and counter-claims at every stage of sociopolitical change may lead to a crisis in inter-ethnic relations. With the crisis situation comes a special period in inter-ethnic conflict when a turning point is reached and a new, intense level of interaction between the conflicting groups becomes possible. Either escalation or de-escalation of conflictual behaviour may ensue. Under certain circumstances a crisis in inter-ethnic relations can become a transition point from non-violent to violent collective ethnic political action. Here, concrete case studies can help us understand the specific forms of current socio-political change which have produced crises in interethnic relations, with some groups resorting to violence to achieve their demands for change.

This article will consider the major stages in the development of sociopolitical change and inter-ethnic violence in Moldova, discussing how the political nature of inter-ethnic disputes and the rapid political transformation of Moldovan society have led to recourse to violence in the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict since 1989. I shall also venture an assessment of the role played by ethno-political crises of legitimacy as transition points from nonviolent to violent ethnic political action.

The pattern of conflict dynamics, as seen in the case of Moldova, seems fairly typical of current ethno-political conflicts in the post Communist republics. That the sizeable Russian-speaking minority participated, as well as the fact of the considerable international implications of the violent ethnic disputes in Moldova, indicates that analysis and discussion of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict can increase our general understanding of the nature and dynamics of ongoing inter-ethnic conflicts in new post-Communist nations. Moreover, it may contribute to the vital search for more effective techniques of conflict management in the modern world.

2 Historical background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Linguistic disputes and growth of ethnic political activism in Moldova

The development of ethno-political disputes in Moldova appears closely connected with the dynamics of the rapid socio-political transition experienced by the republic since the late 1980s. These transformation processes in Moldova were largely the product of sociopolitical change in the USSR under perestroika. Democratization and glasnost proclaimed at the Union level by the Gorbachev leadership entailed a rise in political pluralism at the level of the Union republics. There came a surge of mass social movements, each pursuing its specific interests and advocating political objectives which differed from those officially endorsed by the Communist authorities.

The first stage of socio-political change in Moldova (summer 1988 to summer 1989) is connected with the formation of Moldovan and Gaganz voluntary associations of nationalist intelligentsia and activists. The initially proclaimed goals of these movements centred on the promotion of cultural and linguistic interests; very soon, however, these voluntary associations began to grow, becoming social movements numbering tens of thousands of activists and sympathizers. The ideological platforms of the movements (Popular Fronts), besides cultural goals, included ethno-political claims: the Moldovan Popular Front (MPF) was aiming at the political sovereignty of Moldova within the USSR federation, that is, for recognition of the priority of the Constitution of the Republic and its legislation over that of the USSR on the territory of Moldova; the Gagauz Popular Front (GPF) held that achieving national-territorial autonomy for Gagauzia (Southern Moldova districts) was one of its major goals, seeing this as the only way to ensure socio-cultural and socio-economic development for the Gaganz people.

Reacting to the growth of nationalist-democratic movements which challenged not only federalist but also basic Communist values, Communist leaders in industrial centres of left-bank Moldova mobilized supporters of "socialist internationalism" to form a counter-nationalist, pro-Communist movement of the Russophones loyal to the Union centre and to the "socialist choice" of "the Soviet multiethnic people." On 8 July 1989, the first institutional Congress of the so-called "Internationalist Movement" (IM) was held in Kishinev. (SM, 25 November 1989)

All three social movements proclaimed their support of perestroika, though each of them perceived the final objectives of these reforms in ethnic-political terms. Trying to enlarge their social bases, the leaders of the IM seconded the claims of the Gagauz for an autonomous status within Moldova. Competing social movements engaged in propaganda campaigns among the public. From the summer of 1989, mass rallies and demonstrations organized by activists of newly-formed movements - so unlike the previous public life of the society of "mature socialism" - became recurrent events on the political scene.

In May 1989, after the publication of the drafts of new republican legislation on the status and functioning of languages in Moldova, the issue of official language became the rallying cry of the competing social movements. The ethno-political nature underlying discussions of the status of languages was evident. The MPF claimed that the Moldovan language should receive the status of sole official language in Moldova, as an important symbol of the republic's aspirations to true sovereignty within the USSR. Without restricting the spheres of functioning of other languages in Moldova, this claim would mean that knowledge of Moldovan would become obligatory for all officers in republic level and local bodies of power, for the administrative personnel of industrial enterprises, and for employees in state-owned public services.

Previously, neither the USSR or Moldovan constitutions had envisaged any formally official language. At the same time, Communist propaganda had encouraged the molding of "the new historical community - the Soviet people" on the linguistic basis of the Russian language, and had proclaimed Russian as the only means of interethnic communication between nationalities of the federation. Russian was an obligatory subject of study in all educational institutions of non-Russian republics, whereas knowledge of the language of the titular nationality was not required of the Russophone population in non-Russian republics.

With perestroika, such inequity became particularly deeply felt by the titular nationalities. Affirming the right of the non-Russian republics to have constitutionally proclaimed official languages other than Russian meant for nationalist-democratic forces not only a revolutionary cultural affirmation but an act of political challenge, a first step on the road towards asserting the political sovereignty of their republics within the USSR. Other demands advocated by the MPF included a return to writing Moldovan in the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet and constitutional recognition of Moldovan as the main language of inter-ethnic communication in Moldova - the status previously enjoyed by the Russian language.

Russophones in Moldova saw these drafts of new legislation as linguistic discrimination, and became anxious that new policies might cause their children to become assimilated Moldovans. The IM exploited these fears, aiming to enlarge its political support. At rallies and in other propagandistic activities, IM leaders demanded that both Russian and Moldovan be legally recognized as the official languages, and that Russian should have the status of sole language for interethnic communication.

Linguistic disputes over the draft legislation demonstrated the politicization of both Moldovans and Russophones and the cleavage between supporters of the values of republican sovereignty and defenders of the empire of Soviet nationalities. Recognition of Moldovan as the official language would necessarily imply a lower status for the Russian language, and thus, for parts of the Russophone population, a considerable drop in group ethno-political status.

The MPF also demanded a reassessment of the political and juridical interpretation of the historical events of 1918 and 1940 in Moldova, in official historiography which had defined them as "socialist revolution" and "fraternal liberation of the Bessarabian people from the yoke of bourgeois militaristic Romania." This demand was not met by the Moldovan authorities, but it represented another source of growing ethnic anxieties among the Russophones.

Confrontation between the MPF and the IM, as well as inter-ethnic tensions between Moldovans and Russophones in general, became particularly acute prior to the Moldova Supreme Soviet (parliament) session set to open on 29 August 1989 and to approve new republican legislation on languages. On 21 August, in the large industrial centres of Trans-Dniester (Tyraspol, Bendery, Rybnitsa, Dubossary), the Russophones went on a general protest strike, demanding that the adoption of legislation on languages in the republic be postponed until analogous legislation be taken at the Union level by the USSR Supreme Soviet. Over 80,000 workers at 116 factories and plants are said to have participated in the protest strikes in Trans-Dniester (SM, 30 August 1989). Sympathetic strikes were held in southern districts of Moldova populated by the Gagauz (Komrat and Chadyr-Lungi).

The MPF, in turn, counter-mobilized Moldovans to take part in mass rallies in support of the draft language laws. On 27 August in Kishinev, and in almost all centres of right-bank Moldova, some 400 rallies and demonstrations with approximately 500,000 participants were reported (SM, 29 August 1989). MPF activists picketed the Moldovan Supreme Soviet building.

On 31 August, after intense debate, the Moldova Supreme Soviet approved the new republican legislation on the status and functioning of languages, recognizing Moldovan as the only official language of the republic. A five-year term was established, however, for final introduction of the official language into office and clerical work in all state enterprises and bodies in zones where Russian was currently used in this function. Another concession to the Russophone deputies was the legislative recognition of both Moldovan and Russian as languages of inter-ethnic communication in Moldova. IM leaders and activists were not satisfied with the new legislation. Protest strikes in Trans-Dniester demanding the abrogation of the newly-approved language legislation and the arrival of the USSR Supreme Soviet Commission in Moldova went on till mid-September.

The August/September 1989 confrontation over the status of languages marked the first crisis in inter-ethnic relations in Moldova. Latent inter-ethnic political conflict had now become manifest.

4 First power shift and proclamation of sovereignty

The second stage of socio-political change in Moldova came with the period between September 1989 and June 1990, and was highlighted by a major shift in the power structures of the republic. The pro-Union Communist government of Moldova was succeeded by a coalition of nationalist-democratic forces, which won the democratic elections in February 1990 and proclaimed the political sovereignty of Moldova within the USSR. In September 1989 the MPF had advanced republican political sovereignty as the major objective of its political struggle. Criticism of the Communist-controlled republican government included appeals for an official re-evaluation of the historical events of 1940, and for the priority of republican legislation over the Union legislation in Moldova.

A spectacular rise in mass political activism, fuelled by the Moldovan ethnic movement, began after 17 September 1989, when the new republican draft law on parliamentary (Supreme Soviet) elections was published in the press for discussion. The MPF held a series of rallies and meetings to air its pre-election political programme, which combined affirmation of republican sovereignty and ethnic revival with anti-federalist and anti-Communist demands.

The October 1989 rallies staged by the MPF are reported to have gathered tens of thousands of participants in Kishinev alone. In November, two violent clashes were reported between the police and the MPF demonstrators. On 7 November in Kishinev, several thousand protesting demonstrators stopped the Communist Party celebrations of the anniversary of the 1917 Revolution by climbing onto tanks and forcing the Communist Party leadership of the republic to leave the review stand (SM, 8 November 1989). In addition, an MPF rally held on 10 November 1989 ended in rioting. After the rally, some 10,000-15,000 demonstrators demanding immediate dismissal of the Moldovan Communist Party leadership are reported to have attacked several official buildings in the centre of Kishinev. An attempt was made to set fire to the republic's Ministry of Internal Affairs building. The police struck back by beating and arresting the protesters; 40 civilians and about 100 policemen were reported to have been injured during the violent clash (SM, 12 November 1989).

On 16 November, Moldovan First Secretary of the Communist Party, K. Grossu, was dismissed after the weekend clashes and was replaced by P. Luchinsky, known to be reform-oriented and liberal. On 21-24 November, the Supreme Soviet of Moldova approved a new democratic electoral law and fixed new parliamentary elections in the republic to be held on 25 February 1990.

The success of the anti-Communist revolution of December 1989 in Romania had an important impact on the growing radicalization of the Moldovan nationalist movement and non-Communist commitments of large masses of the Moldovan population in general. At the February 1990 elections, the majority of the seats in the new Moldova Supreme Soviet were won by candidates supported by the MPF and by nationalist-oriented Communist candidates who expressed support for sovereignty for the republic.

On 27 April 1990, the newly-elected Moldovan Parliament approved constitutional amendments changing the flag of the republic from the red banner with socialist symbols to the Romanian ethnic three-colour (blue, yellow, and red) flag. (SM, 1 May 1990). On 23 June, the Moldovan Parliament adopted the Declaration on the Sovereignty of Moldova, which proclaimed the priority of the Moldovan Constitution and legislation over the USSR Constitution and legislation on the territory of Moldova.

The same day, the Parliament approved the conclusions of the parliamentary commission on the political and legal evaluation of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact's consequences for Bessarabia and North Bukovina. The commission had concluded that it was illegal for the Soviet Union to incorporate Bessarabia in 1940. With these acts the Moldovan Parliament was following the example of the Baltic nations in challenging the constitutional principles and established practices of the Soviet Union federation (SM, 25, 28 June 1990).

In this period, inter-ethnic conflict between the Moldovans and subordinate ethnic minorities of the Russophones and Gagauz manifested themselves in legislative confrontation between the Moldova central, republican, and local bodies and authorities, and in escalating protest actions by the minorities against Moldovan attempts to affirm the proclaimed sovereignty of the republic.

Although the protest strikes in Trans-Dniester against language legislation had stopped by the end of September, that did not mean compliance. Russophones opted for the tactics of non-recognition at the local level. On 7-8 September 1989, the deputies of Tyraspol City Council voted to ignore the new language legislation by all bodies and offices on territory under the authority of the Tyraspol local government. On 14 September, similar decisions were adopted by the sessions of Rybnitsy and Bendery city councils, adding a demand to the USSR Supreme Soviet to abolish the Moldovan Republic laws on languages.

In legal terms, such decisions taken on the part of the local authorities to oppose republic-level legislation were, in fact, anti-constitutional, for the local bodies were exceeding their authority (SM, 10, 19 September 1989). In their propaganda, the IM and Communist Party leaders alleged that electoral victory for the MPF at the republican level would entail the ascendancy of Moldovan domination over the minorities; loyalty to the Union centre and "socialist internationalism" were held out as the only guarantees against extinction under these conditions of burgeoning Moldovan nationalism.

As parliamentary elections approached, Trans-Dniestrian leaders presented their demand for national-territorial autonomy for the Russophone-populated districts within Moldova. In Rybuitsy (3 December) and Tyraspol (28 January) local referenda were held in support of granting these towns the status of autonomous self governing and self-supporting territories. These referenda also supported the formation of the Trans-Dniester Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within Moldova (PASSR). On 12 December 1989, a mass rally organized by the GPF in Komrat proclaimed itself the First Congress of the representatives of the Gagauz people, and petitioned the Supreme Soviet of Moldova for the establishment of the Gaganz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within Moldova (SM, 9 December 1989; 30 January, 3 February 1990).

Spring 1990 saw new aggravation of inter-ethnic symbolic disputes. Sessions of the city councils of Tyraspol (30 April), Bendery (3 May), and Rybnitsy (8 May) abrogated the constitutional amendments concerning the new republican flag on their territories. The Moldovan Parliament reacted by amending the penal code of the republic to stipulate stricter punishment for non-observance of the legislation on republican state symbols (SM, 4, 7,15 May 1990).

The critical challenge to the legitimacy of the Moldovan central government came in June 1990. On 2 June, Russophone deputies from legislative bodies of all levels elected from the territories of five districts of left-Bank Moldova convoked the "First Congress of People's Deputies of Trans-Dniester." This Congress adopted a resolution demanding the creation of an economically independent Trans-Dniester region and political autonomy within Moldova. The Congress called on the Russophone population to hold local elections to the Supreme Soviet of Trans-Dniester, which was to proclaim independence or autonomy within Moldova unless such political autonomy be granted by the central Moldovan authorities to the Russophone districts of Trans-Dniester (SM, 5, 7 June 1990).

5 From declaring sovereignty to declaring independence

The third stage of political transformation in Moldova comprises the period between June 1990, when the Declaration of Sovereignty was adopted by the Moldovan Supreme Soviet, and August 1991, when Moldova proclaimed its complete independence from the USSR. On 25-26 July, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet approved new laws on the economic self-support of the republic and the procedure for ratification of USSR legislative acts by the republican Parliament (SM, 26, 27 July 1990). The latter act institutionalized the principle of the supremacy of republican legislation over the federal legislation of the USSR.

The creation of republican institutions not subordinate to the central Union structures began in autumn 1990, with the establishment of the republican guard and republican police, not envisaged by the Union Constitution. In January 1991, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet backed the confederation approach towards the new Union Treaty and joined the position of the Baltic republics, Armenia, and Georgia in non-participation in the USSR referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union federation.

On 23 May, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet struck the words "Soviet" and "Socialist" from the official name of the Republic of Moldova. In the period between June 1990 and August 1991, interethnic disputes in Moldova culminated in the first crisis of ethnopolitical legitimacy, which erupted into violent clashes that were to claim human victims.

On 1 July 1990, a local referendum in Bendery supported the creation of the Trans-Dniester ASSR on the basis of association between the towns of Bendery and Rybnitsy. One week later, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet declared the results of the Bendery referendum illegal and anti-constitutional. On 22 July 1990, the Second Congress of representatives of the Gaganz people, held in Komrat once again, called on the central authorities of Moldova to review the petition of the First Congress demanding national territorial autonomy to the Gagauz districts, declaring the intention to proclaim such autonomy unilaterally if necessary.

On 27 July, a special session of the Moldovan Parliament, through a special act of the Supreme Soviet, confirmed the guarantees for free cultural autonomy of the Gagauz community in Moldova and promised state assistance to Gagauz cultural institutions. However, the Moldovan Parliament refused to grant territorial autonomy to Gagauz districts, and objected to demands for autonomous bodies of power (SM, 29 July 1990). On 2 August, large protest rallies were organized in Komrat and Chadyr-Lungi. On 19 August, the Congress of the Gagauz deputies to the Soviets of various levels proclaimed the formation of the Gagauz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (GASSR) as independent from Moldova and a subject of the USSR federation. The Congress set 28 October 1990 as the date for local elections to the Supreme Soviet of their unilaterally proclaimed autonomous republic (SM, 22 August 1990).

The Moldovan authorities reacted by declaring such separatist decisions illegal, banning the GPF as a subversive movement. On 2 September, in Tyraspol, the Second Congress of Russophone deputies of all levels elected in Trans-Dniester declared the establishment of the Trans-Dniester Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (PMSSR) as independent from Moldova and a subject of the USSR federation. The PMSSR was announced as the legal successor to the Moldavian ASSR, which had existed within the Ukraine prior to 1940.

The secessionists argued that, just as Moldova did not recognize the supremacy of USSR legislation over the republic, Trans-Dniestrian autonomy would not recognize the supremacy and authority of Moldova. The Congress further declared that USSR legislation and Moldovan legislation pre-dating 31 August 1989 (the date of the adoption of the language laws) could be considered invalid on the territory of the proclaimed PMSSR. The population of Trans-Dniester was invited to participate in elections to the Supreme Soviet of the PMSSR on 25 November (SM, 4 September 1990).

On 16 September, the Second Congress of the Gagauz deputies of all levels of Soviets recognized the independence of the PMSSR and, in turn, declared the establishment of the Gaganz Soviet Socialist Republic (GSSR) within the USSR but independent from Moldova. The Congress confirmed 28 October as the date of elections to the Gaganz Supreme Soviet, to be held in southern districts of Moldova and organized by local Soviets (SM, 19 September 1990).

The claims of these unilaterally proclaimed new republics were perceived by the Moldovan majority as an encroachment on their territorial integrity and caused intense escalation of inter-ethnic tensions. Large-scale rallies involving tens of thousands of demonstrators were organized by the MPF in Kishinev and all major centres of right-bank Moldova, demanding that the Moldovan government should take urgent, decisive measures to suppress the separatists.

By 23 October, when Moldovan Prime Minister M. Druk, under pressure from MPF radicals, signed a decree legalizing the organization of detachments of Moldovan volunteers subordinated to the republican Ministry of Defence, the situation had grown beyond the control of the Moldovan government. As numerous formations of volunteers mobilized by the MPF radical activists started to arrive in the Gagauz districts of Southern Moldova, Gagauz local bodies initiated a counter-mobilization of volunteers into self-defence groups.

Trans-Dniestrian authorities promised their support to the Gagauz and called for the mobilization of self-defence groups of the Russophone workers. Thousands of Trans-Dniestrian workers were reported to have been sent from Tyraspol in support of the Gagauz. Barricades, barrages, and control posts on the roads leading to Southern Moldova were set up by Gagauz self-defense formations. Civilian self-defence formations blocked the Dubossary Bridge connecting right-bank Moldova with this nearest Trans-Dniestrian city. On 27 October, the concentration of opposing formations of volunteers in the Komrat, Chadyr-Lungi, and Vulkanesht districts of the Gagauz area reportedly reached 80,000 people on either side (SM, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 October 1990).

On the eve of the 28 October Gagauz elections, the Moldovan Parliament declared a state of emergency in Southern Moldova and called for USSR central government troops to help the republican police in maintaining social order. Moldovan police and internal troops managed to separate the opposing formations and to prevent major outbursts of inter-ethnic hostility in Gagauzia. Then, on 28 October, the elections to the Gagauz Supreme Soviet were held. Tension in Southern Moldova seemed to subside, and volunteer formations started to leave the area. At the same time, however, the confrontation in the Dubossary district reached such a height that three people were killed and nine wounded in a violent clash between the Moldovan police and Russophone civilians on 2 November, near the Dubossary Bridge over the Dniester (SM, 27 October, 4 November 1990; Dialog nos. 19, 20).

Realizing that further escalation could assume the Nagorno Karabakh pattern and provoke the Union central authorities to apply force and impose martial law in the republic, both conflicting parties undertook to search urgently for a compromise. An extraordinary session of the Moldovan Parliament, held on 3 November, passed a resolution demanding complete withdrawal of volunteer formations of all parties from Southern Moldova and from the Trans-Dniester area, as well as the removal of road barricades and control posts (SM, 4 November 1990). A special parliamentary commission of reconciliation, headed by Moldovan Communist Party First Secretary, P. Luchinsky, was formed to negotiate with the Trans-Dniestrian and Gaganz leaders. Both parties responded to the mediation offered by the Union President, Mikhail Gorbachev, who then held talks with Moldovan and Trans-Dniestrian leaders on 3-4 November in Moscow (IZ, 4, 5 November 1990).

A special commission of the Moldovan Supreme Soviet was constituted, containing representatives of all ethnic minorities, and given the task of elaborating draft amendments to the Moldovan law on the status and functioning of languages. On 24 November, the Moldovan government abrogated the decree on legalization of the Moldovan volunteer formations and called for their disbandment. No decision concerning the destiny of the Moldovan republican guard was taken, however (SM, 15, 25 November 1990; Dialog no. 21, 1990).

Despite appeals made by the USSR central government to the local authorities and to the IM leaders of Trans-Dniester to waive their decision to organize elections to the Supreme Soviet of the self-proclaimed PMSSR, such elections were held on 25 November. The first session of the Trans-Dniestrian Supreme Soviet recalled from the Moldovan Supreme Soviet all deputies elected from the left-bank Moldova constituencies (SM, 30 November 1990).

On 22 December 1990, the Union President, Mikhail Gorbachev, issued a decree in which he attempted to call Moldova to order by threatening presidential rule from Moscow. The decree declared the unilaterally proclaimed Gagauz and Trans-Dniester republics and the elected bodies illegal and juridical invalid. The same decree insisted that the central government of the Moldovan republic repeal or revise numerous laws and decisions. Such "objectionable" laws included the creation of a separate republican guard, a language law supposedly giving preference to Moldovan speakers, and a denunciation of the Union annexation of Moldova under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (SM, 22 December 1990).

One week later, the Moldovan Parliament agreed to comply by disbanding its national guard and revising the law on languages, which the Union President alleged restricted minority rights. The Supreme Soviet of Moldova rejected, however, any modifications to the republic's Declaration of Sovereignty, and refused to recognize the supremacy of USSR legislation over that of the republic on the territory of Moldova (SM, 30 December 1990).

On 21 January, the Third Extraordinary Congress of Trans-Dniester deputies was convoked to discuss the Gorbachev decree. The Congress repeated its demand to the USSR Supreme Soviet and to the Union President to recognize the independence of the proclaimed PMSSR and GSSR and to let representatives of those republics sign the Union Treaty independently from Moldova.

Contents - Previous - Next