The current unrest in Moldova over disputed election results has turned the international spotlight on the small former Soviet state and its complicated relationship with Europe and Russia.

For a lot of people, it is the first time that this complicated country has entered the modern consciousness. But for many centuries, the Republic of Moldova, to give its full name, has been at the center of numerous power struggles on Europe's eastern fringes.

Way back in the Middle Ages, the territory which is modern day Moldova was part of the Principality of Moldavia. It was then part of the Russian Empire from 1812 until the Russian Revolution in 1917 before becoming part of Romania. Its stewardship changed hands a number of times during World War II until it was absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1944.

It remained a part of the USSR until the fall of the Soviet Union and survived a short but bloody civil war before gaining its independence in 1991. Since then, Moldova has struggled to produce a stable economy and is currently one of the poorest nations in Europe. But despite its economic strife and its checkered history, Moldova has been relatively peaceful over the last 18 years.

All of which led to a certain amount of surprise when protesters ransacked Communist President Vladimir Voronin's office and the parliament building during demonstrations over allegedly rigged  parliamentary elections on Tuesday.

The violence seemed to erupt from nowhere, but the protests that rocked Moldova reflected tensions that have long been simmering in a poor corner of Europe perched on the East-West fault line.

"The deeper causes go back to questions of identity and what Moldova's future is," Samuel Greene, deputy director at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, told Deutsche Welle. "Moldova is still suffering from the aftermath of a civil war and it doesn't have full sovereignty over its territory. In addition, in order to keep the peace Voronin has struck a compromise with Russia by which it promises basically not to move towards unification with Romania, which was being discussed at some point; it promises to really not look that seriously at European Union membership and certainly not to look at NATO membership." ...

This article was originally published in Deutsche Welle.