Based on the Background Paper “The Transdniestrian Conflict in Moldova: Origins and Main Issues”,
Vienna, 10 June 1994, CSCE Conflict Prevention Centre


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The Main Problems on the Way to a Political Settlement

Based on the reporting of the CSCE Mission, the following, paragraphs are an attempt to describe more in depth the four main issues which have been at the core at discussions since the beginning of the conflict and which are crucial to a political settlement: the; language issue, the question of unification with Romania: the 14th Russian Army and the discussion on a special status for Transdniestria.



(a) The Language Issue

The language issue was, as already mentioned, at the very origin of the conflict in Moldova. In particular on the left bank, the language legislation introduced in 1989 is widely regarded as the cause of the subsequent political troubles and the armed conflict in Transdniestria. Long before the declaration of sovereignty and months before the possibility of unification with Romania was publicly discussed, the language legislation became the clear signal for a process of emancipation from the Soviet legacy. On 30 August 1989, the Constitution of the Moldavian SSR was amended by Article 70 which introduced Romanian as “the State Language”, written in the Latin alphabet. Russian was described as the interethnic “language of communication”, and the language of the Gagauz population was to be protected and developed. On the following day, a “Law on the Use of Languages on the Territory of the Moldavian SSR” was passed, stating that Russian would be the language of communication to be used throughout the Republic on the same footing as Romanian, and that Romanian, Gagauz and Russian would be the “official languages” in areas with a predominantly Gagauz population. The use of various minority languages (i.a. Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Yiddish) was also guaranteed.

Article 7 of the law prescribes that persons holding positions in state administration and public organisations, which bring them in contact with citizens (public health, education, culture, mass media, transport, trade, services, etc.) must know Romanian, Russian, and, in areas with a Gagauz population, also Gagauz at a “level necessary for fulfilling their professional obligations”. Such persons would have to undergo language examinations from 1 January 1994 onward, which would determine if they could keep their current jobs.

It is this - at first glance quite moderate - language legislation which sparked the disturbances at the origin of the secessionist movements in Moldova. The main focus of criticism was the de facto abolition of Russian as official language, and Article 7 of the language law, which was perceived as a threat to their existence by Russian speakers on both sides of the Dnestr. Article 7, although seemingly balanced, has an asymmetric impact, since practically all Romanian speakers know Russian, but not all Russophones speak Romanian. On the left bank, the Supreme Soviet of the self-proclaimed PMR abolished the 1989 language law on 9 September 1992, and reinstated the use of the Cyrillic alphabet for Romanian, including the teaching of the language in schools). The schooling situation for Romanian-speaking children is further complicated on the left bank since Romanian schools have been closed apparently in “retaliation” for the conversion of Russian-speaking schools on the right bank. The Moldovan authorities however point out in this regard that Romanian language schools were heavily underrepresented during Soviet times.

The language question has continued to deepen the rift between Chisinau and Tiraspol. According to Moldovan statistics, 33,000 Russians and Ukrainians emigrated in 1992. The 1 January 1994 deadline was later relaxed, but apprehensions about language testing have persisted.



(b) The Question of Unification

The initial stages of Moldova’s process of emancipation from communist rule brought about a reassertion of Romanian ethnic and cultural awareness. This was not surprising since under the former regime, everything was done to discourage cultural exchanges with Romania and to eliminate references to the existence of a common cultural heritage. Since December 1989, after the overthrow of the dictatorship in Romania, a movement within the Popular Front openly advocated (re-)unification, an idea which was encouraged by some official circles in Romania as well. Drawing on historical arguments, many Romanians deny that there is such a thing as a Moldovan national identity at all.

However, it became evident quite soon that a majority of the population of Moldova would not support a merger with Romania for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the prospect of becoming a small rural province in a relatively centralised country which, in addition, had grave economic problems, became less and less attractive. Furthermore, the prospect of unification was totally unthinkable for Moldova's Slav minorities on both sides of the Dnestr, and became one of the motors of the Transdniestrian and Gagauz secession. It is worth recalling in this context that between 70 and 75 % of Moldova's Slav population lives West of the Dnestr river.

In other words, “cultural Romanianness” was soon complemented by a current of “political Moldovanness”. Support for the Popular Front, whose representatives still advocated reunification, began to erode massively in 1991, but the Front managed to block the Parliament until the elections on 27 February 1994, where it received only some 7.5 % of the votes. Parties standing for an independent Moldova, the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova and the Socialist/Unity Bloc, received 43.2 % and 22 % of the votes respectively, and obtained a solid majority in the new parliament. The first post-communist elections were however boycotted by the PMR authorities, who prevented the elections from taking place on the left bank.


One week after the elections, a “public opinion poll” was held on 6 March on the future status of Moldova. Again, it could not be held on the left bank. Although the opposition had called for a boycott of this non-binding referendum, the turnout was 75% of the total population, of whom more than 95% expressed their support for the continued independence of Moldova.

Allegations that Chisinau was seeking unification with Romania had always been promoted in the propaganda of the authorities in the left-bank areas. The outcome of the public opinion poll therefore sent an important signal and eliminated a major obstacle on the road to negotiations with the leadership of the secessionist regions.


(c) The 14th Russian Army

In December 1991, Soviet forces on the territory of Moldova, mainly consisting of units of the 14th Army, were taken over by the CIS command structures. However, Moldova claimed jurisdiction over these forces, and in negotiations with the CIS command in March 1992, obtained jurisdiction over most forces on the right banks of the Dniester only. A decision on the forces of the left-banks was deferred. On 1 April 1992, the forces on the left bank were integrated in the Russian armed forces by decree.

Numerous rounds of negotiations between Moldova and Russia took place during the following two years on the withdrawal of the Russian 14th Army, with the last - 9th - round taking place in Moscow on 7 and 8 June 1994. The principle of withdrawal has been accepted by the Russian side and is confirmed in the Moscow Agreement of 21 July 1992. However, negotiations on a corresponding timetable have so far been unsuccessful. Russia’s position, contested by the Moldovan authorities, is that the withdrawal should be synchronized with a political settlement of the conflict in the left bank areas.

The presence of the l4th Russian Army in the left-bank areas remains the major military issue in the region. Numbering an estimated 5000 soldiers and extremely well armed, it is the only armoured force in Moldova capable of offensive action. Many inhabitants and officials of the self-proclaimed PMR believe that the 14th Army protects them against the right bank and contributes to a stable political situation in the region, whereas in Chisinau, its presence is regarded as creating an atmosphere of instability.

The role of the 14th Army in the left-bank areas is ambiguous. During the time of armed confrontations in 1992, the army took an active role and intervened to end fighting in Tighina/Bendery. Moreover, it can be said with reasonable certainty that arms transfers from the 14th Army to civilians and paramilitary groupings took place during the hot phase of the civil war. An engineering battalion, previously an engineering unit of the l4th Army, was transferred with its equipment to the jurisdiction of the military authorities of the PMR. It is also established that great numbers of left bank soldiers of the “Dniester Republican Guard” were and are being trained by the l4th Army and use its facilities. There has been a considerable military build-up under the rule of the separatists in Tiraspol: it is estimated that PMR forces consist of 5,000 active personnel, divided into four motorized brigades with supporting units. A relatively large reserve capacity is also being trained. In addition, there are various paramilitary units (“Delta” and “Dnestr” battalions), border guards and Cossacks.

It has to be said, however, that the relations between the PMR leadership and the l4th Army have become anything but harmonious. The commander, Gen. Lebed, has repeatedly accused the left-bank authorities, and in particular “President” Smirnov of corruption. Lebed is a popular figure among the Slav population, because in their perception he put an end to the civil war by deploying his forces against it.

The continued presence of a Russian army in this area - more than 1,000 km west of Russia’s borders - also raises concerns in the neighboring states of Moldova and is viewed by them as internationally destabilizing. In this context, the strategic importance of the territory of Moldova, lying at the crossroads of the Slav world, the Black Sea and the Balkans, needs to be kept in mind.

In the assessment of the CSCE Mission, the continued presence of the l4th Army contributes to the maintenance and solidification of attitudes and political structures which are incompatible with the principle of territorial integrity of Moldova.

(d) The Status of Transdniestria

Direct talks between the executive branches of Moldova and the PMR were initiated at the beginning of 1993, and unofficial negotiations almost led to an understanding on the principles of mutual relations. However, the understanding was blocked by the “Supreme Soviet” of the PMR, which instead proposed a “draft treaty on the separation of powers between the subjects of the Moldavian confederation”, amounting to an international treaty establishing virtual independence for Transdniestria. Other contacts took place between formally appointed parliamentary delegations, without success: PMR parliamentarians proposed the establishment of a “Moldavian Confederation” as a member of the CIS, consisting of equal and independent sates subjects of international law.


Moldovan representative aimed at restoring national unity consisting of equal and independent states subjects of international law. Moldovan representatives aimed at restoring national unity with a “special constitutional and legal status being granted to the Transdniestrian regions of the Republic”.

Meetings of the “troikas”, i.e. of the Presidents, the Speakers of Parliament and the Prime Ministers of both sides which have taken place twice in 1993, were an encouraging sign in itself, but failed to achieve any progress on the question of the future of Transdniestria either.

If in the early days of independence the Moldovan Government advocated a unitary state, probably in reaction to long decades of Russification, it has now become ready to recognize a special status for Transdniestria, even declaring that everything is negotiable with the exception of the idea of granting it a status as a subject of international law. A draft law on a special status for Transdniestria was discussed in the Parliament in Chisinau in 1993, but without the participation of the Transdniestrian delegates. The draft law on a special status of the “territory densely populated by the Gagauz people” seems to be further advanced since it has been accepted by the parliamentarians from the Gagauz areas. However, pro-Romanian members of the National Front considered it as a “crime against Moldova’s interests”.

Work on the new Moldovan constitution, of course most important in the present context, was much delayed due to the stalemate in the Parliament which persisted until the elections on 27 February 1994. Ironically, the absence of Transdniestrian delegates had, by increasing the relative power of the National Front, made it even easier for the latter to block any progress in constitutional matters - in which it had no interest since it advocated unification with Moldova. One of the first tasks of the newly elected Parliament is to finalize the Constitution.

Reinforcement of the territorial integrity of Moldova along with an understanding about a special status for Transdniestria is the declared policy of all OSCE States. The OSCE Mission has made detailed proposals for a special status of Transdniestria involving substantial self-rule in the political, legal, economic, social and cultural spheres, and has pointed out the need for guarantees that Transdniestria would have the right to determine its own future if Moldova were to decide to give up its statehood.

A new attempt to start negotiations between Moldovan and Transdniestrian leaders and to reach an agreement on Transdniestria settlement was initiated by the President of Russian Federation in February 1994. His personal representative from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited Chisinau and Tiraspol in March and April and had talks with political leaders as well as with the OSCE Mission in Moldova.

As a result, leaders of Moldova and Transdniestria met twice in April 1994. Their first meeting was a preliminary one with the limited group of advisers and took place on 9 April. The second one, on 28 April, ended with the signature of a declaration in the presence of the Head of the OSCE Mission and the Representative of the Russian President. The joint declaration includes statements of a determination to seek a comprehensive solution of existing problems, and undertakes to begin the process of negotiations on financial and economic problems, as well as on questions of Transdniestria’s legal and constitutional status. The basis of negotiations - as was agreed - will be OSCE Mission proposals and ideas put forward by the Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation.

In arguing against too far-reaching autonomy for Transdniestria, it is sometimes pointed out that ethnic Moldovans form the largest single group with 40% of the area’s population Without the city of Tiraspol with its very high proportion of native Russian speakers, they would even represent the absolute majority. On the other hand, the Slavs themselves form a majority if the distinction between Ukrainians and Russians is ignored.

It has, however, been said in many instances that the conflict in the Transdniestrian areas is not primarily an inter-ethnic one, but a dispute involving different values, ideologies and experiences, in which economic factors also play a role. The area east of the Dniester accounts for 12% and 17% of its population but produces 35% of the total national income.

In the assessment of the OSCE Mission, there is a distinct feeling of “Transdniestrian” identity going beyond ethnic lines, justifying a special status for the area. Many ethnic Moldovans living on the left bank have an aversion against being governed directly from the centre, prefer to speak Russian, and do not considerthemselves as “Bessarabians”. Several prominent political figures in the self-proclaimed PMR are ethnic Moldovans. At the same time, it should be noted that west of the Dniester - where the majority of ethnic Ukrainians and Russians live - Slavs and autochthonous Moldovans have peacefully coexisted since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, even during times of violence and heavy fighting in Transdniestria. A spreading of violence to other parts of Moldova did not take place.



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