Strengthening the status of the Russian language in the Republic of Moldova – an instrument of the Russian soft power policy in the post-Soviet space

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Author: Ion Tabarta

According to a statement of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, during the meeting of 23 October 2019 between the Russian Ambassador, Oleg Vasnetsov, with the Director-General of the Agency for interethnic Relations, Nikolai Radica the consolidation of the status of the Russian language was discussed.

 Russia wants to give Russian language the status of interethnic communication language and to keep educational institutions with the Russian language of instruction. [1] Another aspect discussed during the meeting was the intensification of Russian-Moldovan cooperation in the field of maintaining interethnic dialogue, including through the Federal Agency for Nationalities of Russia. It is not the first such request during last years, from Russia to the Republic of Moldova and it is part of the policy of strengthening the Russian language state in the post-Soviet space promoted by the Kremlin.

The Russian language is an important tool in the soft power policy of the Russian Federation, being one of the basic components of the so-called “ruskii mir” (“Russian world”) project, first announced in 2007 by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech to the Federation Council. The “Russian world”, which should not be confused with the Russian culture, is a state geopolitical project of Russia whose fundamental purpose is to institutionalize the post-Soviet space under the Moscow screen. In geopolitical terms, Russia perceives the “Russian world” as its sphere of influence.

In the structural organization of the “Russian world”, the Russian language acts as a linguistic binder of the post-Soviet space. At the same time, it is an important tool for propaganda and promotion of Russia’s geopolitical interests in the post-Soviet states. In 2014, in the context of the events in Ukraine, the Council was created alongside the Russian President. The stated purpose of this council is to protect and develop the Russian language in Russia, but also in communities abroad that are spiritually linked to the Russian language and culture.

Regarding the current internal and external situation of the Russian language, the Kremlin insists on two basic ideas:

1. Missionaryism of the Russian language. In the narratives promoted by the Russian Federation it serves as the foundation of the spiritual-historical communion of the tens of cultures and peoples, which ensures the sovereignty, unity and identity of the Russian nation;

2. The Russian language is in a permanent state of siege. In the Russian society, the idea that certain hostile forces from abroad are making attempts to reduce the spread of Russian language in a brutal and artificial way by pushing it to the periphery is inoculated.

In the former USSR, Russian was one of the fundamentals of the so-called homo sovieticus (Soviet man). The Russification of the former Union republics through interethnic exchange and the promotion of the Russian language was part of the process of creating the Soviet man. Towards the end of the existence of the Soviet Union, all the Union republics comprised important Russian-speaking communities. According to the 1989 census data (the last one conducted in the USSR), outside the Russian Federation, about 25 million ethnic Russians lived. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, a large part of them remained outside the natural borders in which they lived until 1991. In the post-Soviet states, the Russians lost the position of dominant people, and they gained the ethnic minority status.

For these reasons, in the post-USSR period, appeard the need for the integration of Russian ethnic groups, as well as other Russian-speaking ethnic groups because the vast majority of them did not know the official language of the state in which they lived. The process of integrating the Russian-speaking population into the new states has been and still is difficult. There are two aspects that make it difficult to integrate into post-Soviet states: objective and subjective.

The objective aspect is psychological. He refers to the fact that Russian-speaking ethnic groups, being mentioned in the new state-national realities, objectively needed time to integrate into them. A fundamental condition for their social-political integration in the new societies is to acquire the national language of the state in which they live. In some states this condition was strict, even compulsory, in others the knowledge of the national language was less rigorous. For example, in the Baltic states the reception of citizenship by Russian ethnic groups was directly conditioned by the knowledge of the national language, whereas in the Republic of Belarus the Russian language is a official language, alongside the Belarusian one.

For subjective reasons, many Russian-speaking ethnic groups (in some states most of them) have not learned the national language of the state where they live with the native people. This is because either they did not want to, or the state did not create the conditions necessary for them to learn the national language. This subjective aspect has been speculated manipulatively for its geopolitical purposes by Russia. It is clear from Moscow’s policy that it does not want the integration of Russian and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups into the new states. Russia did not contribute to the integration of Russian-speaking ethnic groups into the new states, of course with the guarantee of all their identity, linguistic and cultural rights. On the contrary, the Kremlin is trying to use them as an instrument of Russian revivalist policies in the post-Soviet space.

Referring to the situation of ethnic Russians in the post-Soviet states, Russian media and propaganda operate with a series of narratives taken from the last years of existence of the Soviet Union. Then, the national-cultural revival of the Union republics was cataloged as linguistic-nationalism by the union center in Moscow. In the post-Soviet period, most used messages promoted by Moscow are: manifestations of nationalism against the Russians, the Russians are discriminated against linguistically, the Russians are intentionally excluded from the social-political life, the Russians are violated their legal rights, etc. Generalized, these narratives try to inoculate to the population from the post-Soviet space the perception that in the former republics, except for the Republic of Belarus, the Russian language is besieged and marginalized, and it must be defended and protected by nationalists and xenophobes.

Exactly the same narratives regarding Russian ethnicity and Russian language are promoted in the Republic of Moldova. Even though from the legislative point of view, cultural minorities are respected and according to the Constitution, “the state recognizes and protects the right to keep, develop and operate the Russian language and other languages ​​spoken on the territory. country “. Russian or other ethnic groups, although they do not know the Romanian language, have access to education in the Republic of Moldova at all levels – starting with pre-school and ending with university and post-university. In the Republic of Moldova there are many Russian-language publications, TV and radio stations broadcasting in Russian. Moreover, the information space of the Republic of Moldova is dominated by the mass media in Russian.

Starting with the first years of independence in Moldova was created a specific linguistic situation. Following the adoption of the Law on the Functioning of Languages, [2] adopted in 1989 (the only functional law adopted during the Soviet period), the linguistic topic was in the forefront of political life in the first half of the 1990s. Since 1995, when the head of state, Mircea Snegur, following the student strikes, stopped the process of replacing the Romanian history with the Moldovan one in schools and universities, in the Republic of Moldova has reached a linguistic balance. A consensus has been reached between the state authorities and the representatives of ethnic minorities, who speak Russian. The state authorities have no longer raised the issue of ethnic minorities knowing the Romanian language (education, public sector, politics). In contrast, ethnic minorities have declined from the intensity of claims that Russian is granted official status.

However, there were two episodes that disturbed the linguistic balance established in the Republic of Moldova. The first is the one from 2002, when the attempt by the communist government to introduce the obligation to study Russian in second-grade schools and to change the name of history in the school curricula provoked major street protests. The protests were eased, with the mediation of the Council of Europe, after President Vladimir Voronin gave up the communists’ intention. The second episode was the one in 2011, when after almost a hundred graduates from Gagauzia UTA failed to pass the BAC exam in Romanian and Comrat deliberately challenged the central authorities in Chisinau, issuing their own graduation diplomas. The Ministry of Education did not recognize these diplomas. In response, UTA Gagauzia blamed the Moldovan authorities for not creating the necessary conditions for Gagauz ethnicities to learn Romanian and accused Chisinau for not complying with the language law of 1989 and that of the state of cultural autonomy in 1994. [3]

The linguistic balance constituted by the consensus between the state authorities and the ethnic minorities is a shabby one. After almost 30 years of independence, the ethnic minorities of the Republic of Moldova were not integrated into the Moldovan society, most of them not learning the state language. The linguistic balance reached in the 1990s destined the interethnic relationship in the Republic of Moldova, but did not contribute to the integration of ethnic minorities in the Moldovan society. Culturally-value, ethnic minorities are not oriented to Chisinau, but to Moscow. As a result, there was an enclave of ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova.

Any attempt to change this balance creates the danger of destabilizing the linguistic situation and straining interethnic relations in the Republic of Moldova. The legal increase of the state of the Russian language in the Republic of Moldova, without the integration of ethnic minorities in the Moldovan society, will not contribute to the solution of the linguistic problem. On the contrary, it may contribute to deepening the enclave of ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova. Russia is aware of this situation and therefore insists on this subject. Moscow does not want the integration of Russian-speaking ethnic minorities into Moldovan society, because in this case they will become loyal citizens of the state of Moldova and will no longer be Russian geopolitical capital in the post-Soviet space.

For their part, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova must develop educational policies and create the necessary conditions that would contribute to the gradual integration of ethnic minorities into the Moldovan society. These policies must have two linguistic dimensions: 1) promoting the native language; 2) learning the Romanian language. The involvement of the political factor in the Republic of Moldova in the geopolitical games of Russia in the post-Soviet space, with irrepressible and irresponsible promises made behind the scenes, is risky and harmful thereafter. This will not solve the problem of the integration of ethnic minorities in the Moldovan society, but may create problems for the Republic of Moldova in the future.

The initiative of the Russian embassy in Chisinau to strengthen the state of the Russian language in the Republic of Moldova is not a priority in the current linguistic context of the Moldovan society. The Russian language is present in the public and informational space of the Republic of Moldova, its state being guaranteed by the Constitution and other legislative norms. More current is the problem of the ignorance by the ethnic minorities in the Republic of Moldova of the Romanian language in order to be able to integrate into the Moldovan society. In this direction the joint efforts of the Russian and Moldovan authorities should be directed, if indeed they are concerned about the fate of the Russian language and the ethnic Russians of the Republic of Moldova.

[1] 24.10.19, 12:34. /

[2] Statute nr.3465 din 01.09.1989 /

[3] Statute nr.344 din 23.12.1994 privind statutul juridic special al Găgăuziei (Gagauz-Yeri). /

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