1st PoSoCoMeS – MSA Working Group conference (21 September – 1 October 2020)


The Republic of Moldova is a Southeast European country, bordering Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east. Moldova is landlocked, although it is connected to the Black Sea through a port on the Danube near the village of Giurgiulești. Moldova is a small country in comparison to its neighbours Ukraine and Romania. It has a landmass of less than 34,000 sq. km and a population of less than 2.8 million people (excluding Transnistria). The capital city is Chișinău, pronounced Kish-ee-NOW.

​The largest part of Moldova covers the region that became known as Bessarabia after the Russian Empire annexed it from the Principality of Moldavia in 1812 following a series of Russian-Turkish wars. Following the Russian Revolution Bessarabia united with Romania, only to be re-occupied by Stalin in 1940. The Second World War saw the creation of an Axis-occupied Transnistria (‘Beyond the Dniester River’) Governorate, covering parts of present-day Moldova and Ukraine. Many Jews perished in the Holocaust in both Bessarabia and Transnistria, as well as Northern Bukovina. In the course of the war the Soviet Union reconquered Bessarabia and shaped a Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic out of Bessarabia and a smaller, heavily industrialised Transnistrian strip. The post-war years were marked by a severe famine and mass deportations by the Stalinist regime. In 1991 the Moldavian SSR declared independence from the Soviet Union as the Republic of Moldova. Following an armed conflict that lasted from 1990 to 1992, the internationally unrecognised Republic of Transnistria (or “Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic”) became de facto independent from Moldova, propped up by a heavy Russian military and economic presence and espousing an ideology mixing Soviet-style friendship between the peoples and continuity with the military tradition of the Russian Empire. Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries and relies heavily on remittances by migrant workers. In 2014 Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union.

The official language of Moldova is Romanian (Moldovan), and Russian is also widely spoken. Gagauz, a Turkic language considered critically endangered by UNESCO, is still spoken in some areas. English is not widespread, though it is now being taught at school from the first years of study.

Moldova is perhaps best known for its wine, which is absolutely delicious. Most Moldovan families make wine at home, so the wineries chiefly produce wines for export. This is a traditional, age-old industry in Moldova, but new-style wineries are growing fast. If our conference had taken place in Chișinău as planned, you would have had ample opportunity to sample the local wines and perhaps even stay for the annual wine festival, held for the past 15 years during the first weekend of October, or spend a few days at one of the rural wineries that offer accommodation. Do visit when the pandemic is over: citizens of most countries don’t need a visa to enter the country. In the meantime, the Institute of Oral History has specially commissioned two hour-long video excursions that touch upon local memory issues: one of Chișinău’s old town and of Holocaust-related sites in Transnistria. These videos will be made available (in Russian, with English subtitles) through the PoSoCoMeS YouTube channel shortly before the conference.

According to the Oral History Institute of Moldova, public memory in the Republic of Moldova is marked by a rivalry between two grand historical narratives about this small country’s history, similarly to many other East European countries. In Moldova these narratives can be loosely described as ‘pro-Russian’ and ‘pro-Romanian’. In many ways they mirror each other exactly. Looking at the key dates of Moldovan history (1812, 1918, 1940, 1941, 1944, 1991), one side sees occupation whereas the other speaks of liberation. Victims of history are likewise divided into ‘one’s own people’ and ‘the others’ depending on the side one is on. The pro-Romanians commemorate only the victims of the Stalinist deportations and the 1946 famine. The pro-Russians remember only the victims of Romanian occupation. This has prevented the emergence of a united civic nation in Moldova, a country that remains split into a right-bank and a left-bank (Transnistrian) part.

This situation holds great potential for conflict and an escalation of violence. Thus the relevance of memory work in Moldova is not just academic but also very practical in that it can contribute to a historical narrative shared by all citizens. One important task is to go beyond a zero-sum game of mutually offsetting victim numbers and to build a narrative that considers all the historical victims of the 20th century—from the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 to the civil war in Transnistria in 1992—as ‘ours’. Another task is to create a dialogue between those living on either bank of the Dniester regarding controversial aspects of history, especially the 1992 civil war. This can only be achieved through a process of agonistic memory debates involving political leaders, scholars, cultural figures and educators, and requires widespread media coverage. International memory studies scholars can make a crucial contribution as they have legitimacy with a large audience without being seen as siding with either side in local conflicts and controversies.

Even though the conference has been moved online, it will keep its Moldovan & Romanian flavour. Every day of the conference features at least one event related to Moldova and/or Romania. These include a film screening, a reading, conference panels or individual papers on Moldovan/Romanian themes as well as contributions by scholars from Moldova or Romania. In order to help you compile a Moldovan/Romanian schedule, relevant events have been highlighted with a Moldovan 🇲🇩 and/or Romanian 🇷🇴 flag in the programme. (Please note that some browsers are unable to display these flags and you will see the abbreviations MD or RO instead. In that case, try using a smartphone to open the page.)

In addition, the Institute of Oral History has specially commissioned two video tours that touch upon local memory issues: see below. The video tour of Old Orhei is in Russian with English subtitles that can be turned on and off.

Moldova is currently among the 20 countries in the world most heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, in terms of both confirmed infections per capita and deaths per capita. The authorities have declared a state of emergency and imposed limitations on public events. Schools and universities have worked in distance learning mode since March. A quarantine has been imposed on certain categories of people arriving in Moldova, and conversely Moldovans are barred from entering certain European states because of their country’s high infection rate. The situation is expected to worsen in the autumn, and the medical system is already working at full capacity.