Ukraine Is Closing the Moldovan Issue

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Christian RUSSU
Due to Romania’s pressure, Kyiv, differentiating national minorities in the country on geopolitical grounds, discriminated against Moldovans along with Russians, depriving them of the right to their native language and identity
On the eve of the European Council Summit, Ukraine expanded the rights of national minorities on its territory, as the European Commission demanded in fulfilling the “candidate” requirements. The Ukrainian authorities were guided by the Venice Commission recommendations which implied a rejection of forced Ukrainization. The formal reason for Kyiv to avoid concessions on the language issue has long been the unacceptability of legalizing the Russian language. Yet, for officials in Brussels problems with the internal cohesion of the union were more important than democratic norms and values. Therefore, Ukrainians were given the go-ahead to expand the rights of only those national minorities that use official EU languages. On 8 December, the Verkhovna Rada amended the relevant laws, giving communities of Hungarians, Romanians, etc. the right to be educated in their native language, as well as the opportunity to participate in decision-making at the local level. Before that, the Law on Education had provided that persons belonging to national minorities were guaranteed the right to receive only pre-school and primary education in their own language, along with the State language. Until recently, such minorities included Russians, Jews, Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians and others. According to the last all-Ukrainian census in 2001, there were considerably more Moldovans than Romanians: 258 thousand against 151 thousand, which enabled the Moldovan communities to demand education in their native Moldovan language. This partly explained the publication of relevant textbooks in Ukraine until autumn of this year. The situation was changed by the forced concession on language in favor of Bucharest due to Ukraine’s critical dependence on logistical routes through Romania, as I wrote earlier. After the joint statements by the presidents and heads of government of the two countries were signed, Bucharest closely followed Kyiv’s fulfilment of its commitment to “urgently resolve the issue of the artificial distinction between the Romanian and ‘Moldovan’ languages...”. Bucharest was quite jealous of the fact that even a month later, textbooks in Moldovan continued to be printed and used in the neighboring country. The Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science was forced to issue official explanations that the government had indeed decided to use the notion of “Romanian language” instead of “Moldovan language” and to admit that it simply had not yet had time to bring the necessary legal acts in line with it. At the same time, Bucharest was assured that all documents related to this issue would be adopted in conformity with the agreements, and the civil servants who allowed violations and delays would be subject to disciplinary action. Meanwhile, since spring, the expert and scientific community in Ukraine has been promoting the ideas of official Romanian propaganda about the artificial origin of the Moldovan language and Moldovan nationality. Notably, the main argument was the decision of our authorities to exclude any mention of the Moldovan language from the Constitution and all other acts. Taking into account the fact that it was the Moldovan communities that defended the right to study in Ukraine in the Moldovan language, a discrediting campaign was launched against them. They were declared the supporters of the Kremlin’s interests, as they publicly opposed their Romanianization, insisted on Moldovan rather than Romanian as the language of studying at schools, etc., which allegedly did not exist in Moldova itself. Interestingly, the narratives imposed in Ukraine are not limited merely to the demands on how to name the language, but have other aspects. Not only the existence of the Moldovan language, but also the Moldovan state itself is considered groundless, since the name “Moldova” is given to the eastern part of Romania, and the territory between the Prut and Dniester was part of it. In other words, Ukraine is offered to prepare for the fact that Moldova will lose its sovereignty in the near future. There is no doubt that after the recent legislative changes in Ukraine, the terms “Moldovan ethnos” and “Moldovan minority” will be excluded, since their retention along with “Romanian ethnos” and “Romanian minority” in the official lexicon is fraught with resentment and deterioration of relations with Bucharest. However, even just recognizing Romania’s language demands as legitimate has serious and far-reaching consequences for our statehood. If this path is strictly followed, Ukraine will have to revise many bilateral agreements with Moldova that have the status of international treaties, including the basic ones. Among them is the treaty on good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation signed on 23 October 1992 by Snegur and Kravchuk. It contains a reference to the fact that it was concluded in Romanian, but the protocol on the exchange of ratification instruments is in Moldovan. It is obvious that the process of revising the entire international legal framework, including mutual recognition of the two countries, will not end only with stylistic corrections, and the range of its participants will not be limited to two subjects. For the Romanian diplomacy this development will open wide opportunities to fulfil the underlying national-ideological demands of its own political elite. We should not forget that in order to finally close the “Moldovan issue”, Bucharest and Kyiv will have to solve the Transnistrian issue, where the Moldovan language has found its last shelter as an “official language”.