Moldova, a landlocked country sandwiched between Romania and another EU member, Ukraine, will host the second meeting of the European Political Community on Thursday.
It is one of the least traveled nations in Europe and is renowned for its Orthodox monasteries and wine industry. A significant political concern is the unresolved conflict over the separatist province of Transnistria, which primarily speaks Russian.
Five things you should know about the tiny former Soviet nation, which this week will serve as the hub of European diplomacy:
1. Between Russia and Europe
Moldova submitted its application to join the EU last year and, along with Ukraine, became a candidate nation in June 2022 under the leadership of pro-European President Maia Sandu, who ousted the nation’s Russia-friendly incumbent Igor Dodon at the end of 2020.
The country’s pull between Moscow and Brussels reflects a complex history and a polarised society.
For centuries, it was a part of the Ottoman Empire, then it was ruled by the Russians, then it was a part of Romania, and finally, in 1940, it became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991, it separated from the USSR and adopted the name Moldova.
Romanian is Moldova’s primary language. Many Moldovans work in the EU and Russia, and Russian is also relatively extensively spoken in both countries. The UNESCO-listed endangered Gagauz language is spoken by the minority Turkic community.
2. One of Europe’s poorest countries
Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The country had a gross domestic output of $5,230 per person in 2021, which is slightly higher than a third of Romania’s and less than an eighth of France’s.
The country relies heavily on remittances from citizens who work abroad, yet this has resulted in a dramatic decline in the population of working age.
The 6,500-strong army of the country is armed with primarily outdated, non-modernized weapons from the Soviet era.
The employment rate in Moldova is among the lowest in all of Europe, notably among the country’s Roma community.
3. Wine and tourism
The climate in Moldova is perfect for agriculture, particularly grapes, with 300 days of sunshine each year.
According to government statistics, the wine industry is a significant economic sector, accounting for 8% of all exports and 3% of Moldova’s GDP.
Over 70 countries around the world import Moldovan wine.
According to a survey by the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), the country, which is just bigger than Belgium, is one of the twenty largest producers in the world and has 122,000 hectares of vineyards.
Moldova registered a total of 152,000 tourists last year, of which only 29,000 were foreigners.
4. Breakaway region
One of the most complicated concerns facing the 2.6 million-person nation is the breakaway Transnistria region, which is supported by Russia.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian-speaking zone split off and is no longer recognized internationally.
Moscow supports the area, which is home to about 400,000 people. The ruble is the name of its currency.
In Transnistria, Moscow has about 1,500 soldiers and a sizable supply of ammunition. Moldova has advocated for the demilitarization of the area on numerous occasions.
5. Inspiration for Tintin, comedians
A group of Australian comedians wrote a parody travel guide to a generic eastern European country called “Molvania,” and Belgian cartoon character Tintin visited a place called Syldavia. Because Moldova is one of the least well-known countries in Europe, authors have made up fictional countries with names that sound similar.
The book “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis” by British comic Tony Hawks details his attempt to fulfill a wager that he could defeat the whole Moldovan football squad on a court.