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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. 

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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”. 

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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 Europe.

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:, Eurolang, Brussels, July 3, 2002 by Emese Medgyesi 

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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), article15_ang.html

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

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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,

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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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Updated (October 2008)


In 1989, Moldovan was declared the state language of the Republic. The country's national minorities, however, continued to use mainly Russian - as they had in the past - which thus became a de facto language of inter-ethnic communication.

Now, with use of the state language becoming more widespread, particularly in the public sector, the need to speak Moldovan is growing and action is urgently needed. An Ireland-funded project by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is helping them to do precisely that by offering language courses for civil servants, particularly in the Gagauzia region.

Determination to learn

For instance, a classroom at the Lyceum “Gaidarji” in the town of Comrat is buzzing with activity. It is host to a seemingly strange group of adults: judges, police officers, medical workers, engineers, civil servants - some with many years of experience - who are back in school, united by their determination to learn the state language properly.

“For me it was very difficult to actually start speaking Moldovan,” says Ruslan Caraivan from the General Prosecutor's Office. “I learnt it in school but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. The psychological barrier to start communicating is strong.”

The Chairman of the Court of Appeal of Gagauzia, Elena Lazareva, is one of those who work to overcome that barrier. “As a judge, I have to know the state language,” she says in fluent Moldovan. “We hold hearings in Moldovan too, depending on the request, which means that I also have to read all related and background material in this language. My goal is to be highly proficient in it and to use it freely in my work.”

Effective communication

In the streets of Gagauzia, in the shops, restaurants or even in public institutions, the languages that can be heard are almost exclusively Russian or Gagauz. Does that mean that Gagauzia is linguistically “self-sufficient” and the occasional switch to Russian will do the trick?

Natalie Sabanadze, Senior Advisor to the HCNM, thinks not: “A good command of the State language is a precondition for real, effective communication between national minorities and the state authorities, and a means by which they can participate in the political and social life of the country.”

Igor Munteanu, Director of IDIS Vitorul, HCNM's initial implementing partner agrees: “In Moldova, a national survey has shown that one of the reasons for the existence of a certain amount of tension between the national minorities and the central government lies in the fact that national minorities cannot communicate adequately in the language of the country. In this situation, the national minorities feel isolated and marginalized by society.”

Grassroots initiative

In 2005, the HCNM and IDIS Vitorul launched a project to offer language teaching for civil servants in southern Moldova. It aimed to tap into the activities of other international organizations in the region, but the slate was almost blank.

Today, however, the statistics are impressive: 470 national minority civil servants from the Moldova's southern and northern regions have received training in the state language, and 60 percent of them are able to speak it fluently.

Mihail Furmuzal, Bashkan (Leader) of Gagauzia, says the initiative to implement the project comes from the Gagauzians themselves: “I personally participated in the language courses. I estimate that the project is a positive one, bringing its advantages and results to the region.”

Apart from the main objective of promoting knowledge of the state language, another of the project's important accomplishments has been the development of a new language teaching methodology for adult speakers, including role-playing, pair and group work and class discussions, as well as new teaching materials.

The effect has been immediate, says Ludmila Gutul, a local trainer for civil servants and a teacher of the state language at the Lyceum "Cara Cioban" in Gagauzia.

“The new methodology has made classes much more interesting. Sometimes I start the lesson with a joke, some interesting information, or a song, to attract the attention of the participants. I even applied some of the things I have learned in the Lyceum where I work, and the reaction was instant. Children loved it.”

Another offshoot of the project is a new professional network, the National Association of European Trainers of Moldova (ANTEM). Its aim is to share experience and provide the best possible quality of language training to civil servants, thereby facilitating civic, socio-cultural and professional integration in Moldova.

Learning a new language may be a tough nut to crack but the enthusiasm of Moldova's minorities will no doubt help them face up to the challenge.

Source: The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Features, July 23, 2008 by Ivana Radenkovic

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