Having regained its independence in the wake of collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova has grown progressively poorer under successive communist governments , which have ruled the country since 2001. Two thirds of the four million Moldovans are Romanian speakers, and the remainder are Russian speaking. Romania's accession to the EU in 2007 has made it a destination of choice for for the young generation of Romanian speaking Moldovans. "Given that the Republic of Moldova is not ready to join the EU," points out sociologist Dan Dungaciu. "These young people are hoping to organize their own individual integration within the Union, and Romanian nationality is the key to that."

On 14 April, Romanian President Traian Basescu addressed the Romanian parliament to plead on behalf of Moldovans. "We cannot allow a new generation of Moldovans to be deprived of the opportunity to study in Romania, or other European countries," he declared. The head of state demanded that the government in Bucharest accelerate procedures to allow Romanian speaking Moldovans to obtain passports. Since then, approximately 800,000 passport applications have been submitted to the Romanian consulate in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau.

Moldovan government angered at Bucharest passport policy

The new policy in Bucharest has displeased the Moldovan government and has soured relations between the two countries. Romanian-Moldovan tensions reached fever pitch on the occasion of the Moldovan general elections on 5 April. Demonstrations erupted into violence in Chisinau, which culminated in a fire at the parliament building. The democratic pro-European opposition had contested the victory of the communists, led by President Vladimir Voronin, who has close links with Russia.

The Moldovan head of state accused Romania of instigating the unrest in Chisinau with a view to annexing Moldova, and imposed a visa requirement on Romanian citizens. The violent response to anti-communist demonstrations in Chisinau only served to heighten the anger of M. Basescu who declared to the Romanian parliament: "In the 21st century, we are faced with the absence of state of law, ethnic discrimination, the oppression of political opponents, and censorship. All of these elements have contributed to an atmosphere of terror."

The victory of the anti-communist opposition in early general elections on 29 July should help to calm relations between the two countries. The Moldovan students in Romania, who are at the vanguard of the changes in Chisinau, are delighted by their victory. "At last,we will be able to seriously discuss joining the EU," points out Andrei Babtcinetchi, a Moldovan economics student in Bucharest. "We developed a taste for freedom very quickly."

However, the Communist Party, which obtained 48 of a total of 101 seats, still remains the main political force in the country. It will no doubt have its say in the discussions, in particular because 61 votes in parliament are required to elect a new president. But, setting aside questions of political arithmetic, the election results have reignited hope to Moldovans striving to obtain Romanian passports. "According to our forecasts, approximately two million Moldovans will be granted Romanian nationality," concludes President Traian Basescu — in other words, half of the Moldovan population.