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Soviet Union

Other Major Nationalities

In addition to the nationalities just described, seven other nationalities numbered over 1 million people in the 1989 census: Moldavians, Tatars, Jews, Germans, Chuvash, Bashkirs, and Mordvins. None of these nationalities fit into the preceding groups of nationalities, yet each was a significant part of the complex fabric constituting the multinational Soviet state, either because of their large population or because of some other critical factor.


Although Moldavians have their own union republic, the existence of Moldavians as a separate nationality has been debatable. Soviet authorities consider Moldavians a distinct nationality. But most Moldavians see themselves as ethnic Romanians because they do not differ from the population of Romania linguistically or culturally. They believe that the creation of the Moldavian Republic and the "artificial" Moldavian nationality was, from its inception, an attempt to legitimize Soviet political claims to a portion of Romanian territory.

Ancient Moldavia, a territory that included portions of both present-day Romania and the Soviet Union's Moldavian Republic, was part of Scythia. Later, it fell under partial control of the Roman Empire. As the Roman Empire declined, Moldavia was invaded by successive waves of barbarians moving into the empire. Between the tenth and twelfth centuries, part of Moldavia belonged to Kievan Rus' and later to the principality of Galicia. Between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, most of Moldavia was a vassal state of the Tatars. The first independent Moldavian state arose in the mid-fourteenth century and lasted until the beginning of the sixteenth century when Moldavia became a vassal state of Turkey. In the late eighteenth century, Russia attempted to secure control of Moldavia and finally succeeded in 1812, when the portion of Moldavia known as Bessarabia was ceded to Russia.

Despite tsarist efforts to Russify Bessarabia by settling large numbers of Russians, Ukrainians, and Jews there, at the time of the February Revolution of 1917 most of the inhabitants considered themselves Romanians. They established the Democratic Moldavian Republic soon after the onset of the revolution and then joined with Romania in April 1918.

In 1924 Soviet authorities created the Moldavian Autonomous Republic for the Romanian-speaking population remaining in the Soviet Union. But only about 30 percent of the inhabitants of the newly created autonomous republic were "Moldavians," or Romanian speaking. The majority of the residents of the republic were Ukrainians, Jews, or Russians. In 1940 the Soviet Union reincorporated Bessarabia and, together with the territory of the Moldavian Autonomous Republic that contained a mostly Romanianspeaking population, formed the Moldavian Republic. In 1944 Romania, under pressure from the Soviet Union, formally recognized the existence of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. According to the 1989 census, over 3.3 million Moldavians lived in the Soviet Union, of whom 83 percent resided in the Moldavian Republic. The republic, the second smallest of the union republics in area, had a population of over 4.3 million, of which nearly 2.8 million, or over 64 percent, were Moldavians. Ukrainians constituted 14 percent of the population, while Russians made up another 13 percent. Only the Ukrainian and Russian republics had sizable Romanian-speaking minorities in their territory.

According to 1989 statistics, 91.6 percent of Moldavians in the Soviet Union considered Moldavian their first language. Spoken Moldavian did not differ from the language spoken in Romania; however, Soviet authorities replaced the traditional Latin alphabet with the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Moldavians were one of the least urbanized nationalities, behind only the Kirgiz as the most rural people in the 1970s. In 1986 only 47 percent of the Moldavian Republic's population lived in urban areas. This represented an increase of 15 percent from 1970, when it was the least urbanized of all the union republics. The overwhelming majority of Moldavians lived in rural areas, while Russians in the republic resided mostly in the cities. The largest city in 1989 was the capital, Kishinev, with a population of 665,000. Two other cities had a population of over 100,000.

In the 1970s, Moldavians were last among the major nationalities in the number of students in higher education institutions and the number of scientific workers per thousand. The Moldavian Republic also consistently ranked last among the union republics in the number of students in higher education per thousand.

Moldavian representation in the CPSU as well as in its own republic has been among the lowest of all the nationalities. In the 1980s, Moldavians were next to last among union republic nationalities in their share of total party membership. In the republic, Russians and Ukrainians held a disproportionate number of seats in the party. Of the nine Moldavian Republic's Central Committee members elected in 1971, five were Russian, three were Ukrainian, and one was Moldavian.

Data as of May 1989

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