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6 The august 1991 coup attempt and the transition to independence
The failure of the August 1991 coup in the USSR can be regarded as the landmark of the fourth stage of socio-political transition in Moldova. Two events of major significance mark this period: Moldova's declaration of complete independence in August 1991, and worldwide recognition of the new republic after the definitive disintegration of the Soviet empire and the resignation of Gorbachev in late December 1991.
Together with the Baltic states, Moldova was among those few Union republics to condemn the organizers of the Communist putsch in Moscow from the outset. On 21 August, an extraordinary session of the Moldovan Parliament called for active resistance against the Union structures and against the putschists. After the failure of the Moscow coup, on 23 August, the Moldovan Parliament banned all activities of the Communist Party in Moldova (ST, 28 August 1991).
On 27 August, the Declaration of Independence and the secession of Moldova from the USSR was adopted by the Parliament. On the same day, Moldova's independence was recognized by Romania; two days later, diplomatic relations were established between the two states. On 23 October, the government of Moldova declared republican ownership of all industrial enterprises formerly under Union structures. In November/December 1991, the Moldovan Parliament adopted legislative acts on the creation of a national army, internal troops, frontier guard, and special police detachments (OPON). Nationwide presidential elections were to be held on 8 December.
As in other ex-USSR republics, the removal of the Union centre and the process of state-building were accompanied by growing differentiation and rivalries within the elite of the titular nationality. The radical wing of the Moldovan nationalist movement, headed by Moldova's former Prime Minister M. Druk, called for the restoration of Greater Romania within the 1940 borders, through reunion of independent Moldova with Romania and presentation of territorial claims to the Ukraine. A large group of Moldovan intellectuals, followed by some of the rank and file, left the MPF, disapproving of Druk's radicalism. The majority of the Moldovan elite backed the moderates, headed by Moldovan President Snegur, whose policies envisaged strengthening Moldova's independence, preserving economic ties with other ex-USSR republics, and joining the Commonwealth of Independent States.
On 14 October 1991, the MPF declared its transition into opposition to the Snegur government (NM, 24 October 1991). After that, the MPF leaders called a boycott of the forthcoming presidential elections. On 1 December, a rally of the coalition of radical nationalist parties declared the formation of a "Pan-Romanian National Council of the Reunion," for Greater Romania within the borders of 1940. This Council consisted of radical nationalist Moldovan Parliament deputies and their colleagues from the Romanian Parliament who belonged to right-wing opposition parties in Romania (NM, 4 December 1991).
At the nationwide elections held in Moldova on 8 December, Snegur won the presidency, receiving 98 per cent of the vote. Voter turnout was high, at 83.9 per cent (NM, 13 December 1991). The failure of the MPF boycott and the victory of Snegur demonstrated the popular support and legitimacy enjoyed by the moderate nationalist leaders.
The same period between August 1991 and December 1991 was marked by a new crisis in inter-ethnic conflict between the Moldovan majority and the Russophones of left-bank Moldova. Since the very beginning of the August coup attempt in Moscow, Trans-Dniestrian and Gaganz leaders had supported and expressed allegiance to the putschists. After the failure of the coup, on 25 August, the Supreme Soviet of the PMSSR proclaimed Trans-Dniester independent from Moldova. The Moldovan Parliament did not recognize this proclamation, and on 27 August the Moldovan central authorities issued an order authorizing the arrest of separatist leaders of Trans-Dniester and Gagauzia. The next day, a special decree of President Snegur abolished or suspended the publication of almost all local Russian language newspapers, accusing them of Communist propaganda and support of the coup junta (ST, 28 August, 4 September 1991).
On 1 September, the Russophone population of Trans-Dniester began a railway blockade of Moldova demanding the release of the arrested leaders and threatening to interrupt electricity and gas supplies to right-bank Moldova, populated predominantly by Moldovan's. On 2 September, the outlawed Supreme Soviet of the PMSSR approved the Constitution of the republic, adopting the former socialist Moldovan state emblem and flag as symbols of the Republic of Trans-Dniester (IZ, 2, 3 September 1991; ST, 7 September 1991).
From 9 September, in the towns and cities of Trans-Dniester, armed formations of so-called "forces of self-defence of Trans-Dniester" and "detachments of people's militia" (people's volunteer corps), subordinated to staff headquarters in Tyraspol, came into being. On 21 September, the Trans-Dniestrian "parliament" approved a "law" on the creation of Trans-Dniestrian republican armed forces (the republican guard) and announced military mobilization of Russophone males aged 20-40 (IZ, 10,11 September 1991; ST, 14, 21 September 1991). Sentries and control posts were stationed by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and militia on all roads and on the Dubossary Bridge.
A particularly explosive situation arose in Dubossary, with its mixed Moldovan and Russian population. The city police and executive power were controlled by Moldovans, while the legislative local bodies were controlled by the Russian majority. On 25 September, after five Russian civilians were arrested by the police and accused of non-compliance, Russian citizens attacked the central office of the city police and the building of the Dubossary branch of the Moldova State Bank. The ensuing police control action resulted in three casualties. Groups of Moldovan peasants from nearby villages arrived in the city to support the police (IZ, 27 September 1991; ST, 2 October 1991).
A delegation of deputies of the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet arrived in Moldova to assist in settling the conflict. On 1 October, an agreement was signed between the Moldovan government and representatives of left-bank Moldova. It provided for the liberation of the arrested separatist leaders, mutual withdrawal of additional Moldovan police forces and Trans-Dniestrian guards from Dubossary, and an end to the railway blockade of right-bank Moldova. However, control posts stationed by Trans-Dniestrians on the roads and on the Dubossary Bridge remained (NM, 4 October 1991).
Inter-ethnic conflict did not abate, however. Russophone leaders insisted that Moldova should recognize the independence of Trans-Dniester as an indispensable precondition for initiating negotiations on Trans-Dniester's entering Moldova as an ethno-territorial autonomy with the right of free secession. The Moldovan central authorities, however, rejected direct bilateral negotiations with the leaders of separatist parliaments and refused to recognize the legitimacy of these bodies, demanding their dissolution and the return of deputies from Trans-Dniester and Gagauzia to the central Moldovan Parliament as a precondition for examining the minorities' demands.
In October 1991, the Supreme Soviets of Trans-Dniester and Gagauzia called for local referenda to be held on independence and presidential elections on 1 December 1991 (NM, 17, 31 October 1991). Starting in November 1991, Trans-Dniestrian Russophones made attempts to subordinate local organs of social control to the authority of the Trans-Dniester republic. The decree issued by the head of the Trans-Dniestrian Department of Internal Affairs envisaged the establishment of a Trans-Dniestrian militia instead of Moldovan police officers, and required dismissal of any policemen disinclined to swear allegiance to the PMSSR (NM, 15 November 1991).
On 1 December 1991, two separatist leaders, I. Smirnov and S. Topal, were elected president at the local elections held in Trans-Dniester and Gaganzia, respectively. The referenda held the same day supported independence from Moldova. On 3 December, the Supreme Soviet of Trans-Dniester approved the creation of the Trans-Dniestrian Ministry of Defence and Security. G. Yakovlev, Commander-in-Chief of the 14th Soviet Army, located in the region, expressed his support for the PMSSR (NM, 4, 7 December 1991).
In mid-December 1991, a new crisis in inter-ethnic disputes erupted, with violent clashes in left-bank Moldova. On 16 December, Russophone militiamen attacked and occupied the local offices of Moldovan police in the Grigoriopol and Slobodzeja districts, which had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Trans-Dniestrian republican authorities (NM, 17 December 1991). The Dubossary Bridge was once again reported to be seized by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen, and the town of Dubossary cut off from the neighbouring Moldovan villages. On 7 December, about 700 armed guardsmen and three armored personnel carriers under Trans-Dniestrian "Dniester" formations of guardsmen were reported to be gathering in Dubossary district (NM, 14 December 1991). The Russophone Dubossary City Council and the local radio called on citizens to blockade the city police office, and presented Moldovan policemen with an ultimatum to leave the city. The policemen rejected this and staged a defence, calling for support from Kishinev.
Moldovan peasants from neighbouring villages who hastened to help the besieged policemen were stopped at the Dubossary Bridge by shots from Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen. Additional police detachments from Kishinev made an attempt to enter Dubossary. Exchanges of fire and clashes between the Moldovan OPON detachments and Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen resulted in five killed and twelve wounded (NM, 17 December 1991). Minor armed collisions were also reported in Kamenka and Grigoriopol districts.
In late December came reports of potential trouble. The command of the 14th Soviet Army promised support to the Russophones in the event of new intervention from the Moldovan police. On 25 December, the first semiarid groups of Russian Cossacks from the Don region of the Russian Federation were reported to have arrived as volunteers in Tyraspol, to swear allegiance to the PMSSR as a sign of solidarity and support to their Russian ethnic brethren in Trans-Dniester (MN, 21, 26 December 1991).
7 Large-scale inter-ethnic violence
A new socio-political transition began in winter 1992 after Moldova had gained international recognition. In early March, the new republic became a member of the United Nations. Between March and June 1992, domestic conflict between Moldova and Trans-Dniester escalated into large-scale organized violence with international implications. By late July 1992, only a fragile inter-ethnic peace seemed to have been reached.
On 9 January 1992, the Trans-Dniestrian authorities decreed that the ex-USSR armed forces located on the territory of left-bank Moldova be placed under the command of the PMSSR government. The CIS armed forces ignored this demand and declared the neutrality of the former Union army in internal conflicts in the ex-USSR republics. In January-March 1992 came reports of armed assaults made by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks at military depots of the 14th Army and ex-USSR internal troops.
New signs of polarization of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflicts were reported in February 1992. In late February hundreds of Cossacks from the Don region of Russia began to arrive in left-bank Moldova in response to appeals made by the Trans-Dniestrians to their Russian ethnic brethren. Their arrival served to heighten ethnic tensions. Soon afterwards, groups of Romanian volunteers were reported arriving in right-bank Moldova expressing their solidarity with the Moldovans in the struggles against separatists (KU, 2 March 1992; IZ, 5 March 1992).
At its third Congress, held in Kishinev on 23 February 1992, the MPF renamed itself the Christian Democratic Popular Front (CDPF), underlining its political linkage with right-wing Romanian parties, which also sought further reunion of Moldova with Romania and the restoration of Greater Romania (NG, 26 February 1992).
On 1-2 March, Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen attacked the Dubossary City police office and arrested Moldovan policemen, demanding the closure of Moldova loyalist organizations in Dubossary. Moldovan OPON detachments sent to restore order were blocked at the Dubossary Bridge control post. After an exchange of fire with the guardsmen and Cossacks, one person was killed and one was wounded. On 3 March, the Moldovan police office in Dubossary was closed down and transferred to Kochiery, a Moldovan-populated village nearby. The same day, during a violent clash in Kochiery, six Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen were reported killed and 11 wounded. On March 3, Trans-Dniestrian leader I. Smirnov declared a state of emergency in left-bank Moldova and called for resistance to the Moldovan police. New Cossack detachments were reported arriving in
Trans-Dniester through the territory of Ukraine. Hostilities assumed the character of daily exchanges of fire and minor combat in the suburbs of Dubossary and in neighbouring villages with ethnically mixed populations (IZ, 2, 5 March 1992; NG, 4 March 1992).
On 6 March, the city police office in Bendery was besieged by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen who demanded that it be closed and all city police disbanded. Violent attacks and exchanges of fire were reported on highways in Bendery and Grigoriopol districts. During the armed raid on a military depot on 15 March, the Cossacks, reportedly numbering 600, took possession of firearms, guns, machine and submachine guns, mortars, grenades, and ammunition (KU, 7 March 1992; IZ, 16 March 1992). In mid-March, hostilities spread to the rural areas of Dubossary, with hundreds of people participating in violent combat. On 16-17 March, over 600 Moldovan policemen and Trans-Dniestrian guards with a dozen armoured carriers were reported engaged in fighting near Kochiery village. In the combat near Koshnitsy village, the Moldovan side alone was said to number 3,000 policemen (IZ, 17 March 1992; KU, 18 March 1992).
Flows of refugees leaving en masse, both Moldovans and Russians, were the product of the escalating hostilities. On 20 March, 6,000 refugees had to flee to the Odessa region of the Ukraine after having been threatened or attacked. By 26 March, the total count of both Russian and Moldovan refugees was estimated at over 10,000 (KU, 21, 25 March 1992; IZ, 26 March 1992). The flow of people in opposite directions aroused anger and hatred on both banks of Moldova.
On 17 March, an armistice agreement was reached. Trying to promote a compromise, the Moldovan Parliament agreed to grant economic and taxation autonomy to left-bank Moldova and to introduce new amendments into the law on languages. The Trans-Dniestrian leaders did not find these concessions satisfactory, however, and insisted that Trans-Dniester be granted, if not political independence, then at least politico-territorial autonomy within Moldova and the right to free secession if Moldova should reunite with Romania.
By mid-March the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict had acquired international implications. On 17 March, the Romanian government demanded that the Russian Federation undertake urgent measures towards a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Moldova (IZ, 18, 20 March 1992). Moscow was hesitant and gave ambiguous signals. On the one hand, the Russian government had recognized the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of the CIS countries. On the other hand, protection of the rights of Russophone minorities had also been declared an important objective of Russia's foreign policy toward ex-USSR republics. Political opponents of the Yeltsin government accused it of ignoring the alleged violation of human rights of Moldova's Russophone inhabitants and of betraying their ethnic brothers. Ukrainian president L. Kravchuk, reacting to a note from Snegur, issued a decree for the creation of a 50-km special zone on the frontier between Moldova and the Ukraine, aimed at preventing any further influx of Don Cossacks from Russia through Ukrainian territory (IZ, 18 March 1992).
On 18 March, the command of the 14th ex-Soviet Army (composed mainly of Russophones) issued a declaration expressing the intention to provide military support to Trans-Dniestrians, even without orders from Moscow, should armed hostilities again begin to escalate. On 19 March, Moldova's President Snegur declared he did not exclude the possibility that his country might turn to Romania for military help: Don Cossacks from Russia had already intervened in the conflict on the side of the Russophones and there were good reasons for not trusting the promises of the CIS United Armed Forces Command that the 14th Army would stay neutral (IZ, 19, 20 March 1992).
On 19 March, during his emergency visit to Moscow, the Romanian foreign minister repeated Romania's appeal to Moscow to initiate four-way, peace making talks. On 20 March, the Russian Federation Supreme Soviet appealed to the Moldovan Parliament to seek a peaceful solution to the inter-ethnic disputes. At the same time it expressed the opinion that the economic autonomy granted to Trans-Dniester by the Moldovan central authorities should be supplemented with recognition of political status, guaranteeing the right of left-bank Moldova to self-determination if Moldova should lose its independence through reunion with Romania (RG, 21 March 1992).
On 24 March, four-way negotiations between Moldova, Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine started in Kishinev at foreign minister level. Russia and the Ukraine agreed to the Moldovan demand that Trans-Dniester should not be present at the talks as an independent party.
A new outburst of violence in Dubossary region broke the armistice and complicated the negotiation process. On 30 March, an attack by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen on Koshnitsy village resulted in one Moldovan policeman being killed and five wounded. A counter-response attack by policemen on the Dubossary highway resulted in one guardsman being killed and three wounded (KU, 31 March 1992).
On 31 March, the Moldovan Parliament enacted President Snegur's decree introducing a state of emergency throughout Moldova. A resolution passed by the Moldovan Parliament repeated the demand that illegal armed formations of Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen be disbanded, that the Cossacks return to Russia, and that Moldovan power structures be restored in left-bank Moldova as preconditions for further negotiations on the future political status of the region (IZ, 2 April 1992).
In April, hostilities spread to Bendery district as well. Another armed attack on the Bendery city police office on 1 April resulted in four days of combat between Moldovan OPON forces and Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen, which led to the division of the city into two sectors, each controlled by an opposing group. As a result of this violence, 19 were killed and 18 wounded (KU, 10 April, 1992). Officers of the 14th Army unit located near Bendery threatened to break the neutrality and to intervene in the conflict unless the hostilities stopped. From 2 April, Trans-Dniester mounted a new railway blockade of right-bank Moldova. Starting on 8 April, new violent clashes in Dubossary district escalated into rocket fire exchange, armed raids and assaults, fighting, and terrorist acts along the whole frontier in Trans-Dniester.
This lasted till 17 April, when a new cease-fire agreement was reached. The official figures issued by Moldovan and Trans-Dniestrian sources as of 17 April stated that since the beginning of violence in December 1991, 42 people had been killed (including 19 policemen and 23 civilians) and 130 wounded (including 72 policemen and 58 civilians) on the Moldovan side; and 60 killed, 100 wounded, and 60 missing on the Trans-Dniestrian side (IZ, 17 April 1992).
Between 12 and 28 May 1992, there was yet another new eruption of interethnic hostilities, when Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen attempted to drive out Moldovan OPON and military detachments from the positions they had occupied on left-bank Moldova in April. Numerous attacks, raids, and acts of hostage-taking and pillage were reported in Dubossary and Grigoriopol districts. Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks were reported to be using tanks and armoured carriers stolen from units of the 14th Army. During the combat in Grigoriopol district, 27 tanks and 12 armoured carriers were reported to have been used by the Trans-Dniestrians. At least 54 persons were reported killed and 113 wounded in May. Officially registered refugees from left-bank Moldova numbered 20,000 in right-bank Moldova and 11,000 in the Odessa region of the Ukraine (KU, 22 May, 4 June 1992; IZ, 5 June 1992). By the end of May a new agreement on a 30-day-long armistice was reached, and new attempts were made to resolve the conflict through negotiations.
In early June, at the negotiations held in Moscow between the foreign ministers of Russia and Moldova, it was agreed to establish three working groups. Their tasks were to monitor the cease-fire agreement and to have consultations on the modalities of withdrawal of the 14th Army from Moldova and on the political and legal aspects of resolving the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict. (IZ, 12, 19 June 1992).
On 3 June, the Supreme Soviet of Trans-Dniester forwarded to the Moldovan Parliament a proposal to separate the armed formations in the zone of conflict and to stipulate a treaty of federation between Moldova and Trans-DnIester. The latter was to constitute a new status for Trans-Dniester as a politically autonomous republic within Moldova with the right to free secession.
Following debates held in the Moldovan Parliament on 9-11 June, the Parliament rejected the federation demands of Trans-Dniester but agreed to a special resolution promising reconsideration of the political and juridical status of left-bank Moldova (IZ, 15, 19 June 1992). After consultations with military leaders it was agreed to start the withdrawal of troops from left-bank Moldova on 16 June. However, dramatic events in Bendery were to check the peace seeking process once again.
8 Bloodshed and conflict settlement in Bendery
On 19 June, a new armed attack by Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen on the Bendery city police office provoked the Moldovan government to send formations of their national army to restore Moldovan control in Bendery. For two months the town had been divided into two sectors, controlled by opposing armed groups. Moldovan troops (reportedly some 2,500 soldiers and officers) attacked the northern sector of Bendery, which was controlled by the Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen. Trying to check the rapid arrival of additional guardsmen in support of the Trans-Dniestrians, Moldovan aircraft bombed the bridge connecting the town of Bendery with the highway leading to Tyraspol. Artillery was used by both sides. The command of the 14th Army garrison near Bendery declared its neutrality, but, according to the reports of the Moldovan press, several officers with their soldiers participated on the side of the guardsmen.
The next day, groups of Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and Cossacks, outnumbering the Moldovan forces, arrived in Bendery district. The use of tanks in combat and the support of some officers of the 14th Army determined the outcome of the Bendery battle in favour of the Trans-Dniestrians, who regained control over the larger part of the city. The Moldovan forces withdrew into the suburbs. The three-day combat resulted in 20 killed and 200 wounded on the Moldovan side, and some 300 killed and 500 wounded on the Trans-Dniestrian side. Almost all the city buildings were destroyed by artillery fire (KU, 21, 22 June 1992; IZ, 22, 23, 24 June 1992).
On 22-23 June, leaders of the opposing parties reached an agreement on a cease-fire in Bendery. However, developments became out of control, unleashing a potent wave of inter-ethnic hostilities. Violent clashes were reported in the Dubossary, Bendery, Rybuitsy, Parkany, and Grigoriopol districts. Human losses as of 24 June amounted to 500 dead and 3,500 wounded on both sides since the Bendery battle. The number of Russophone refugees to the Odessa region of the Ukraine totalled 30,000 - three times as many as during the previous months of warfare (IZ, 25 June 1992; KU, 27 June 1992). The number of armed members of military formations reported to be participating in the hostilities was estimated at 15,000 persons from each side, with approximately 400 tanks and armoured carriers and 300 artillery guns and mortars being deployed. By July the total number of refugees exceeded 100,000 (KU, 2, 8 July 1992).
When officers of the 14th Army threatened to ignore the orders of the Russian authorities and to take an active part in the violent conflict on the side of Trans-Dniester, this danger of larger-scale violence compelled the political leaders to search with greater urgency for a way to settle the conflict and restore peace. On 25 June, during the Istanbul conference of the Black Sea countries, a special round of talks was held between the presidents of Russia, Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova. This yielded an agreement to halt the armed confrontation in left-bank Moldova and to undertake effective measures to ensure separation of the opposing armed factions.
The four presidents called on the Moldovan Parliament to reconsider once again the political and juridical status of left-bank Moldova. The same day, the Moldovan Parliament replied that recognition of Trans-Dniester as a separate politico-territorial unit was not for discussion, but it did approve a special act envisaging for Bendery the status of "free city" within Moldova and new legislative guarantees of wide-ranging economic and cultural autonomy for Trans-Dniester within Moldova (IZ, 26, 27 June 1992).
On 8 July, the negotiations between Moldova's deputy minister of defence, the commander of the Trans-Dniestrian guard, the commander-in-chief of the 14th ex-USSR Army, and representatives of the Russian Federation Defence Ministry ended with the signing of a mutual order on cease-fire and disarmament along the entire frontier-line of left-bank Moldova, and the introduction of the CIS armed forces (IZ, 8 July 1992).
A political settlement of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict would appear to have been reached in the course of intensive Moldova-Trans-Dniester talks, with active participation of the Russian Federation, in late July 1992. On 21 July, in the presence of the Trans-Dniestrian delegation headed by President I. Smirnov, the Russian and Moldovan presidents signed the Moscow Agreement on the principles of peace settlement of armed conflict in Trans-Dniester districts of the republic of Moldova. This accord envisaged the creation of a dividing line in left-bank Moldova between the opposing parties, to be supervised by military observers from Russia, Moldova, and Trans-Dniester. It further stipulated gradual withdrawal of all armed formations, military equipment, and machinery from Trans-Dniester; withdrawal of the 14th Army to the territory of Russia; and the establishment of a special control commission on security in Bendery.
Moldova assumed the obligation to determine and to fix the legal and political status of left-bank Moldova within Moldova and to grant to its population the right to express self-determination if the political status of the independent republic of Moldova should be changed. This compromise may not have resolved the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict completely, but it appears to have been successful in suppressing violence and in providing peace, at least for the time being (IZ, 22 July 1992).
9 Socio-political change and inter-ethnic violence
The above review shows the significant impact of socio-political transformation in Moldova 1988-92 on the politicization of interethnic disputes and the escalation of ethno-political contentions to the highest degree of militancy. Each new stage of socio-political change entailed political crises in inter-ethnic relations, accompanied by an escalation of anxiety-laden demands concerning the political status of ethnic groups with zero-sum perceptions of power issues.
We may identify five major critical points in the inter-ethnic political struggles in Moldova between late 1988 and mid-1992:
(1) August-September 1989: crisis resulting from the adoption of new republican legislation on the status and functioning of languages;
(2) October-November 1990: crisis prior to local elections to the Supreme Soviets (parliaments) of unilaterally proclaimed separatist Gagauz and Trans-Dniester republics;
(3) September 1991: crisis following the failure of the coup in the USSR and the arrest of leaders of the rebel ethnic groups in Moldova;
(4) December 1991: crisis after presidential elections and referenda on independence in Gaganzia and Trans-Dniester;
(5) March 1992: crisis after the separatist authorities of Trans-Dniester attempted to subordinate local police offices by force, while using other means of official mass coercion.
Three major patterns and stages can be singled out in the development of disruptive inter-ethnic confrontation between Moldova and Trans-Dniester:
(i) November 1990 and September 1991: transition from nonviolent to violent ethnic political action as manifested in clashes between the Moldovan police and civilians in Dubossary;
(ii) December 1991: transition to recurrent violent interaction in ethnically mixed urban and rural areas of left-bank Moldova; Moldovan police and special OPON detachments, Moldovan peasants on the one side engaged in violent interaction with specially created formations of Trans-Dniestrian militia and semi-organized self-defence Russophone civilian groups on the other;
(iii) March-July 1992: transition to warfare - large-scale, organized, and sustained inter-ethnic violence pervaded the whole border area between right-bank and left-bank Moldova, culminating in the Bendery bloodshed of June 1992. Organized armed military formations (Moldovan OPON, police and armed forces against Trans-Dniestrian guardsmen and militia) representing established populations of opposing ethnicities engaged in warfare employing a vast range of conventional weapons. Paramilitary formations of adversaries (Moldovan and Romanian volunteers, Trans-Dniestrian self-defence groups and Cossack detachments from Russia) added a guerrilla dimension to the civil war.
Resort to violence in the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict appears to have been highly instrumental and related to the issues of political contention. Violence seems to have been closely connected with the political nature of ethnic disputes in the changing Moldovan society. Comparing the timing of violence with the course of non-violent ethno-political disputes in Moldova, we can see that the points marking the transition from non-violent to violent ethnic interaction correspond to the ethno-political crises of legitimacy which marked the peaks of inter-ethnic struggles for power (reallocation of power arrangements, or establishing a new set of power arrangements).
The theory of collective action and social organization elaborated by Charles Tilly and his colleagues provides important insights in accounting for inter-ethnic violence in the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict. Tilly's research on the materials provided by a century of civil strife in European countries has shown that collective violence has regularly flowed out of the central political processes in a country or region, and can be better understood as growing out of the interaction of organized groups carrying out sustained collective action.
A general rise in collective action can be almost always be observed during periods of political transition, when various groups in society become more highly politicized as they press their claims and counterclaims. Tilly observes that where there is a high volume of such collective action, there is also a higher likelihood that some of the events will turn into violent encounters. Highly mobilized groups and the rapid acquisition or loss of power by groups have usually resulted in a disproportionate number of violent conflicts (filly et al., 1975: 243-7, 281-8; Tilly, 1978).
Applying Tilly's propositions concerning inter-ethnic political strife more specifically to the consideration of inter-ethnic political disputes can help us assess those peaks in the development of an ethno-political conflict, as well as those stages of non-violent change in interethnic political relations when transition from non-violent to violent collective ethnic action is likely to occur. One of Tilly's major conclusions is that collective violence peaks at times of political activity, and especially when fundamental changes are taking place in the distribution of power among the self-aware groups which constitute a society (filly et al., 1975: 247-51, 280-3). Hence, in the case of ethno-political conflicts in a multi-ethnic society, we may expect high levels of militant collective ethnic action at those stages of change in interethnic relations when the stakes are high in terms of threats to and opportunities for objective political interests and subjectively perceived group political status.
Socio-political change in multi-ethnic societies implies significant changes in how ethnic groups become organized. Owing to political changes in society, groups will actively press their interests, mobilize themselves and available resources, and engage in various forms of collective ethnic action. What is sought can be either a larger share of the power available through the political system, or a re-allocation of power arrangements - ranging from inclusivist to exclusivist terms, from territorial autonomy to ethno-secession.
"Times of transition are also times of ethnic tension" (Shibutani and Kwan, 1965: ch. 14). The atmosphere of uncertainty generated by rapid sociopolitical change is a factor of paramount importance for the politicization of ethnic groups. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, major group anxiety concerns the anticipated consequences of political transformation for the status and interests of the ethnic group in a multi-ethnic polity and/or the perceived threats emanating from other groups. After the collapse of the Union centre, in ethnically divided societies of the ex-USSR republics, the transfer of power raised the cardinal question of who would rule. Activated fears of ethnic domination and subordination may become particularly salient and provide the rationale for militant politicization of groups.
Characterizing the processes in modernizing societies, D. Horowitz notes: "Power is sought to prevent the emergence of dire but distant and dimly perceived consequences," and "so critical and dangerous are those feared consequences that it is deemed vital to take steps to avert them in advance" (Horowitz, 1985: 186-7). At some point this quest for power will provoke a repressive reaction from the already established centres of power or from the majority group which aims at establishing its own exclusive dominance in the process of state building. From the interplay between collective action by the ethnically aggrieved and repression by established organizations of the ethnically dominant may come ethno-political violence.
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