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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scarred Moldova Marks Independence

CHISINAU, Moldova -- On Sunday, hundreds of people are expected to turn out in a demonstration against Moldova's president, and he is thrilled.

President Mircea Snegur has a great deal to celebrate this weekend, which marks the third anniversary of Moldovan independence from the Soviet Union. For it is also the first such celebration when the country is certain it wants to stay independent.

It has been a rough three years. The Moldovans have had to suffer a war with the break-away republic of Transdnester in the country's east, sparked largely because its Russian speaking majority believed the Moldovan government planned to join Romania.

But the war has long been over and with it went the plans for reunification with Romania.

In February, Snegur's party won an absolute majority in Moldova's first multi-party elections to parliament, running on a platform of independence, neutrality and economic reform. In March that victory was confirmed when a nationwide poll showed that 94.5 percent of voters wanted Moldova to be independent.

Saturday will see the adoption of the republic's first constitution, putting the country's independent status into law. It also puts to rest a long debate over whether Moldovans speak Romanian or their own, separate language. They speak, according to the new basic law, Moldovan.

Speaking in an interview with The Moscow Times, Snegur acknowledged that the two languages -- Romanian and Moldovan -- were one and the same, but the issue is nonetheless important.

When Moldova seceded from the Soviet Union three years ago, there was a strong move towards Romania, its close neighbor. The official language changed from Russian to Romanian and the two countries tightened their political, economic and cultural links. The Romanian president Ion Illescu even declared reunification with Moldova as a "historic certainty."

But over the past two years Moldova's political opposition, which criticize Snegur for economic mismanagement, have had to grudgingly stand behind him on the issue of independence, marginalizing the pro-Romanian nationalists.

Oazu Nantoi, chairman of the opposition Social Democratic Party was contemptuous about the idea of reunification with Romania, from which most of Moldova was carved in 1941. "This issue is the job of romantics and provocateurs," he said.

But if the war is over, Moldova could be facing a still more difficult problem. The economy is sick and the harvest has failed twice owing to drought in the past two years.

Moldovans are poor and many are struggling. "I think we are just scraping by," said Ivan, 35, an office worker in Chisinau. "But then came the drought, followed by the hurricane this month. This is not going to be a very good winter. But what can we do?"

Electricity prices are rising and although the government has solved its huge debt problem with Gazprom in Russia, nobody interviewed expected the winter to be easy.

Figures released by the Moldovan Economics Ministry earlier this month show that average household expenses were 260 lei ($91) per month, but the average salary was only 84 lei ($21) per month. Income is falling way behind.

But Snegur said his government has created a stable currency. Inflation has dropped to a low of 3 percent this month compared with 51 percent in January.

"Preserving this stable environment is due to some tough monetary measures," he said. "We do have full support of the IMF and the World Bank in this activity."

Senior western experts based in Chisinau were also positive about Moldova's long-term prospects. As Snegur concluded: "We remain optimistic. If we could just have two good harvests we can get back on our feet."