On 31 August Moldova celebrates the Language Day
On 31 August 1989, while still a Soviet republic, the Supreme Soviet of the MSSR passed into law the establishment of the Romanian as the official language of the country and the return to Roman script. After the 1940 military occupation of Bessarabia by the USSR, Russian Cyrillic was re-imposed (after a break of 22 years) as the official alphabet of the newly founded Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1989, the date of 31 August has become the Limba Noastra (Our Language) Holiday in Moldova.
The language spoken in the Republic of Moldova became a political issue and still dominates the political debates in Moldova and in Moldova's relations with its neigbor Romania.
Moldovans speak Romanian, a Romance language that is the language of communication of the majority of Moldova’s native population and, according to the 2004 census conducted in Moldova, the mother tongue of over 70 percent of the country’s residents on the west bank of the Nistru.
Russia in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century called the Romanian language spoken in Moldova “Moldavian.” The roots of the issue are political, and they date back to the beginnings of the process of Russification, started after the incorporation of the eastern half of historic Moldova by czarist Russia in 1812. As far back as 1829, under Article 63 of Governor Mikhail Vorontsov’s “Regulations” for the oblast of Bessarabia, the use of the local language was forbidden in administration and public documents and replaced by the Russian language.
The last two handbooks in the province’s local language, Ioan Doncev’s Curs primitiv de limba rumână (An Elementary Course in the Romanian Language) and Abeceda rumână (A Romanian Primer) were published in 1865. Increasingly referred to as “Moldavian,” the local language came to be banned from all schools in 1871 while, up until the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, Russification steadily continued its course in public administration, church, and education. After the 1918–1940 interwar period, the return of Moscow’s rule over the land at the outbreak of World War II brought back Russian as the language of the newly founded Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR), with the local language spuriously dubbed “Moldavian” one more time.
Currently, Moldova’s language issue involves two interconnected questions. The first one stems from the dispute involving Moldavian versus Russian as the first common language of communication. In Moldova’s secessionist trans-Nistrian districts, where Russian is spoken as a mother tongue by a majority of the urban population, the issue became a hot topic and a powerful bone of contention in 1989, when it was used as a political means of sharpening divisions before the proclamation of the Moldavian Transnistrian Republic (MTR), where Russian continues to be the self-proclaimed republic’s official language for education, business, the courts, and general communication.
The second question boils down to whether the local language spoken by the country’s majority should be called “Moldovan” or “Romanian.” Some Russophile views hold that, in the family of the Romance languages, the language spoken in Moldova is a distinct one, to be viewed as a separate language in its own right, and thus justifiably entitled to a different name. Linguistic authority and common sense concur, however, in the conclusion that there is no such thing as a “Moldovan” (or “Moldavian”) language. The language recognized in 1989 as the official language of the Republic of Moldova is Romanian, with a regional touch and accent, just as—in spite of its specific southern drawl—English, not “Georgian,” is spoken in the U.S. state of Georgia. In 2003, a Chisinau left-wing politician and linguistic champion of “Moldovanness” (V. Stati) wrote a “Moldovan-Romanian” dictionary striving to argue for the impossible proposition that “Moldovan” and Romanian are two distinct languages. The Institute of Linguistics of the Republic of Moldova and other internationally recognized Romance-languages specialists have unanimously described Stati’s bogus dictionary as a piece of nonsense.
In the trans-Nistrian districts, the alphabet issue fueled heated debates starting 1989, became central to the secessionist movement, and was quick to develop into a “school war” waged by the Tiraspol separatists against schools which opted for Latin characters. The crisis surrounding the alphabet issue in Moldova’s trans-Nistrian districts escalated again when four Romanian-language schools in Tiraspol, Râbniţa, Tighina, and Corjova were closed by the Tiraspol authorities in July 2004. When, in order to reimpose the Russian-Slavonic alphabet, the Tiraspol militia seized the orphanage school in Tighina, the incident caught the attention of the international community and the media. Students returning from their summer vacation were barred from entering the precincts and had to spend the night on the street. Moldova appealed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to use its influence and put an end to the closing down of schools in the trans-Nistrian breakaway region on grounds of their using the Latin alphabet in the education process. As of 2005, only eight schools (licensed by the trans-Nistrian local administration as “private schools”) were allowed to use the Roman script in the region controlled by the Tiraspol authorities. The other 81 Romanian-language schools in the breakaway region use the Russian- Slavonic alphabet in the teaching of the language, dubbed “Moldavian.”
* The Information used in this article is from the Historical Dictionary of Moldova, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. (USA); 2007 second edition, 496pp.