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Moldova Vows Independence From Moscow

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The small Soviet republic of Moldova declared its independence Tuesday, hastening the breakup of the Soviet Union. Seven of the 15 Soviet republics have now declared independence.

The Moldovan Parliament unanimously proclaimed the small republic of 4.3 million people to be a “sovereign, independent, free and democratic” state, and it instructed the republic’s government to begin immediate negotiations for the republic’s secession and the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

“This is a happy day for us,” President Mircea Snegur said, and despite a heavy rain, there was dancing in the streets of the capital, Kishinev, after the vote.

Moldova’s independence was recognized immediately by neighboring Romania, with which it may eventually reunite. The republic’s officials predicted that, with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s reported willingness to allow republics to secede, an agreement on the terms will be reached quickly with Moscow.

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Although Moldova had already been considering secession, the abortive coup d’etat by hard-line conservatives here last week was evidence enough, the republic’s leaders concluded, that it should pull out of the politically unstable Soviet Union as quickly as possible.

“The coup gave us the impulse to speed independence for our people,” Snegur told journalists. “We have suffered so much under this Soviet system. We now appeal to the international community to recognize our independence and help ensure our freedom.

“By voting for this proclamation,” Snegur continued, tears of joy in his eyes, “we have started a new era in Moldova, a free and democratic future where human rights will be the foundation of the state.”

Parliament changed the republic’s name from Moldavia, which it defined as a “Russified” version, to Moldova, the Romanian word, in June, 1990.

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The three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which like Moldova were annexed during World War II, are now rapidly winning international recognition of their independence.

The first ambassador in half a century arrived Tuesday in Riga, the Latvian capital, with others on the way as more than 20 countries recognized the Baltic states’ independence.

“It is with deep emotion that I stand on the soil of free Latvia as an official representative,” Danish Ambassador Otto Borch said in Riga. “After a dull chapter in your history, you have now regained full independence and sovereignty due to the courage and determination of you all.”

Being the first was not important, he added, but it was “important to come as quickly as possible” to add to the independence momentum.

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Moscow, in a move meant to signal its willingness to let the three republics secede, ordered its Interior Ministry’s “black beret” commandos out of the region.

Widely suspected of working to undermine the three states’ bids for independence, the troops were blamed for a series of violent incidents, including the coldblooded killing of seven Lithuanian guards at a border post last month.

Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis also won agreement from Air Marshal Yevgeny I. Shaposhnikov, the new Soviet defense minister, for the return of an estimated 10,000 Lithuanian conscripts and 2,000 officers serving in the Soviet army, according to a spokesman.

All three Baltic states are pressing Moscow to withdraw its forces from the region, but they recognize that the Soviet Union will need time to develop new border defenses and redeploy the troops.

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In addition to the Baltic states and Moldova, the Ukraine, neighboring Byelorussia and the southern republic of Georgia have declared their independence. A referendum on the issue is scheduled in Armenia in September, and Uzbekistan in Soviet Central Asia began preparations this week to secede.

In Moldova, however, 90 deputies, a quarter of the legislature, absented themselves from the session to protest the independence vote. Moldova’s large Russian and Ukrainian minorities, which together form about 27% of the population, fear they will suffer without Moscow’s protection.

The strength of Moldovan nationalism was clear at a mass rally that drew more than 100,000 people, chanting “Moldova, freedom, independence,” into central Kishinev before the legislative session.

Snegur, speaking to the rally, pledged that independence would begin with the republic’s “de-communization,” and he noted that the Communist Party’s activities in the republic have been suspended, its property and assets nationalized and its newspapers closed.

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“You represent the will of the whole people of Moldova, and you are trusted with the historic duty to fulfill the dream of our King Steven the Great,” Snegur said, referring to a 15th-Century leader. “Today, we take the oath that we shall defend our independence to the last breath.”

In rapid order, the crowd approved by a show of hands resolutions calling for the formation of a Moldovan national guard and of a national intelligence service, the takeover of border and customs posts and the withdrawal of Soviet forces.

Once the czarist province of Bessarabia, Moldova decided in a 1918 referendum to join Romania, whose language, culture and customs it shares. Under the same 1939 pact with Nazi Germany that “awarded” the Baltic states to the Soviet Union, the dictator Josef Stalin took the region back from Romania in 1940 and made it a Soviet republic, small as it is.

Under Soviet rule, Moldova has been subjected to intense Russification; tens of thousands of Bessarabian families were deported to Kazakhstan in Central Asia and replaced by Russians and Ukrainians. Contacts with Romania were severely curtailed, and Romanian was eliminated as the language of government, business and education.

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With the first stirrings of nationalism in 1989, Moldovans adopted the blue, yellow and red Romanian flag and made Romanian the republic’s official language. In June, 1990, the legislature proclaimed the republic’s “sovereignty” as part of what was expected to be a long effort to achieve independence.

Snegur said that independence would probably prove an interim stage on the way to unification with Romania but that the process should not be hurried.

“Independence is a temporary step,” Snegur told the French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview published Tuesday.

“Two Romanian states will coexist at first, but that won’t last,” he said. “The independence of Moldova is just a step, not an aim.”

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The intention, he continued, is “to create a free and democratic Moldovan republic while pursuing the policy of economic and spiritual integration with Romania.”

But Moldovan Prime Minister Valeriu Muravsky told the rally that the republic must also maintain good relations with Russia and other Soviet republics because they would remain economically integrated.

A rich agricultural area, Moldova currently has a large surplus in its trade with other Soviet republics and countries, Muravsky said, and would fare better than other republics after independence.

Moldova Joins Freedom Lineup

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Moldova is the seventh Soviet republic to officially seek independence. It follows on the heels of Byelorussia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia.

Key facts:

History: Formed by uniting part of the Moldavian Autonomous Republic (set up in 1924) in the Ukraine and areas of Bessarabia ceded by Romania to the Soviet Union on June 28, 1940.

Population: About 4.3 million. 64% Moldovan, 14% Ukrainian, 12.8% Russian, 3.5% Gagauzi (a Turkic minority).

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Area: 13,000 square miles. Bounded by the Ukraine to the south and east and by Romania to the west.

Capital: Kishinev

Language: Moldovan is virtually identical to Romanian.

Economy: It’s in third place in Soviet Union for production of wine, tobacco and food canning. Other industries are woodworking, metallurgy, footwear and textiles. Natural resources include lignite, phosphorites and gypsum.

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Source: Statesman’s Year Book


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