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On March 22, President of Moldova Maia Sandu signed a decree to change the name of the state language of the country from "Moldovan" to "Romanian". Before that, the draft law on changing the name of the language was approved by the Parliament of Moldova. BBC explains why the Moldovan government made this decision and what it will change.

Maia Sandu
Source: AFP

"I want the Romanian language to unite all of us who live here and love this land. Together with more than 27mn people around the world, we speak Romanian, one of the official languages of the European Union," Sandu wrote on Facebook.

The name of the Moldovan language is replaced by the Romanian language in the country's constitution, legal texts, and all state documents.

How does the government interpret this?

In a post she wrote after signing the decree, Sandu said she considers the decades-long division of Moldovan and Romanian languages and peoples artificial and only useful for third powers.

"For decades, those who said that we, the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, speak Moldovan, not Romanian, wanted only one thing: to divide us," the president wrote. "This is because once you divide a nation, it is easier to subjugate and control it. A divided nation is not the only force capable of defending itself. Those who wanted to divide us were not worried about linguistics, but about how to leave Moldova in an eternal national conflict."

During the day, Sandu's post received 12,000 likes and 1,500 comments, most of which begins with the word "Congratulations!".

Why now?

Since the beginning of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, small Moldova, located between Ukraine and Romania, feels a real threat to its security.

When Russian missiles were fired at targets in Ukraine, Moldova made several indiscriminate strikes on its airspace. Fragments of Russian missiles returned by Ukrainian air defense forces also landed in the territory of Moldovan villages. Russia's shelling of Ukraine's energy infrastructure led to interruptions in Moldova's energy supply.

In addition, Moldovan authorities consider Moscow's rhetoric towards the country an open threat and accuse the Kremlin of attempting a coup d'état in Moldova. Mass protests continue in the country, the participants of which sharply criticize Sandu's government and support Russia.

Demonstration of opponents of Sandu's government in Chisinau
Source: EPA

President Maia Sandu is doing everything possible to get help from the West. In June 2022, Moldova, together with Ukraine, received the status of a candidate state for joining the European Union.

According to some experts, in the current situation, changing the name of the state language may be Chisinau's next step towards rapprochement with neighboring Romania, which is a member of the European Union and NATO.

How do the people of the country react to this change?

Apart from a few thousand likes on social media, the government's decision caused almost no reaction in Moldovan society.

The term "Romanian" for the country's population has remained stable since the 1990s. At that time, national language classes in schools were called Romanian instead of Moldovan, as before. The history of the country is called "the history of Romanians" in the programs of general education institutions.

According to the Romanian Ministry of Justice, between 2009 and 2021, more than 1mn Moldovans received Romanian citizenship - this is about 39.5% of the country's total population.

Taking into account the Romanian passports obtained in the previous period, at least half of Moldovans today are Romanian citizens.

The majority of society has long been closely associated with Romania, so a change in the status of the state language in Moldova seems quite natural.

Who is against change?

Opposition and nationalist groups opposed Maya Sandu and the parliament's decision.

Chairman of the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova, ex-president Vladimir Voronin
Source: Sopa Images

The opposition - mainly socialists and communists - say that such issues can only be resolved through a popular referendum, not in the corridors of government.

"I asked in the parliamentary commissions: what language did Stefan cel Mare (the ruler of the Moldovan principality in the 15th and 16th centuries) speak?" In Moldavian language. Mihai Eminescu (a poet who lived in the second half of the 19th century) wrote poetry in which language? In the Moldovan language, he is from this place, Moldovan. Dimitry Kantemir (ruler of the Principality of Moldavia in the 17th century) wrote in Moldovan," said Vladimir Voronin, head of the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova, former president, in his comments to the Moldovan press.

In early March, shortly after the bill was passed by the parliament, a demonstration against the language name change took place near the Constitutional Court building in Chisinau. According to various estimates, about a hundred people came to it.

They say that the government has assassinated the heritage of each Moldovan - the language of their ancestors.

Romania's reaction

People in Bucharest reacted positively to the decision of the Moldovan government and assured Chisinau of full support.

"I welcome the adoption by the Chisinau Parliament of the law that Romanian will have the status of an official language in the Republic of Moldova. The recognition of the historical and scientific truth confirms the commonality of culture and language on the two banks of the Prut," said Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă.

"I confirm once again that Romania provides unconditional support to the Republic of Moldova for the development of the economy in the European direction and for the well-being of all its citizens. I confirm once again that the Romanian government supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and stability of the neighboring country," - he wrote on his official Facebook page.

What are people in Moscow saying?

The official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Telegram channel that the Moldovan language is a symbol of self-identification of the people of Moldova (in the post, Zakharova used the Soviet name of the country - Moldavia).

"A question arises for the current regime in Chisinau, which rejected the Moldovan language: who owns the present Bessarabia (occupied by Romania until 1940) and the lands along the Dniester (part of Ukraine until 1940)?" If they want to rewrite the name of the language, they should follow the historical logic and call the Romanian language Moldavian, not the other way around," - she wrote.

According to her, the Moldovan language, paradoxically, has been officially preserved only in Dniester.

"It is our sovereign right to decide what to call the language we speak, and we do not need history lessons. We call on the Russian side not to interfere in the internal affairs of our country," said the statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova in response to Zakharova.

Romanian and Moldovan: one language or two?

According to many modern linguists, "Romanian" and "Moldovan" are different names (linguonyms) of the same language.

The Moldavian language is very old and it is the basis of the Romanian language. Its literary version began to form in the 16th and 17th centuries and was finally formed in the second half of the 19th century.

The process of creating the Romanian state began in 1859 as a result of the union of two principalities - Moldavia and Wallachia - in the vassal lands of the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the Treaty of Bucharest, the Ottoman Empire had to give Bessarabia, a part of the Principality of Moldavia, to the Russian Empire. After the revolution of 1917, Bessarabia province briefly became the independent Republic of Moldavia, and in 1918 it became part of Romania.

As a result of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on June 28, 1940, Romania was forced to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, after which Moldova became the Moldavian SSR for decades.

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