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Moldovan Leader Defiant In 'Soviet Occupation' Row With Russia

Acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu lays a bouquet of flowers at a memorial for victims of the Soviet occupation in Chisinau on June 28.
CHISINAU -- Acting Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu has said Russia should "respect the will of the Moldovans" and stop criticizing a new national holiday marking Moldova's occupation by Soviet troops at the beginning of World War II, RFE/RL's Moldovan Service reports.

Ghimpu last week issued a decree making June 28 a day of "remembrance and mourning" for the 1940 Soviet invasion of eastern Romania, including the territory that is now Moldova.

The Russian Foreign Ministry this week criticized Ghimpu's decree, calling it an attempt to "rewrite history." A similar statement was passed unanimously on June 30 by the Russian State Duma.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on July 1 called on Muscovites and all Russians to boycott Moldovan goods until Moldova apologizes for the decree and cancels it.

Ghimpu shrugged off Luzhkov's remarks, saying "the fate of the Moldovan nation is more important than a few apples and carrots."

Officials in Moldova's four-party ruling coalition -- including Democrat Party leader Marian Lupu and Justice Minister Alexandru Tanase -- have also been critical of Ghimpu's decree.

The opposition Communist Party has said the decree is a veiled attempt to worsen ties with Russia and to possibly outlaw the communists.

Russia is Moldova's biggest trade partner and one of its key markets for the country's main exports of fruit and wine.

Present-day Moldova, with the exception of its separatist Transdniester region, was part of Romania until World War II. It was annexed by the Soviets through the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1940.

Romania won it back one year later in the German-led attack on the Soviet Union, but at the end of the war it became a Soviet republic.

The Soviet occupation is still considered an act of liberation by some Moldovans who grew up in Soviet times.