The first mention of Chișinău refers to a Declaration of 1436 where it is said that it got the status of city when becoming a part of the Russian Empire.
Chișinău – is the modern day capital of the Republic of Moldova. Essentially to many of its inhabitants the place is called ‘Keeshy-now’ but was formerly known as Kishinyov. It is has also been referred to as Kishinev or Kišin’ov.
The best theory is that the name of the city belongs to the old Romanian language – Kishly Noua – roughly meaning ‘new farm’.
The national flag (Drapelul Moldovei) is inspired by the flag of Romania – the two countries share a symbol which reflects the two countries close national and cultural affinity.
Travelling from Bucharest on a late June morning on arrival Chișinău feels different to the rapidly developing Romanian capital. With its elegant boulevards and occasional upmarket suburban neighbourhoods Bucharest could easily be mistaken for Paris at least in places. In contrast Chișinău could easily be mistaken for Volgograd or any one of the many Ukrainian cities which sit to the east.
It’s not so much drab but the Modovan capital just aches with echoes of its Soviet past.
The clue to its current identity comes in the proximity of Moldova – on the edge of Eastern Europe – next to Ukraine and the former USSR.
At the tail end of the Napoleonic era Chișinău was ceded to Russia along with the rest of Bessarabia or to give it its name then the Guberniya of Moldova and Bessarabia.
Following World War I the city was briefly included in the Kingdom of Romania as Chișinău. But it was ceded with the rest of Bessarabia back to the Soviet Union in 1940 partly due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Between 1940 and 1991 this was the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic or simply Moldavia – one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union. It bordered Romania, Ukraine and also importantly at its most easterly point gave access to the Black Sea.
Underneath it all however like many Soviet states this was always a different political entity to the vast majority of the Soviet Union. Years of attempting to create a pan-Romanian national political consciousness was suppressed by Moscow but the growth of people identifying as ‘Moldovans’ and speaking the language ‘Moldovan’ increased as 1989 neared.
Zimbru Chișinău were formed in 1947 in the Moldovan Soviet Republic, functioning for years under various club names. The names were as wide ranging as Burevestnik Kishinev and Moldova Kishinev, Dinamo, Avântul, and Nistru Chisinau.
Burevestnik had various connotations during the Soviet period (including petrol and anarchy) but it was in Soviet times simply a voluntary sports society of students and teachers.
The Soviet era was spent mostly in the Second League class B until eventual promotion to Class A (Third tier). The club dipped regularly between these divisions but spent time in the Soviet Top League and First League.
In total, Zimbru spent 11 seasons in the Soviet Top League between 1956 and 1983 making them Moldova’s most successful side during the period of the USSR. Zimbru enjoyed its biggest success in 1956 when they finished 6th in the Soviet Higher League. In 1963 hopes of a Soviet win were ended when (then known as Moldova Kishinev) they reached the quarter-finals of the Soviet Cup before losing to Kyrat Alma-Ata.
The Romanian national football team has reached great heights in world football since national freedom from the communist block was attained. The team gained an all time high, ironically, at the 1994 USA World Cup falling short at the quarter final stage when hopes had been high of a top four place.
The Moldovan Football Federation was established in 1990 and the national football team did not play an official international match until 1991. Unlike Romanian the team have struggled with Moldova finishing either last or second last in all UEFA tournament qualifying campaigns entered to date.
Moldovan football has not engaged the same benefits as other former Soviet States have due to a multitude of reasons. One of the most evident being internal economic stagnation and the lingering issues of ethnic separatism.
With the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova (Declarația de independență a Republicii Moldova) in 1991, Zimbru’s fortunes initially changed after the fall of the USSR and the establishment of the Republic of Moldova. They dominated the domestic league but since 2000 have been in the shadow of FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
The problems for Chisinau’s football clubs have been multiple.
For one, Moldova is a country that has struggled to establish itself as a viable state separate from Romania and there is no real tradition of football self-governance. Moreover, if the Faroe Islands are an outlier in the Atlantic, Moldova is as far east as you can get. Indeed in more modern times they officially border a state at war – namely Ukraine.
Without strong football traditions as part of the Soviet Union National Team (the USSR never played a game at the Kishinev Republican Stadium) it has proved difficult for Moldova to find football leaders in the free market economy era.
Pavel Cebanu is possibly Moldova’s greatest ever player and as President of the FAM until 2019 he tried to drive Moldovan football forward. However, his reign was beset by claims of match fixing in the Moldovan domestic leagues.
As with other aspects of Moldovan society football’s movement to being driven by individuals rather than a committee has resulted in considerable economic dislocation; a loss of consistent player production and allegations of corruption.
Finally, the other problem for Chisinau’s football clubs is that economic development in Moldova has always been impeded by the fact that much of Moldovan industry is located in the separatist region of Transnistria. This ‘frozen zone’ proclaimed independence from Moldova in 1990. The area is also the source of much of Moldova’s electricity and the home of the best football team – FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
They accordingly have dominated Moldovan football for the last 20 years.
Moldova leads the unwanted table of poverty in Europe. While the national football team is not rooted to the bottom of UEFA’s ranking table it’s easy to see – when you are on a walkabout in Chisinau – why they are in the shadow of nearby Romania. While historically the kinship between the two is evident footballing infrastructure in Chisinau lags some way behind that of Romania.
Moldova continues to be at a crossroads; a crossroads between the modern struggling to develop Chisinau and the former wider area it was once part of – the large and grandiose USSR.
*The Moldovan Declaration of Independence directly claims Moldovan sovereignty over the territory of Transnistria. The declaration sees it as ‘a component part of the historical and ethnic territory of our Moldova’. However this region declared independence from the Moldovan SSR in 1990 and formed the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The PMSSR had not been recognised as a legitimate Soviet republic by either the Soviet Union or the Moldovan SSR. Even in 2023 it remains, in effect, a ‘frozen conflict zone’ with its own currency the Transnistria Ruble and the area is unrecognised by Moldova or EU politics and in effect – according to UEFA – merely another part of Moldova.