„No more” privileged position for the Russian language in Moldova

On 21 January 2021, the Constitutional Court (here available in Russian) issued a landmark decision that turned down the law on the languages’ functioning, adopted in a rush the Socialists Party and promulgated by the outgoing pro-Russian president Igor Dodon. As a consequence, Russian may lose its privileged role among other minority languages.

Some international media, especially the Russian ones, misinterpreted the Court’s decision insinuating that the Russian language usage will not have the status of inter-ethnic language anymore. That’s not precisely what the Moldovan Constitutional Court concluded.

This commentary explains what has happened and what exactly has decided the Constitutional Court:

Noteworthy, the Court found that the law on languages is unconstitutional for various reasons. The technical one relates to the budgetary aspects. The Court specified that the law is not accompanied by the approval/estimates of the Government about the budgetary coverage. The Court provided many other arguments that supported the decision of annulment that envisages the position of the Russian versus other minority languages in Moldova.

It’s noteworthy that the pro-Russian Socialists Party backed the controversial law to replace the 1989 law on languages that lost the legal grounding, when the Constitutional Court decided, back in June 2018, that the law adopted in Soviet time is outdated.

The Court’s ruling on the 2020 law on languages have long-term legal and political consequences. It pushes the Moldovan lawmakers to consider the proportionality of the use of the Russian language when drafting another law on languages.

First, the Court argues that 77.8% of the population speaks Romanian. It reinforces another Court’s decision of Dec. 2013 that equalized the “Moldovan” (stipulated in the Art. 13 of the Constitution) with Romanian language (indicated in the Declaration of Independence of August 1991).

Second, the Courts noted that the Russian language is the mother tongue for 9.3% of the population, ~ 4% – Gagauzian (a version of Turkish language), 3.8% – Ukrainian, 1.4% – Bulgarian. Moreover, the Court says the Ukrainian language is spread almost as evenly as the Russian across the 32 territorial units of the country.

Third, the Court questions whether it is respected the balance between the state language (Romanian/“Moldovan”) and the language of a minority (Russian). In light of that, the position of other minority language is disproportionate compared to Russian.

Fourth, the Court openly favors the protection and the promotion of the Romanian/“Moldovan” language, which is spoken by the majority of the population. In this regard, the Romanian/“Moldovan” should become the language that ensures cohesion and non-discrimination of the ethnic minorities.

Fifth, the Court saw that the law on languages doesn’t guarantee the balance between protecting the state language (Romanian/Moldovan) and the languages of minorities (Russian, Ukrainian, Gagauzian, Bulgarian).

Sixth, the Court rejects the idea of giving to the Russian a privileged role, because this doesn’t derive from the Constitution. Besides, the law aimed at instituting strict obligations about the use of Russian in public affairs in the whole country, despite the differentiated usage of Russian from rayon to rayon.

Seventh, the Russian’s privileged status is questioned as the supreme law refers only to one state language – Romanian/“Moldovan”. There is no such provision as “language of interethnic communication”. That endangers the Romanian/“Moldovan” language and discriminates other minorities than the Russian one.

So the Court’s decision makes it more difficult the future attempts to give a special status to the Russian language. However, the Court itself accepted that the Russian and other minority languages should receive protection, taking into account the territorial usage. Consequently, the fight for protecting the Russian language will intensify in those regions where it is spoken. Meanwhile, the state will need to find more resources to provide the protection and free usage of 4 languages. The bilateral collaboration with Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Turkey will be helpful.

In the meantime, the Russian embassy in Chisinau has slammed the decision of the Constitutional Court that rejected the law passed last year allowing preserving Russian as a privileged language. Moscow used such wording as “radicals” & “Russophobes” while commenting the Court’s decision. In reaction to that, Moldova’s MFA asked from the diplomatic missions in Moldova for non-interference in the domestic affairs of the country, only indirectly targeting Russia.

Amid the looming diplomatic scandal, the pro-Russian forces, the ex-President Igor Dodon and his political party (Socialists), announced protests across the country in support for the Russian language. They also intend to draft a new law on languages advocating for a special status for the Russian.

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