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Moldova: “Our Romanian Language” Day Protest

This post is part of our special coverage Language and the Internet.

Moldova is one of the few countries in the world that celebrates Language Day, a holiday usually marked by nations that have fought for the right to speak their native language.

Twenty-two years ago, on August 31, 1989, while still a part of the Soviet Union, after fierce deliberations, Moldova adopted the Romanian language as the state language and returned to the Latin script. During the Soviet rule, the country had been forced for almost 50 years to use the Cyrillic script, and the Soviet Union continuously propagated the existence of the Moldovan language as a distinct entity from the Romanian language.

"Our language Romanian"

"Our language Romanian"

Twenty years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the official language is still disputed in Moldova, whilst the Constitution calls it Moldovan, the educational system teaches Romanian, and the ethnic minorities insist on formalizing the Russian language as a second official language.

Ahead of this year’s celebration of Our Romanian Language Day, the Moldovan netizens organized via Facebook [ro] a protest demanding the authorities to replace the phrasing “Moldovan language” with “Romanian language” from the highly disputed 13th Article of the Moldovan Constitution.

The initiative's organizers motivated the attendees with the following slogans:

DEMAND WHAT BELONGS TO YOU; DEMAND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF THE ROMANIAN LANGUAGE!

For 20 years, an injustice has been written down in the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, it harms the Historical Truth of our nation. Those from yesterday, from today and from tomorrow are living this injustice every day, they tolerate and decry it, and they revolt and conform to it, but what will we leave for our offspring and how will we be able to look into their eyes with the shame of our cowardice?

Our parents fought to leave the Soviet Empire, what do we do to carry on with the dignity of their names?

Netizens used Facebook to organize a protest under the slogan: "COME! to protect the LANGUAGE and the HISTORY"

Netizens used Facebook to organize a protest under the slogan: "COME! to protect the LANGUAGE and the HISTORY"

This call to protest ended with the following message:

The affirmation of the Romanian identity does not affect the attitude towards the identity of the ethnic minority groups (Ukrainians, Russians, Bulgarians, Gagauz) who live next to us in the Republic of Moldova. We have to respect each other.

Sergiu Scarlat wrote [ro] on the event’s Facebook page:

We have to fight against the invaders (Russian friends) and to clearly demonstrate that we are at home and here we speak Romanian or at least Moldovan, if anyone spots the difference…

Around 200 people, from more than 1000 who had signed up on the Facebook page, actually turned up at the protest held on August 30 in capital Chisinau.

The protesters carried signs saying:

Without language, without history. We are left with bread and circus?

20 years of “Moldovan language.” How much longer will we endure?

Moldovan language – an invention of the invaders?

Romanian language is my motherland!

The event has made it into mainstream media coverage. The buzz in the blogosphere portraits the still fragile and controversial status of the Romanian language.

Traian Vasilcau decries [ro] the status of the Romanian language existent nowadays in Moldova:

Put on the wall of infamy, the Romanian language sees in front of its eyes a sea of darkness, so big that one could easily slap someone.

He goes on:

From the declaration of independence of the Republic of Moldova, know that only 1 percent of the Bessarabian aliens have learned the pseudo state language.

“Pseudo,” because the eternal problem of the name of the Romanian language is part of science fiction novels.

It is Moldovan for the unconscious populations and for the pro-Communists, and it is Romanian for the conscious population of [Bessarabia].

Alex Cozer assesses [ro] the situation in the same manner:

Still, just like in the case of “independence,” our “Romanian” language is a fake celebration, because, in fact, the Romanian language, just like the independence, is trampled down and not respected.

The blogger appeals to the Prime Minister to keep his promise of levying the main – and the monopolist – chain of cinemas to dub or subtitle movies in Romanian. In the main cinemas of the Moldovan capital, one can only watch movies in Russian.

On the other side of the barricade, blogger Nicolae Pascaru engages [ro] in a debate [ro] where he argues that the language name should be Moldovan, because Moldovan is written down in the Constitution.

Comments to his viewpoint have been mainly critical. A user calling himself Infinit says [ro]:

I am sorry to let you know, but there is a problem with the Constitution. I am afraid several mistakes have slipped in there. The Moldovan language is one of them and is not even the most serious one. I have not seen the Moldovan Constitution mentioning that Smirnov [the self-proclaimed leader of the secessionist entity of Transnistria] has to control Transnistria from 1990, nor that the military units of other states have to be stationed on the territory of Moldova.

Tudor Darie deplores [ro] the fact that certain members of the Moldovan Parliament cannot speak the Romanian language. According to him, the solution is this:

The Government and the Parliament need to create the necessary conditions to protect and promote “the state language” and we (those who follow the historical truth) must not beg, but impose respect for the Romanian language!

Corneliu Gandrabur goes back in his blog post [ro] to the date of August 31, 1989:

On August 31, 1989, I was 2 years and 9 months old; possibly I was still speaking Romanian. On that day, when probably I was playing in the sand in front of the house, on Lenin Street, there were many people who were demanding in one voice the Romanian language and the Latin Alphabet. They got what they demanded, but with the right to only speak it once a year.

[…]

How many more years will we speak Romanian only one day per year? A tough question even for me, I am not even going to write anything about those who are in power now!

Alexandru Tanase writes [ro] on his Facebook wall:

In ’89 I was in the square [National Square] together with thousands of people who were fighting for the adoption of the Romanian language as the state language and the return to the Latin script. In fact, the fight was taking place not only for the return of the Romanian language to public life. In ’89 we were fighting for dignity, which is the basis and the sum of all human rights and values. Congratulations everyone!

This post is part of our special coverage Language and the Internet.

21 comments

  • Are moldovans ethnic romanians ? or no but its just the language that unites both pple ?

  • George

    The Moldovans are what Bavarians are for the Germans. They have the same ethnicity and speak the same language.

  • Here’s a Wikipedia explanation:

    “There is an ongoing controversy whether Moldovans are a fully fledged ethnic group or a subgroup of the Romanian ethnic group. However, most Romance-speakers from the historical region of Bessarabia prefer the self-identification Moldovan, rather than Romanian.”

    • George

      After more than 50 years of historical brainwash by the Russians there is no surprise that many still believe this lie. But guess what: the younger generation of speaker if the Latin language in Basarabia are considering themselves Romanians, and not Moldovans. The truth always gets to surface.

  • bout

    Sure, Wikipedia is a great tool: “As opposed to large segments of the population, a significant number of major Moldovan intellectuals considered themselves part of the Romanian nation”. I suppose that is so because intellectuals are harder to deceive.

  • Despite the fact that during the latest census undertaken in Moldova (2004) around 70% of the population identified themselves as Moldovans, it is very hard and not all that correct to argue that Moldovans and Romanians are distinct ethnic groups, as we share the same ancestors, the same language, the same culture, etc. What can be easily argued is that the Russian and Soviet domination of about 200 years have clearly created an identity problem on a political and self-identification level. The scientific point of view is pretty much straight forward.

  • Then … basically Moldova can be a part of Romania just like Bavaria is an integral part of Germany ???

  • They will be offering free Romanian Courses in Beirut – Lebanon from Sept 26 till Dec 15.
    Looking Fwd to enroll :)

  • Vitaky

    I would not press the Latin origin of the Romanian/Moldavian language too far. We do not call English a Romance language and yet up to 70 % of its word stock comes from Latin (either by way of Medieval French (“1066 and all that”) or through direct borrowings.

    In fact, languages can be artificially made more or less “Latin” (or more or less Slavic) and the history of Romanian/Moldavian language fully demonstrates that. Once again, the discussion suffers from a narrow historical perspective: before “50 years of historical brainwash by the Russians,” there was the 19th century, during which the self-identifying Romanian intellectuals in Moldavia and Wallachia put some work into reducing the number of Slavic words in the language of the principalities, replacing them by borrowings from French, Italian or Latin. How natural these changes were is clear from the fact that these people soon earned the epithet “bonjuristi” (referencing the tendency of these Paris-educated boyar sons to artificially Frenchify the Romanian/Moldavian language). Does Diana Lungu’s version of the “pretty much straightforward” “scientific point of view” include this part of the story? To admit it would mean to recognize that the self-identifying Romanian intellectuals of all epochs are as much the authors of the present day Romanian/Moldavian identity problem as are the tsarist or Soviet “russifiers.” By the way, in the meantime, the same people replaced by the Latin script the original Cyrillic one, which was used for Romanian/Moldavian ever since the latter became a written language in the late 16th century. Why did the 19th century intellectuals do that? Well, not only because they are “harder to deceive”, dear Bout, but also because they are more apt at manipulating others.

    And this is exactly what they continue to do nowadays in the excerpts cited above by Diana Lungu. These pronouncements produce the impression of gross historical injustice done to the Romanian language, whose very name is denied in the constitution of the country. And yet anyone who is familiar with the situation in Moldova knows that the number of Romanian/Moldavian speakers grows and the number of Russophones gradually diminishes. There is no shortage of books or radio and TV programming in “correct Romanian.” (I use inverted comas, for no matter how much fun one can poke at “graiul bassarabean,” the Bucharest pronunciation sometimes sounds ridiculously pretentious.) All this fuss about the language issue is only a means for the self-identifying Romanian intellectuals to legitimize themselves. More broadly, the “identity politics” is a smoke screen, which is used by the current coalition government in Moldova, and all the right-wing governments world over, to distract the attention of the population from disastrous economic and social situation and to hide the nullity of their policies.

    Sincerely yours,

    Vitaky

  • George

    Dear Vitaky, your points of view hits nullity. The question is not necessarily if the Moldavians have as their native language Romanian or not. The true question is: Are the Moldavians ethnic Romanians? Do we have the same history, do we have the same rulers, do we have the same enemies, throughout history? Was there a time when there was no difference (language included) between the populations leaving now in different states separated by Nister? The answer is only one: Yes?
    Now, lets not forget about the Russian brainwash of the other former Soviet Republic that did not had as their native language Russian.
    In Romania it is also recognized the Slavic influence that our language received from the contact with migrants.
    Now, the difference between Romanians and the Brits is that we are first hand Latins, the Brits were Romanised by the Normands. Without a clear knowledge of history the discussion is useless.

  • Vitaky

    Dear George,

    Clear knowledge of history is exactly what I advocate and try to contribute to this discussion. And this knowledge tells me that nations and even ethnicities are not objective realities, but constructed phenomena. When the nation-building process is incomplete, as is the case of Moldova, nations aren’t even the actually existing social groups, but fields of political struggle, in which different elites pursue different tactics of mass mobilization.

    Part of Moldavian political and cultural elite wants to mobilize the ethnic and linguistic majority around the idea of the idea of unity with Romanians. In the process, they ask rhetorically “Do we have the same history, do we have the same rulers, do we have the same enemies, throughout history?” and answer in the affirmative. Another part of the Moldavian political and cultural elite wants to mobilize the ethnic and linguistic majority of the population around the idea of the peculiarity of Moldavians. They ask rhetorically “wasn’t there a centuries-long tradition of Moldavian statehood interrupted only in 1859?” and answer, like you, dear George, in the affirmative.

    Both identity projects are “fabricated” an “artificial.” A number of historical and linguistic arguments can be amassed in support of each of them. The linguistic arguments of the proponents of the Romanian project are impressive for the quasi-identity of literary Moldavian and Romanian is undeniable. However, this quasi-identity is not a fact of nature, but a product of certain language politics pursued by the elites in the past (as I indicated in my previous post). And here, in the domain of historical arguments, that the proponents of the Moldavian identity project have an advantage: the subjects of history are polities, not peoples, and for most of the time there was a Moldavian state, not the Romanian one. Since both language and history are crucial to nation-building there will be no easy victory for any of those projects in a “scientific” discussion.

    The same applies to the political plane, where the “Romanian” and the “Moldavian” projects have their owns strengths and weaknesses. The “Romanian” project is supported by a minority of the political class of the republic, but instead has the support of the majority of the intellectuals. Its great weakness, however, is that the percentage of self-identified Romanians among the ethic majority group of the republic is counted in single digits. The Moldavian project has fewer articulate supporters among the intellectuals, but draws its strength from the fact that the majority of the political elite still prefer to dominate over an independent state rather than be relegated to the status of provincial elites in a neighboring nation-state.

    My most important argument, however, that is this entire type of identity politics is profoundly reactionary and retrograde. Rather than disputing whether the egg should be broken from the flat or from the pointed side and treating the dissenters as enemies, the politicians, journalists and intellectuals of Moldova should better turn their attentions to the serious issues. Are there no oligarchs busy with property grabbing and asset stripping? No soaring costs of living? Is there no human trafficking? Do not hope for a Good Samaritan (the European Union), who will come one day and solve all these issues, because the “good Samaritan” is now in deep trouble. And the leaders of governing coalition are not modern-day Moses, who would be able to lead the Moldavians through the deserts of “transition” for forty years before reaching the promised land of Europe. The flock will either die out or desert along the way, and this happens already.

    Sincerely,

    Vitaky

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