Monday, August 31, 2009

Do you speak my language?

It's twenty years since Romanian was declared the official language of the Moldovan state, regaining its place after 45 years of disuse under Soviet rule.

Unfortunately, however, the aggressive Russification of Moldova, though held at bay during the 1990s, was resumed under communist rule.

Today in Chisinau you will be addressed by shop assistants in Russian. You will order your taxis in Russian and your business meetings are likely to be conducted in that language. You will go to Patria and watch an English-language film overdubbed into Russian by a man with husky voice. If you want to read a lifestyle magazine, a whole range are available to you (in Russian). If you want to sit through a communist party conference (I don't advise it) you will need to sit through hours and hours of meaningless speeches, once again in Russian. If you want to be cool and prove how smart you are, you will need to speak Russian.

It's all got to stop. The appropriate position for the Russian language in Moldova is as one of two foreign languages that every Moldovan citizen should learn at school (the other being English). It should also be protected and honoured as the mother-language of the 5.6% of the population who identify themselves as Russian. But that's it.

Moldova has grown up. It's now 18 years old and has been through a rite of democratic passage in 2009. Russian speakers have had twenty years to learn the language, and time is now up. No more should Moldovans extend the courtesy of using Russian with people who have not bothered to learn the national language. No more should Moldovans be content with a state of affairs in which they have to use a foreign language in so many aspects of their lives.

Moldovans should be confident and proud in using their own language. Remember this is not a peasant language as some would claim, but a direct descendent of Latin. It is the language of Eminescu, Caragiale and Vieru.

Parliament should adopt new laws to protect the language. These would, for example,require the use of the language in official situations and in publicity. It also urgently needs to look at Moldova's media space and find ways of encouraging more Romanian language programming and written content. Finally, ethnic minorities need to be encouraged to learn the language, so that the national language, and not Russian, becomes the 'language of inter-ethnic communication.

NB: Please don't get me wrong. Russian is a beautiful language and I mean no disrespect to its speakers. However its cultural influence in foreign countries such as Moldova needs to be restricted so that those countries can rediscover and redevelop their own languages and culture.

6 comments:

  1. http://npopescu.yam.ro/2009/08/31/limba-romana-rusificare-si-lamentarile-pustii/

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  2. Bun articol din partea zimbrului, si foarte buna replica de la Nicu Popescu. Esenta celor spuse de NP este foarte adevarata: romanofonilor (de pretutindeni!) le lipseste spiritul pozitivist, si se lamenteaza prea mult in loc sa vada jumatatea plina a paharului.

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  3. I agree with you to a certain extent. Yes, the importance of Russian in Moldova is way too high. Yes, the official language should be promoted, so that everybody can use it as a means of daily communication.

    However, the question goes beyond the simple "Romanian vs Russian". If you reduce the language situation in Moldova like that, you make life easy for the communists and their allies, who claim to defend the minorities. Not only the Romanian language needs to be promoted - so do Ukrainian, Gagauz and Bulgarian.

    I am married to a Gagauz woman. In her youth, her people were russified, and had no choice to avoid that fate. She spoke Gagauz at home, but had to use Russian at school from the first day on. When I learned that, I was shocked - I believe it is a basic right for every child to be taught in its mother tongue. And I assume the situation for Ukrainians and Bulgarians wasn't much different.

    If you want to win the hearts of the minorities, don't ignore them. Respect their languages, and make them official in such areas where the minorities constitute a major proportion of the population, for instance Gagauz Yeri or Taraclia, as far as the Bulgarians are concerned.

    My vision of Moldova, which I love not only because I love a Moldovan woman, is not that of a "second Romania", but rather that of an East European Switzerland. There, although nearly 70% of the population speak German (well, sort of...), the French, Italian and even the tiny Reto-Roman communities enjoy the kind of respect that makes this country a model for all multi lingual nations.

    Best regards,

    Michael

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  4. Anonymous:

    Excellent comment. I too have connections in Gagauzia and believe that the Gagauz language and culture is a national treasure that needs to be nurtured and promoted alongside other minority cultures, in line with European standards regarding national minorities.

    I suppose that the basic point of my post, however, is to point out that a minority shouldn't have the right to dominate and rule the majority, especially when that majority is the indigenous people of the land.

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  5. Frankly, I don't get your point. What's the problem of a country having two languages ? Many states in the world are at least bilingual : Switzerland, Canada, India, Kazakhstan, many states in the USA (California, New Mexico, etc.) and they're not making a big deal out of it.

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  6. Anonymous: I guess I would answer your comment by saying that multiple national languages can only exist peacefully side by side in the following conditions (which exist in most of the countries you mention but do not yet exist in Moldova):
    1. The different language groups respect and learn each other's language. (Unfortunately a significant portion of the Russian-speaking community in Moldova derides the Romanian language and refuses to learn it)
    2. Cultural influences are balanced such that each language is confident in its future. (The media in Moldova is currently dominated by Russian-language programming)
    3. Speakers of an official language do not need to resort to another official language in order to be educated, informed or served in a shop. (On a number of occasions I have been refused service when I have addressed shop assistants in Romanian)
    4. The languages are either indigenous or used as a 'lingua franca' to unite many widely diverse ethnic groups (e.g. the role of English in India and Nigeria). (The Communists claimed that Russian was a 'language of interethnic communication', however to me the degree of diversity present in Moldova is insufficient to justify this - the 5% - 10% that don't speak Romanian just need to learn it...)

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