The elimination of the Moldovan language and the pro-Russians’ fury. Moscow is losing the key tools it used to maintain its influence in Moldova

Supporters of Socialists and Communists political party protest in front of the Constitutional Court in Chisinau, Moldova, 06 March 2023.
© EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU   |   Supporters of Socialists and Communists political party protest in front of the Constitutional Court in Chisinau, Moldova, 06 March 2023.

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A new attempt by the PAS majority in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova to resolve the language dispute brings this issue back into the political confrontation in Chisinau.

The change in the legislation of the phrase “Moldovan language” with “Romanian language” caused clashes in Parliament on Thursday, March 2, and on Monday, March 6, the Communists and the Socialists protested in front of the Constitutional Court.

Several dozens of people led by Socialist and Communist MPs chanted: “We are Moldovans”, “Moldovan language”. They came in front of the Court with placards with the inscriptions “Moldova, Moldovans, Moldovan”, “Moldovans speak Moldovan”, “Moldovan language is at home”, “Observe the constitution”. The Socialist MPs accused the PAS majority of attacking “something that is sacred - the mother tongue” and referred to art. 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, which stipulates the “Moldovan language” as the state language.

The linguistic and identity issue has persisted throughout the Republic of Moldova’s 30 years of independence. The most important claim during the national liberation movement of 1988-91 – the recognition of the Romanian language as the official language and the fact that Moldovans are part of the Romanian people – was hijacked in the following years by politicians from the old communist nomenclature, who also succeeded to include in the Constitution the phrase “the Moldovan language” as the state language.

The Moldovan language, used by the Soviets to invent a people and justify the occupation of a Romanian territory

The Moldovan language was the main tool used by the Soviets to shape a people on the right side of the Prut River, different from the Romanian one, after the occupation of this territory in 1940. Thus, the Latin alphabet was replaced by the Cyrillic one, and the Soviet ideologues also developed several theories regarding the Slavic origin of the Moldovan language and people. The lie was supported by massive propaganda in schools and repressive policies against everything that was claimed as Romanian in this space. Romanian writers, with some exceptions, were not allowed to be studied in schools, and Romanian books and press could not be found anywhere in the MSSR. The very word “Romanian” was banned or used only in a negative context. The Romanian (Moldovan) language was considered inferior to Russian; to make a career in the Soviet period you had to be able to speak the Russian language first.

The Soviets managed to deeply influence the mentality and beliefs of the population, which largely explains the success the Moldovenist theses enjoyed in the Republic of Moldova after it gained its independence. A second important factor is the promotion of these theses even after independence, both by Moscow - which dominated the media space in the Republic of Moldova for many years - and by pro-Russian politicians in Chisinau. At the same time, the propagandists and promoters of the Moldovenist trend skillfully manipulate the age of the language, the fact that the Moldovan language is older than the Romanian language, or even the fact that the Slavonic language and writing were used by Romanians in the church and at the royal court.

If in the MSSR, linguistic policies were aimed at cultivating the Moldovan identity to justify the Soviet occupation and territorial abduction, now the linguistic issue is maintained by the pro-Russian party with the aim of distancing the Republic of Moldova from Romania and the EU and keeping it, further, in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence. Thus, the Romanian-speaking population remains deeply divided between those who identify themselves as Romanians and those who consider themselves Moldovans, different from Romanians, and who speak a different language than Romanian.

The existence of the Republic of Moldova as a state, closely related to the national revival movement centered on the Romanian language

In fact, the very existence of the Republic of Moldova as a state is closely related to the linguistic issue. The national revival movement of 1988-1991, which ended with the proclamation of the independence of the Republic of Moldova, had as its main objective the regaining of the national identity, which the Soviet regime had tried for decades to suppress and replace with an invented identity. The participants in the Great National Assemblies of those years, who came to Chisinau from all corners of the MSSR, first of all demanded the return to the Romanian language written in Latin alphabet and the conferment of the status of official language, the recognition that they belong to the Romanian nation, and share a history, culture and traditions.

Following the Great National Assembly on August 27, 1989, when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demanded that the Romanian language in Latin alphabet be reinstated, the deputies adopted the first important set of laws on the functioning of languages ​​and the return to the Latin alphabet on 31 August 1989. This was the most important victory of the national emancipation movement. National claims were followed by political ones - free elections, the declaration of sovereignty, in 1990, and the independence of the Republic of Moldova from the USSR, in 1991. The declaration of independence   spoke of the Romanian language as the “state language”, and following the education reform implemented over that period, the subjects “Romanian language and literature” and “Romanian history” were introduced into the school curriculum.

The return of the Soviet nomenclature and the “Moldovan language”

The national revival movement lost momentum with the independence of the Republic of Moldova, which was faced two major crises from the very beginning: the separatism in Gagauzia and Transnistria which, in the second case, led to a war in which the Russian Federation also got involved on the side of the separatists. The new state was also facing an ever-increasing decline in the economy and the social issues triggered as a result of that decline. Moreover, the national renaissance movement had started to become increasingly fragmented, and it is worth noting that Iurie Roșca, at that time one of the characters with the most radical Romanian discourse, played an important role in this fragmentation. 15 years later, Iurie Roșca became an important ally of the communist Vladimir Voronin and then a promoter in the Republic of Moldova and Romania of Aleksandr Dughin, known as Putin’s ideologue. For several years now, Roșca has been promoting a series of conspiracy theories and false narratives similar to those launched via the Russian means of disinformation. This political evolution gives weight to the doubts expressed since the beginning of the 90s by other representatives of the national revival movement – such as, for instance, Gheorghe Ghimpu - regarding Iurie Rosca’s true loyalties and intentions.

Against this background of overlapping crises,  the Communists came back to power in 1993 and placed at the helm of Parliament Petru Lucinschi, whose career as an activist had ended with the post of first secretary of the Communist Party of the Moldavian SSR, which he held until 1991.

The parliament dominated by the representatives of the former regime adopted the country's Constitution in 1994 and introduced in it, in Article 13, the phrase “Moldovan language” as the official language. It was a partial restoration, since the power at that time did not have the courage to also impose the return to the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Moldovan language, the Romanian language and the state language. Turning language into a political instrument

The adoption of the Constitution marked the beginning of almost three decades of controversy in society, intentionally maintained by politicians, especially those from the pro-Russian parties. This also fueled the “Moldovanist” thesis, revived and promoted as state policy by Vladimir Voronin’s Party of Communists. Perhaps the most ridiculous moment of the period was the publication of the Moldovan-Romanian dictionary. Its author, Vasile Stati, also wrote a preface containing a virulent attack on Romania, which clearly shows that his pseudo-scientific approach was, in fact, an ideological one.

Later, the banner of Moldovanism was taken over by the Party of Socialists, led by Voronin's disciple, Igor Dodon, a self-declared pro-Russian, who uses every opportunity to resume the false narratives regarding the existence of a Moldovan language and nation,  distinct from the Romanian one.

There was also a second category, of those who would avoid saying what language they spoke, hiding behind phrases like “state, official, mother tongue, etc.” One famous statement in this regard is that of the former Parliament Speaker, Marian Lupu, who said that from a scientific point of view the language was Romanian, and from a political point of view, Moldovan.  

On the other hand, the academic community has repeatedly stressed, through statements issued by the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, that the official language is Romanian and that the correct name of the language spoken by the majority of the population is Romanian. Writers, the democratic press, the intelligentsia kept defending the Romanian language in the Republic of Moldova and denouncing the interference of politicians in identity issues.

For example, in 1995, the Democratic Agrarian Party's attempts to bring back the “Moldovan Language and Literature” and “Moldovan History” and “integrate” them into the school curriculum instead of “Romanian History” were prevented by massive student protests in Chisinau. The students’ general strike that lasted for several months was joined by teachers, pupils, educational institutions from all over the Republic of Moldova, who protested against the attempts to impose scientific and historical forgery in education. In addition to keeping the “Romanian History” and “Romanian Language and Literature” courses, the protesting students also requested the amendment of art. 13 of the Constitution. The student demonstrations in in favour of the Romanian language and history were supported by writers such as Dumitru Matcovschi, Grigore Vieru, Nicolae Dabija, and by the democratic media in Chisinau.

The pro-Romanian political parties that campaigned for amending Article 13, even if they had constant popular support, never had the parliamentary majority needed to change the legislation. On September 17, 2013, a group of Liberal deputies filed a referral regarding the interpretation of art. 13 of the Constitution in correlation with the preamble of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Moldova, requesting the Constitutional Court to grant the Declaration of Independence adopted on August 27, 1991, the status of constitutional norm, thus confirming that the official language of the Republic of Moldova was Romanian.

On December 5, 2013, the Constitutional Court  decided that the text of the 1991 Declaration of Independence, which stipulates that the Romanian language is the official language, prevails over the text of the 1994 Constitution, respectively over the provision regarding the Moldovan language contained in Article 13. Due to the political charge of the language issue, however, politicians avoided enforcing the Court's decision for ten years, even if during most of this interval there were parties in power that, at least declaratively, opted for breaking away from the Soviet past, and stated they wanted the Republic of Moldova to join the European Union and promoted a close relationship with Romania.

Like the Soviet Union, Russia promotes the Moldovan language. The purpose: to keep the Republic of Moldova in Moscow's sphere of influence

The stake for those who opted for the “Moldovan language” or the “state language” was not only a matter of domestic politics. Politicians in Chisinau have always been careful not to upset Russia, which believes that it is the one entitled to tell Moldovans what language they should speak and what identity they should have.

Moreover, Moscow's reactions to the March 2nd decision of the Chisinau Parliament were immediate. “Democracy American Style. Under the Sandu mandate, Moldova renounces its mother tongue”, the spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Zaharova, commented on her Telegram channel. And in an official comment from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she called on the Republic of Moldova to put an end to the “anti-Russian rhetoric”, after the Chisinau Parliament had voted on the same day a statement condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Nicu Popescu, stressed that “the language we speak belongs to us, and naming it is our decision to make.”

The official news agency in Moscow,  RiaNovosti, writes that “the next step after the cancellation of the Moldovan language will be the liquidation of the Moldovan statehood”, and Radio Sputnik, one of the main mouthpieces of Kremlin propaganda, picked up the statements of the president of the Union of Moldovans in Transnistria, who claims that  renaming the language will destroy the Moldovans’ national identity.

The identity issue and the Romanian language  have been, for years, the themes most skillfully used by the pro-Russian propaganda in the Republic of Moldova. The promoters of Moldovanism in the Republic of Moldova consider themselves the successors of medieval Moldavia . They use every opportunity to promote historical fakes about Romania, one of the favorite themes being  the myth of the Romanian troops’ invasion of 1941 or the fact that Romania was an occupying power in Moldova  in the interwar period.

Even before the parliamentary elections of 2021, for example, misinformation was spread that Maia Sandu would want early elections in order to impose Romanianism , or that Romania plans  to absorb the Republic of Moldova   and the Moldovans are “second-class” people.

These narratives are part of the long-standing campaign carried out by Russia in the Republic of Moldova, according to which the country  is at the mercy of the West, will disappear as a state , will lose its sovereignty , or that the current pro-European government has the historical role of preparing the country for annexation to another state.  A campaign that shows, once again, that - just like in the Soviet period - language is just a soft power tool used to maintain and expand the Empire.

Mariana Vasilache

Mariana Vasilache

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