MINELRES: U.S. English Foundation Official Language Research: Languages Issues in Moldova

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Thu May 19 07:46:02 2005

Original sender: Ionas Aurelian Rus <aurelianrus463@yahoo.com>

Language Research

3. Language issues: Where does one observe language to be a problem in
the country?

According to the 1989 state language law, a citizen should have the
option to choose which language to use in dealing with government
officials or commercial entities. Officials are obliged to know Russian
and Romanian/Moldovan "to the degree necessary to fulfill their
professional obligations". Since many Russian speakers do not speak
Romanian/Moldovan (while educated Moldovans speak both languages), they
argued for a delay in the implementation of the law in order to permit
more time to learn the language. Parliament has since postponed
implementation indefinitely. Addressing a minority concern, the
Constitution provides parents with the right to choose the language of
instruction for their children. 

In October of 1999 the Parliament approved the Government’s decision to
grant "district" status to Taraclia, a region in the south with a 64%
ethnic Bulgarian majority. The vote reversed the results of the
territorial-administrative reform begun in January, which had eliminated
Taraclia’s district status and merged it into a region where Bulgarians
would no longer constitute a majority. Voters in the Taraclia district
approved a referendum in January not to be included in the larger
district, with 88% of eligible voters participating and 92% voting in
favor of the referendum. 

In the separatist Transnistrian region, discrimination against
Romanian/Moldovan speakers has continued. State schools are required to
use the Cyrillic alphabet when teaching Romanian. Many teachers,
parents, and students objected to the use of the Cyrillic script to
teach Romanian. They believe that it disadvantages pupils who wish to
pursue higher education opportunities in the rest of the country or
Romania. The Cyrillic script was used to write the Romanian language in
Moldova until 1989. "Moldovan", as it was then called, was officially
decreed during the Soviet era to be a different language from Romanian,
which is written in the Latin alphabet. The 1989 Language Law
reinstituted the use of the Latin script. 

As a result of an agreement between the Government and the separatist
authorities, eight schools in the separatist region obtained permission
in 1996 to use the Latin alphabet, with salaries and textbooks to be
supplied by the Moldovan Ministry of Education. These schools are
considered private schools by the local authorities. They must pay rent
for their facilities and meet local curriculum requirements, building
codes, and safety standards. The Government has no budgetary provisions
for the high rents asked for these facilities. As a result, classes were
held in local homes or run in shifts in the few available buildings. 

After delaying its opening and threatening to keep it closed, the
separatist authorities allowed the Romanian Language School (Latin
alphabet) in Tiraspol to open in September without restriction from the
authorities. The school is operating three to four shifts per day to
accommodate the number of students. 

Updated (March 2002)

Representatives of ethnic minorities in Moldova support learning of the
Russian language in schools but disagree with the way the government
introduced this language as a compulsory study. 

The Chairwoman of the Union of Ukrainians in Moldova said: “I believe
the way they used to introduce the Russian language is not correct. No
force is needed here; the Ministry of Education should explain the
reasons for its moves before acting.” 

According to the other Ukrainian community leaders the authorities
should be concerned more with the Ukrainian language teaching, as the
Ukrainian minority is the largest community living in Moldova. 

Chairman of the Belarus Community in Moldova said also that there exists
another way to introduce the Russian language in the school curriculum
"in order to avoid tension in our society." 

Chairman of the Roma Association in Moldova is “not against the Russian
language, but he categorically disagrees with the introduction by force
of this study in school”. 

Updated (July 2002)


A series of demonstrations have been taking place in Moldova’s capital
Chisinau since January 2002. They are organized by the opposition
Christian-Democrat People’s Party (CDPP). 

The Moldovan protest movement comprises a wide range of participating
organizations: media, civil society, intellectuals, youth, etc.
According to the PACE (the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of
Europe) Draftsmen, the conflict between pro-Romanian and pro-Russian
positions bears great risks. 

The main sources of the troubles are certain educational reforms
proposed by the Communist majority in power. The Romanian-speaking
population protests against the laws providing for the Russian language
and history education, as well the changes in regional and local
government. The latter are already enforced. 

The decision of the Moldovan Government from June 12, 2002 to forbid the
form “the Romanian language and literature” in official acts and to
replace it by “the Moldovan language and literature” has caused many
protests. This also goes against the recommendations of the Council of

Moldovan is the State language, but its education seems to be a
challenge. Even representatives of the Russian-language minority deplore
the lack of knowledge and proficiency in Moldovan/Romanian, if not its
inexistence. This proves to be a handicap for the relevant population in
its relations with the government. Youngsters miss opportunities on the
labor market because of insufficient linguistic capacities. 

According to the draft government proposal, Russian will be an official
language. It is difficult to establish the difference between the two
concepts. The Russian language is a minority language, but it will
preserve its position as a common language. The great majority of the
population speaks it: it is the language of social and trade relations
between the country’s linguistic minorities. 

Source: http://www.eurolang.net/, Eurolang, Brussels, July 3, 2002 by
Emese Medgyesi 

Updated (October 2002)

At the beginning of this year, the Moldovan government adopted a
decision to introduce the Russian language as a compulsory subject in
pre-university institutions. This decision supported the revival of the
Russian language and effectively ignored social needs of the minorities
to learn Romanian. 

>From January public protests erupted in the center of Chisinau as a
reaction to this effort of the Communist Parliament majority. According
to the demonstrators it would violate the rights of the other national
minorities (Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Gagauz, etc.) living in the country.
Some parents of the non-Moldovan students, who believe their children
should be integrated into Moldovan society and study in the
Moldovan/Romanian language, expressed their disapproval and frustration
with the proposal and signed several petitions to stop it. 

The proportion of the Romanian population that is against mandatory
education in Russian has not changed substantially (74 percent in 1992
and 69 percent in November 2001). By contrast, among the members of
Ukrainian minority in 1992, only 19.5 percent believed that everyone
should be taught Russian, however, in 2001, it was almost 53 percent
(the questions were not fully identical). Among ethnic Russians, the
percentage has increased from 20.1 to 65 percent. 

Another effort of the communists was the proposal to amend the
Constitution and to make Russian the second official language alongside
Moldovan. Also the Bilateral Treaty between the Republic of Moldova and
the Russian Federation signed at the end of 2001 contained a paragraph
in the additional protocol stating that the Russian language must be
declared the second official language besides Moldovan (Romanian). 

According to the opinion poll conducted in November 2001, both these
decisions (Russian – a compulsory subject, Russian – the second official
language) were disapproved by about 58 percent of the population. The
former was supported by 35 percent, and the latter by only 33 percent of
the population. The proportion of Russians who believe that Russian
should become the second official language has increased from 52.7
percent to 71 percent. 

The following questions were asked in 1992: 

• "The Romanian Language should be required for minorities" 

80 percent of Moldovans, 43.2 percent of Ukrainians and 50.3 percent of
Russians agreed 

• "Each group should be required to learn only its own language" 

13.1 percent of Moldovans, 37.4 percent of Ukrainians and 27.2 percent
of Russians agreed 

Source: World Congress on Language Policies, Barcelona, April 16-20,
2002, "The Republic of Moldova: Dimension of the Gagauz socio-linguistic
model," by Ana Coretchi (Moldova), Ana Pascaru (Moldova), C. Stevens
(USA), http://www.linguapax.org/congres/taller/taller3/

Minelres News, by Ionas Aurelian Rus, a graduate student (ABD) in the
Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick,
ionasrus@rci.rutgers.edu, February 2, 2002 from the letter to the
Honorable Ambassador David H. Swartz, Chisinau 

Updated (July 2004)


On July 22, 2004 a special OSCE Permanent Council meeting was held to
examine the crisis in Moldova, where the authorities in the breakaway
Region of Transdniestria ordered the closure of schools that teach the
state language in Latin script. The OSCE High Commissioner on National
Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, especially criticized the closure of the school
in Tiraspol, which he had visited one day before the armed police
removed all its furniture and equipment. 

According to the OSCE, most likely, the action is designed to close all
schools in the region, which teach Moldovan/Romanian in Latin script. It
is estimated that around 40 percent of the population in the
Transdniestrian Region has Moldovan/Romanian as their mother tongue and
approximately 5,000 children have been studying the language in Latin
script in last ten years. However, Transdniestrian authorities claim
that Moldovan, written in Cyrillic script, is the only official language
of the region. 

Source: Mercator News, July 2004,

Updated (September 2004)


According to the President Voronin, Moldova may impose economic
sanctions against its rebel Dnestr Region to reverse their decision to
close the school teaching Romanian in Latin script. 

Voronin, who has long tried to annex Dnestr back to Moldova, threatened
to stop issuing foreign trade permits1 for the companies in Dnestr from
August 1, 2004, if the Region fails to ensure the right for schools to
teach Romanian in Latin script. 

The mostly Russian-speaking Dnestr Region broke away from Moldova, which
has a Romanian-speaking majority, in 1990, and the two fought a short
war in 1992. 

Dnestr controls the country's biggest steel plant, which exports the
bulk of its output to Western and Central Europe. Moldovan permits are
necessary for Dnestr because it is not recognized as a state by any
government and therefore it cannot trade. The withdrawal of the permits
means it could not export. 

The language issue in Moldova has been a source of many rows recently.
For authorities in Dnestr the closure of the school was part of a
campaign to stop the use of "non-approved script". They declare that
Romanian is the official language only when written in Cyrillic script,
as it was under the Soviet Union and not in Latin script as in Romania. 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the
closure as "linguistic cleansing", adding that about 40 percent of
Dnestr's population speak Romanian as their first language. 

Source: Divers Bulletin No. 27 (110), July 26, 2004, Chisinau,


1 "We will stop issuing export goods certificates to all companies in
the Dnestr Region and we will also stop registering customs procedures,"
Voronin said.


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