Moldova, which hosts the second summit of the European Political Community on Thursday where 47 heads of state and government will convene, is landlocked between Ukraine and EU member Romania.
One of Europe’s least visited countries, it is known for its wine industry and Orthodox monasteries. A frozen conflict over the mainly Russian-speaking Transnistria breakaway region is a key political issue.
Here are five things to know about the little ex-Soviet country, which this week will become the centre of European diplomacy:
– Between Russia and Europe –
Under pro-European President Maia Sandu, who defeated the country’s Russia-friendly incumbent Igor Dodon at the end of 2020, Moldova applied last year to join the EU and in June 2022 became a candidate country, alongside Ukraine.
The country’s pull between Moscow and Brussels reflects a complex history and a polarised society.
It was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, then was under Russian rule and then part of Romania before becoming the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940. It became independent from the USSR in 1991 and was renamed Moldova.
Moldova’s main language is Romanian. Russian is also quite widely spoken and many Moldovans work in the EU and Russia. The minority Turkic population speaks the Gagauz language, listed as endangered by UNESCO.
– One of Europe’s poorest countries –
Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries.
According to the World Bank, in 2021 the country had a gross domestic product per capita of $5,230 — slightly more than a third of that of Romania and less than an eighth of that of France.
The country relies in large part on remittances sent by people working abroad, but this has caused the working-age population to fall sharply.
The nation’s army of 6,500 soldiers is equipped with mostly dilapidated equipment dating from the Soviet era that hasn’t been modernised.
Meanwhile, Moldova has one of the lowest employment rates in Europe, particularly among its Roma population.
– Wine and tourism –
With its 300 days of sunshine per year, the climate in Moldova is ideal for agriculture and particularly vineyards.
The wine industry is a major economic sector, representing three percent of Moldova’s GDP and eight percent of the country’s total exports, according to government data.
Moldovan wine is being exported into over 70 states worldwide.
Barely larger than Belgium, the country has 122,000 hectares of vineyards and is among the twenty largest producers in the world, according to a report by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV).
Moldova registered a total of 152,000 tourists last year, of which only 29,000 were foreigners.
– Breakaway region –
The Russia-backed breakaway region of Transnistria is one of the most complex issues for the country of 2.6 million people.
The Russian-speaking region broke away after a brief civil war following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is not internationally recognised.
Moscow helps prop up the region which has close to 400,000 people. Its currency is called the ruble.
Moscow maintains around 1,500 soldiers and a large stockpile of ammunition in Transnistria. Moldova has repeatedly called for the region to be demilitarised.
– Inspiration for Tintin, comedians –
Moldova’s identity as one of the least-known countries in Europe has prompted authors to create fictional nations with similar names — Belgian cartoon character Tintin visited a place called Syldavia, while a group of Australian comedians wrote a parody travel guide to a generic eastern European country called “Molvania”.
British comedian Tony Hawks wrote a book called “Playing the Moldovans at Tennis” about his bid to win a bet that he could beat the entire Moldovan football team on a court.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.