The culture of Moldova is a combination of Romanian culture and Soviet culture. The traditional Latin origins of Romanian culture reach back to the 2nd century, the period of Roman colonization in Dacia.
During the centuries following the Roman withdrawal in 271, the population of the region was influenced by contact with the Byzantine Empire, neighboring Slavic, Magyar and other smaller populations, and later by the Ottoman Turks. Beginning in the nineteenth century, a strong West European (particularly French) influence came to be evident in Romanian literature and the arts. The resulting mélange has produced a rich cultural tradition. Although foreign contacts were an inevitable consequence of the region’s geography, their influence only served to enhance a vital and resilient popular culture.
The population of what once was the Principality of Moldavia (1359–1859) had come to identify itself widely as “Moldovan” by the 14th century, but continued to maintain close cultural links with other Romanian groups. After 1812, the eastern Moldavians, those inhabiting Bessarabia and Transnistria, were also influenced by the Slavic culture: during the periods 1812–1917, and 1940–1989, they were influenced by Russian, respectively Soviet administrative control, as well and by ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking immigration.
By 1918, Bessarabia was one of the least developed, and least educated European regions of the Russian Empire. In 1930, its literacy rate was only 40 percent, according to a Romanian census, itself a huge increase from 12 percent some 30 years earlier under the Russian Empire. Especially low was the literacy rate for women: less than 10 percent in 1918 to just under 50 percent in 1940. Although Soviet authorities promoted education (not the least to spread communist ideology), they also did everything they could to break the region’s cultural ties with Romania. With many ethnic Romanian intellectuals, either fleeing, being killed after 1940, or being deported both during and after World War II, Bessarabia’s cultural and educational situation worsened. The country became more Russified.
After 1960s, Soviet authorities developed urban cultural and scientific centers and institutions that were subsequently filled with Russians, and with other non-Romanian ethnic groups, but this culture was superimposed and alien. Much of the urban culture came from Moscow; the rural ethnic Romanian population was allowed to express itself only in folklore or folk art.
Although the folk arts flourished, similarities with were hidden. Music and dance, particularly encouraged by Soviet authorities, were made into a showcase, but were subtly distorted to hide their Romanian origins. For example, the national folk costume, in which the traditional Romanian moccasin (opinca) was replaced by the Russian boot.
Moldova’s traditional folk culture is very rich. The ancient folk ballads, such as “Mioriţa” and “Meşterul Manole” play a central role in this traditional culture. Folk traditions, including ceramics and weaving, continue to be practiced in rural areas. The folk culture tradition is promoted at the national level and is represented by, among other groups, the republic’s dance company, Joc, and by the folk choir, Doina.