Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time to speak Romanian

Petru Gutul is the president of a consumer protection organisation. He seems to be about 50 years of age and, judging from his name, is of Moldovan / Romanian ethnicity. Yesterday he gave a news conference in which he spoke in Russian. Some journalists addressed questions to him in Romanian, which it became clear he didn't understand. Mr Gutul asked them to address their questions in Russian. They refused. Mr Gutul launched into a tirade against them, accusing them of being 'impostors' and fuelling 'ethnic hatred'.

To many in Moldova, Mr Gutul's position appears reasonable. As the journalists were perfectly capable of speaking Russian, wasn't it rude of them not to extend that courtesy to Mr Gutul?

In 1991 the answer would have been 'yes'. The country had just emerged as an independent state with its own language, and there was a significant minority who didn't speak any Romanian at all. It would have been unreasonable to have expected them to instantly become fluent in the language. As a result, shop assistants would always address people first in Russian and any conversation involving a non-Romanian speaker would be conducted in Russian.

Now, however, it's 2009. While the courtesy of speaking Russian should still be extended to (a) visitors from Russian-speaking lands, (b) the very old and (c) those mentally incapable of learning the language, Mr Gutul fits into none of these categories.

He has had 18 years to learn the national language but obviously hasn't bothered. He is an intelligent man heading an organisation which is important at the national level. He is an ethnic Moldovan and a citizen of the state. He has no excuse.

The journalists weren't being rude. They were displaying the dignity of a nation learning (at last) to respect itself.

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