Language policy

In 1989, Moldovan was declared the sole state language. Proficiency in Moldovan was made a condition of state employment in 1990 (though this law did not come into full force until 1994). The 2002 decision by the newly-elected communist government to make Russian language classes compulsory in schools led to protest by the Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD), the main opposition party.

Language Policy in Transdniestria

Moldovan, alongside Russian and Ukrainian, is an official language in Transdniestria, though state schools are required to teach it in the Cyrillic and not the Latin script. There are, however, seven schools in the Transdniestria region that use the Latin alphabet in teaching Romanian/Moldovan. These schools are funded by the Moldovan Government and follow the Moldovan curriculum, but have periodically been faced with closure by the Transdniestrian authorities.

Supporting parent rights to choose the language of instruction, the OSCE Mission in Moldova, in cooperation with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, reached an agreement with Transdniestrian authorities in 2003. This agreement should have allowed the schools to register and function without difficulty. Transdniestrian officials, however, did not observe this agreement or an amended version mediated by the Mission later that year and tried to close the schools in 2004. OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekéus condemned the forced closure of a Moldovan-language high school in Tiraspol.

Due to the Mission’s efforts, the schools were able to reopen. In 2005, the schools received permanent registration based on the 2003 agreement. The Mission has been mediating a dispute involving eight Moldovan schools in the Transdniestrian region which are administered by the Moldovan Government and continue to use a Moldovan curriculum. The Mission monitors the functioning of the Moldovan-administered schools in the Transdniestrian region and mediates between central and Transdniestrian region education authorities to find solutions for outstanding issues and to prevent the emergence of new crises.

Vladimir Berlinksy (right), Deputy Director of Moldovan School No. 19 in Benderi, briefing a high-level OSCE delegation in June 2004 about the threats they are facing (OSCE/Neil Brennen)

Vladimir Berlinksy (right), Deputy Director of Moldovan School No. 19 in Benderi, briefing a high-level OSCE delegation in June 2004 about the threats they are facing (OSCE/Neil Brennen)

Students at the Lucian Blaga school in Tiraspol, 2 February 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbator)

Students at the Lucian Blaga school in Tiraspol, 2 February 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbator)

The OSCE Mission to Moldova and the High Commissioner on National Minorities issued a report in November 2012 on the status of the eight Moldovan-administered Latin-script schools in Transdniestria. 

OSCE language use
OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier (l) speaking with the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Jennifer Brush, on the bridge over Dniester/Nistru River connecting the towns of Tiraspol and Bender, 18 July 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbător)

OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier (l) speaking with the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Jennifer Brush, on the bridge over Dniester/Nistru River connecting the towns of Tiraspol and Bender, 18 July 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbător)

In Moldova, the OSCE uses the term the “state language” to avoid calling it either Moldovan or Romanian, either of which may be divisive. Similarly, although the OSCE always refers to Transdniestria, it is important to note that it is Trans (across) the Dniester only from the perspective of Chisinau, Bucharest, and other points west. Viewed from Moscow, Kyiv, or even Tiraspol, the region is not Transdniestria, and is thus called in Russian and other Slavic languages “Pridnestrov’ia” or “by” or “near” the Dniester. Anyone trying to mediate in this region must be sensitive to these linguistic usages in order to avoid getting into trouble.

Court ruling could decide name of state language

In December 2013 Moldova's Constitutional Court issued a ruling asserting that the 1991 Declaration of Independence prevailed over the 1994 Constitution.  Although the ruling did not address the state language in any way, the decision could eventually open the way for renaming the state language from Moldovan to Romanian.