Socialists and supporting media in the Republic of Moldova have snapped after a Moldovan Constitutional Court ruling threw out a law granting special status to the Russian language. They’re describing the ruling as an attack on the Russian minority, the idea circulated being that the country’s newly elected president, Maia Sandu, is held responsible for this attack, thus going back on the promises made in the election campaign.
NARRATIVES: 1. The Constitutional Court, and certain politicians led by Maia Sandu, are undermining the interests of Russian-speaking ethnic minorities. 2. Maia Sandu is behind the Constitutional Court ruling. 3. Maia Sandu has fallen short of her promises to ethnic minorities.
BACKGROUND/LOCAL ETHOS: The designation of a state language is a core identity issue the Republic of the Moldova has been struggling with since the country’s proclamation of independence. Adopted on August 27, 1991, the Declaration of Independence recalls the fight for the Romanian language. However, the Constitution, which took effect on August 18, 1994, drafted by a Parliament majority made up of former Soviet apparatchiks, stipulates under Article 13 that “the national language of the Republic of Moldova is the Moldovan language, and its writing is based on the Latin alphabet”. Multiple attempts at modifying this article fell through, all the more so as the majority of the population relishes the term “Moldovan language”. Still, on December 5, 2013, after examining a notification referring to the name of the language, the Constitutional Court ruled that the text of the Declaration of Independence coincides with the Constitution and even takes precedence over the latter, wherever differences between the two might arise.
In June, 2018, the Court ruled as obsolete the law of September 1, 1989, concerning the functioning of the languages spoken on the territory of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Two and a half years later, in December 2020, PSRM (the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova) and Șor Party Deputies voted a new law, providing, among other things, for “the use of the Russian language as a language for inter-ethnic communication on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, alongside the official state language”. Under the same law, civil servants and company workers are instructed to reply in Russian, including in writing, whenever this is requested of them. For all intents and purposes, the law makes the Russian language the official language of the Republic of Moldova.
Although they took power in June 2019, the Socialists pushed this law only after Igor Dodon’s defeat in the presidential runoff of November, 2020. Some pundits see the move as an attempt by the former president at regaining Moscow’s confidence and the support of his traditional voters, as part of them have been shifting their favor to other parties.
In a ruling cancelling the law in question, the Court writes that the law “gives the Russian language a privileged status over other languages of ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova, one that does not derive from the Constitution”. Moreover, the Court also notes that the provisions under Article 13 in the Constitution recognize a single official language and make no use of the phrasing “language of inter-ethnic communication”. While hailed by part of society, the decision in question was criticized by others, and some politicians, Igor Dodon first and foremost, claim it undermines ethnic minorities and might lead to a rift in society.
PURPOSE: To depict the Republic of Moldova as a multiethnic state and to overstress the role of the Russian language, which is the mother tongue of under 10% of the population. To portray Maia Sandu as the person behind this decision and blame her for any possible protests and turmoil. To undermine Maia Sandu’s mandate, although the president is yet to rely on a majority in Parliament to help her enact her governing program. To present Socialists and Igor Dodon as the defenders of ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The Socialists and some news outlets, in addition to the Russian Embassy, refer to the Constitutional Court ruling as infringing on the rights of ethnic minorities. In fact, the Court merely ruled to revert to the state of affairs prior to the law being passed. The law wasn’t even fully binding, as it was due to take effect over the course of a year. Under the Court’s ruling, the country thus reverted to the status quo before the adoption of the law, when the Russian language was already considered a means of inter-ethnic communication.
Although the narratives point to Maia Sandu as the person responsible for the Court ruling, no consistent link has yet been established. As president, Maia Sandy holds no sway over Court rulings, evidence of that being another recent decision, whereby the Constitutional Court ruled against Parliament’s self-dissolution, which would have favored Maia Sandu, bringing her closer to forming a majority in Parliament to rely on. Furthermore, the list of MPs who lodged the constitutional challenge does not include members of the Party for Action and Solidarity, which Maia Sandu led before becoming president.
Data collected under the 2014 census reveals that 80% of citizens in the Republic of Moldova are using Romanian/Moldovan as their mother tongue, and less than 10% Russian. Igor Dodon is challenging the truthfulness of these figures. Nevertheless, the findings of the 2004 census are quite similar. At the time, 77% of the population identified Romanian/Moldovan as their mother tongue, compared to 11% of the population, who declared Russian to be their native language.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: Russian holds an important role in the Moldovan society. Large ethnic minorities essentially speak Russian on an exclusive basis.
WHO STANDS TO BENEFIT FROM THE NARRATIVES: Igor Dodon, PSRM, Moscow.