Language Policies or Language Politics? The Case of Moldova

Type Conference Paper - Minority Representation and Minority Language Rights: Origins, Experiences and Lessons to be Learned
Title Language Policies or Language Politics? The Case of Moldova
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
City Cluj-Napoca
Moldova is deeply divided along language lines. The main societal polarization is found in
the gulf between the speakers of Russian and of the state language, Romanian/Moldovan. To
the first category belong not only Russians, but also national minorities such as Ukrainians,
Gagauzians and Bulgarians, who tend to employ Russian more than the state language. The
two main linguistic groups inhabit two largely separate societal spheres, with different media
and educational institutions.
This paper examines Moldova’s language policies taking into account the pending
ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (Language
Charter).2 While Moldova has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities (FCNM),
it limited itself to signing the Language Charter in 2002 - and
still had to ratify ten years later. The paper highlights some of the reasons for the deadlock in
addressing the linguistic divide, and in the ratification of the Language Charter. It argues that
essentialist notions of language and ethnicity, originating from the Soviet nationalities
discourse, are at the foundations of current language policies, and have led to their
politicization in the post-Soviet period. Although literature exists on the Romanian/Russian divide, and on the fuzzy contours of Moldovan identity (Ciscel 2006; Ciscel 2007: Ciscel
2008: Ciscel 2010; King 1999), this paper seeks to focus on possible root causes to be found
in the Soviet nationalities policy and its institutionalized ethnicity. Essentialist perceptions on
linguistic identity are likely not only to be behind an apparent resistance to the ratification of
the Language Charter, but are also inimical to the development of a multi-layered identity
and an overarching Moldovan consciousness.
Following a brief outline of Moldova’s history and its language policies, I outline the
Soviet nationalities policies. I then link them to post-Soviet societal divisions on the basis of
language, and the complexities in the ratification of the Language Charter. The paper
excludes a specific discussion on the Transnistrian breakaway region and the autonomous
region of Gagauzia, as they are beyond the scope of this analysis.

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