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The language heat in Moldova

06:12, 22-го лютого 2021 · Джерело: institutedd.org

The language heat in Moldova
January 2021 proved to be highly controversial due to the heated debates within the Moldavian society about the language issue. They were caused by the Constitutional Court’s decision to declare the law on the functioning of languages in Moldova unconstitutional, which gave Russian the status of a language of interethnic communication. That is, de facto, made it the second state language.

The court's decision suggests that this law actually duplicates the already existing language legislation and limits the rights of languages of other ethnic groups living on the territory of the republic. This decision of the Constitutional Court provoked an immediate angry reaction on the part of Socialists and their supporters, who began to claim the denial of national minorities’ rights in the country.

On December 3, 2020, the Socialists Party of the Republic of Moldova, along with the Șor party and the “Pentru Moldova” parliamentary group, formed a new majority in the parliament, which with wanton disregard for procedure voted for 14 bills, including the law on the status of the Russian language. The relevant commissions and NGOs criticized the bill, and some had not even seen it before it was put to the vote. The only thing that was clearly defined in this bill was the status of the Russian language as a language of interethnic communication. Why did the Socialists need this law right now?

As statistics shows, the reasonableness of such steps is unclear. According to the 2014 census, 78.6% of Moldova citizens speak the state language. As for Russian, 14.5% indicated it as the language of “communication”, and 9.7% indicated it as their native language. Only 4.1% of the population consider themselves ethnic Russians, the rest are representatives of other nationalities (Ukrainians, Gagauz, Bulgarians and others).

If we consider the data for each nationality, it turns out that, for example, from the total number of Ukrainians, who make up 6.6% of the total of Moldova’s population, 61% indicated Ukrainian as the language most often used for communication. The situation is similar with Gagauz (63.8% of 4.6% of total population) and Bulgarians (59.8% of 1.9%).

In this case, the court’s decision reasonably and rightly states that giving the Russian language a special status is discrimination of other ethno-linguistic groups. The world practice has proved that it is the state language that plays the role of the language for interethnic communication. Other languages ​​may get the status of regional and have preferences on a particular territory, but there is a single language at the state level. This is the practice, for example, in Austria, where a single state language and three other regional languages ​​operate in certain federal states. This is how the languages function in Russia too. There is only one state language and the ethnic language within the autonomy. At least, it should be so...

Returning to Moldova, there is also a system of “state – regional language”. The Law on the Status of National Minorities Representatives gives communities the right to use their language within certain administrative units. The problem is that sometimes the members of minorities always do not even know about it, which therefore gives reasons for manipulation.

The Russian language already had the status of interethnic communication in Moldova. Back in August 1989, a law was passed on the functioning of languages ​​on the territory of the then MRSD, which returned Romanian the status of the state language, however, at the same time, it gave a special status to the Russian language. It motivated the separatists from Gagauzia and Transnistria, to threaten to secede if the status of the Russian language in the republic changed. However, the proposed compromise did not help and, after incites from Moscow, both regions still declared their independence. Gagauzia was reintegrated as autonomy in 1994, and in Transnistria it all ended in war and a frozen conflict that continues to date.

Nevertheless, this law has been in effect for all these years, until 2018 when the Constitutional Court terminated it. The grounds were the same as in 2021. At that time, Igor Dodon had been holding the president’s office for two years. And since 2019, he and his loyal Socialist Party had had almost all the power, but the language issue did not bother anyone then. Only in December 2020 they returned to it. Why? What has changed?

In November 2020, Dodon loses the presidential election to the pro-European candidate Maia Sandu. Opinion polls show that if new parliamentary elections are held, the pro-European PAS party is gaining more votes than the PSRM. It is during this time that the Socialists bring up the language issue, deliberately passing through the parliament the law that will be repealed by the Constitutional Court. As soon as the decision of the Court became known, the PSRM began to press the issue of Russophobia and chauvinism in Moldova.

The majority of Moldavian society is surprised by this policy of the socialists. Even some other pro-Russian politicians, such as Mark Tkaciuk and Renato Usatîi, have spoken out against the PSRM's actions, which, in their view, deliberately fuel the interethnic conflict. Politicians note that such actions conducted by the Socialists may have severe consequences for Moldova. And every sensible person can see it. However, Dodon is more concerned with the need to mobilize his electorate at the possible early parliamentary election. The main electorate for the PSRM includes mostly the representatives of national minorities living in the north and south of the country.

However, recently, the Socialists have lost their influence even over this category of people. At the same time, Sandu became the first candidate from the right wing to start a dialogue with the representatives of national minorities. If she succeeds in this area, the political capital of the PSRM will be undermined. In these circumstances, the pro-Russian Socialist Party, led by its new old leader Dodon (in December 2020, he assumed the leadership of the PSRM again, which he had chaired before his presidency), found nothing better than taking up the language issue and intimidating the public with chauvinism, nationalism and fascism. Doesn’t it resemble anything?

Russia’s reaction was not long in coming. Almost immediately, the Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its concern over the decision of the Constitutional Court of Moldova, as they noticed the impact of external governance and human rights violations in it. However, there is nothing new in such statements made by Russia. For many years, the Kremlin has speculated on the Russian language problem for its own favor, supporting the escalation of interethnic conflicts, which lets it keep the former satellite countries in its sphere of influence, and sometimes use this issue as a ground for the armed intervention, like it was in Ukraine in 2014 and in Moldova in 1992.

Today, the PSRM enjoying Russia’s support is literally creating a conflict where none exists. But, in general, for Moldova, such reckless actions of politicians can have very negative long-term consequences. As history shows, the fire of the interethnic conflicts is very easy to start, but it is almost impossible to extinguish…

Roman Russu
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