Language, Religion, and Culture
The Moldovan dialect of Romanian, spoken by the majority of the people of Bessarabia, was viewed by both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an impediment to controlling the local populace. Under the tsars, Romanian-language education and the Romanian press were forbidden as part of a process of forced Russification.
Stalin justified the creation of the Moldavian SSR by claiming that a distinct "Moldavian" language was an indicator that "Moldavians" were a separate nationality from the Romanians in Romania. In order to give greater credence to this claim, in 1940 Stalin imposed the Cyrillic alphabet on "Moldavian" to make it look more like Russian and less like Romanian; archaic Romanian words of Slavic origin were imposed on "Moldavian"; Russian loanwords and phrases were added to "Moldavian"; and a new theory was advanced that "Moldavian" was at least partially Slavic in origin. (Romanian is a Romance language descended from Latin.) In 1949 Moldavian citizens were publicly reprimanded in a journal for daring to express themselves in literary Romanian. The Soviet government continued this type of behavior for decades.
Proper names in Moldova were subjected to Russianization as well. Russian endings were added to purely Romanian names, and individuals were referred to in the Russian manner by using a patronymic (based on one's father's first name) as a middle name.
In 1989 members of most of the Moldavian SSR's nationalities claimed their national language as their mother tongue: Romanians (95 percent), Ukrainians (62 percent), Russians (99 percent), Gagauz (91 percent), Bulgarians (79 percent), and Roma (82 percent). The exceptions were Jews (26 percent citing Yiddish), Belarusians (43 percent), Germans (31 percent), and Poles (10 percent).
Although both Romanian written in the Cyrillic alphabet (that is, "Moldavian") and Russian were the official languages of the Moldavian SSR, only 62 percent of the total population claimed Romanian as their native language in 1979. If ethnic Romanians are subtracted from this number, the figure falls to just over 1 percent. Only 4 percent of the entire population claimed Romanian as a second language.
In 1979 Russian was claimed as a native language by a large proportion of Jews (66 percent) and ethnic Belarusians (62 percent) and by a significant proportion of ethnic Ukrainians (30 percent). Proportions of other nationalities naming Russian as a native language ranged from 17 percent of ethnic Bulgarians to 3 percent of ethnic Romanians (urban Romanians were more Russianized than rural Romanians). Russian was claimed as a second language by a sizable proportion of all the nationalities: Romanians (46 percent), Ukrainians (43 percent), Gagauz (68 percent), Jews (30 percent), Bulgarians (67 percent), Belarusians (34 percent), Germans (53 percent), Roma (36 percent), and Poles (24 percent).
On August 31, 1989, the Supreme Soviet of Moldavia passed the Law on State Language, which made Moldovan written in the Latin alphabet the state language of the Moldavian SSR. Because of pressure exerted by non-Romanian ethnic groups, Russian was retained as the language of interethnic communication. In areas where non-Romanian ethnic groups were the majority, the language of that majority could also be used as a means of communication. Because of strong objections raised by the non-Romanian nationalities, implementation of the law was delayed.
The new Moldovan constitution, adopted August 27, 1994, states that Moldovan, written in the Latin script, is designated as the official language, but provisions were made for Russian and other languages to be used in areas of minority concentrations. Russian was also to be the language of interethnic communication.
On April 27, 1995, President Snegur asked Parliament to change the name of the language in the constitution, from Moldovan to Romanian, in response to demonstrations and strikes led by students. According to Moldovan law, it would be six months before a proposed change to the constitution could be made.
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