Moldovan lawmakers on Thursday voted in favor of a controversial bill that will replace references to the country’s official language from Moldovan to Romanian in the constitution and legislation.
Initiated by Moldova’s ruling pro-Western Action and Solidarity Party, PAS, the bill will replace references to “Moldovan language,” “mother tongue,” and “state language” with “Romanian language.” This has sparked a debate with social, political and geopolitical undertones.
Thursday’s vote was the second and final. All 57 MPs present from the PAS, which holds 63 of the 101 seats in the legislature, voted in favour, as did one unaffiliated MP. The opposition Communist-Socialist bloc, which holds 31 seats, and 6 deputies from the pro-Russian Shor party largely boycotted the vote.
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While supporters of the official language changes see them as an important step for the EU candidate to distance itself from its Soviet past and historic ties to Moscow, others see it as an attack on Moldovan national identity by pro-Western officials. The opposition has also raised concerns about the procedural changes to the bill.
During Thursday’s parliament session, some members of the Communist-Socialist bloc waved a large banner that read: “The people are sovereign, the PAS is a tyrant” and “Moldova. Moldovans. Moldovans” in relation to the current constitution.
The opposition parties could challenge the result in the country’s constitutional court, said Cristian Cantir, a Moldovan associate professor of international relations at Oakland University.
“Pro-Russian forces in Moldova and in the Kremlin … have always challenged the notion that the majority population is ethnically Romanian and speaks Romanian,” he told The Associated Press, adding that “an admission of this point to these forces is the Moldovan statehood and ties with Russia would be undermined.”
“I think the controversy over this law shows that the language issue remains contentious in a society that is deeply geopolitically divided,” he added.
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The vast majority of Moldova’s 2.6 million people speak Romanian as their first language, with the rest speaking Russian.
Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union and Russian became the official language. During the following half century, Romanian was preserved in Moldovan villages. In 1989 it became the national language again.
After the first reading of the bill was passed earlier this month, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by calling it “an anti-Russian resolution.”
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Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Moldova has endured a long string of crises and is trying to forge closer ties with its western partners, much to Moscow’s chagrin. Last June, it was granted EU candidate status on the same day as Ukraine.
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