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5th Dec 2022

Moldova facing Europe's worst demographic crisis

  • A young Moldovan. According to a survey, one-in-three remaining Moldovans would like to leave the country (Photo: EUobserver)

As Moldova prepares to mark 30 years since gaining independence from the Soviet Union, the eastern European is haunted by its staggering population loss.

Nearly a third of its population has left over the past three decades, making the country one of the worst hit by the demographic decline seen throughout many parts of post-communist Europe.

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  • Many Moldovans have taken up Romanian citizenship in order to move freely within the European Union (Photo: European Parliament)

Moldova declared independence from the then Soviet Union in August 1991, before being officially recognised by the United Nations in March 1992.

According to an analysis by the Chisinau-based Institute for Development and Social Initiative (IDIS) Viitorul, from 1991 to now, the population of the Republic of Moldova has decreased by almost 1.5 million people.

The number of Moldovan citizens is now at 2.9 million - including citizens on the left bank of the Dniester, representing the breakaway Transnistria region, where there are just over 300,000 Moldovan citizens left.

The findings show that Moldova is nearing its population level of 1950, if the trend continues.

The most recent census, dating back from 2014, puts the country's population at 2.8 million, down from 4.3 million recorded by the 1989 census.

Data from Moldova's statistics bureau highlight the dramatic fall in population in the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

According to Veaceslav Ioniță, the IDIS expert on economic policies, in 1991 Moldova's population reached 4,364,000, including the people of Transnistria with 731 thousand citizens counted there. Thus, for 30 years, the number of Moldovan citizens left in the country decreased by 1,5 million: 1, 036 million fewer on the right bank of the Dniester and 425 thousand citizens fewer in the Transnistria region.

The breakaway Transnistria region saw the most shocking population fall, decreasing from 731,000 to 306,000 over the past 30 years.

"I don't think you will find another country in Europe, or another region, where we have such a depopulation as it happens on the left bank of the Dniester," said the economist.

The loss of population is down to several factors - both negative demographic growth, plus Moldovans leaving for work abroad, or even taking up Romanian citizenships in order to move freely within the European Union.

However, by doing so it meant that they now appeared in statistics as Romanians, and so their numbers are almost impossible to track.

Troubled by political upheaval, extreme poverty and corruption, it's no surprise that even with a severely-dwindling population, remaining Moldavians are still looking for a way out. According to a survey, one-in-three Moldovans would still like to leave the country.

Existential threat

The devastating loss in population is not only causing labour shortages and a severe lack of professionals in key fields such as healthcare, but threatens the very existence of the state.

Speaking to EUobserver, Armand Gosu, a specialist in the ex-Soviet region, said that Moldova's population shrinkage needs to be discussed in existential terms.

"The stake is huge. We are talking about the very the survival of a state. Throughout history, states have appeared and disappeared. Moldova's population crises speaks about the validity of its existence as a state."

Gosu said that a success of the governing coalition and an improved economy could slow down the rate of depopulation. "There are no countries without people, hence the huge task ahead and the challenge the new government has to face", he told EUobserver.

For the trend to change, Moldova needs an overhaul of its governance and a drastic break with past oligarch practices - which the current government has said it will undertake.

Moldova's recently elected pro-European president, as well the current parliamentary majority, promised zero tolerance towards corruption, calling for the combined effort of all pro-European forces to meet citizens' expectations.

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist contributing to EUobserver, Euronews, EU Reporter, Katoikos, Von Mises Institute, and bne IntelliNews, with a particular focus on European and regional affairs.

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