Language the latest battleground in Moldova’s East-West struggle

Pro-Russian president vows to block switch from Moldovan to Romanian

Moldovan president Igor Dodon and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 10th. Mr Dodon denounced Moldova’s highest court on Wednesday for approving a proposal from pro-EU deputies to change the nation’s constitution. Photograph:   Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Moldovan president Igor Dodon and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 10th. Mr Dodon denounced Moldova’s highest court on Wednesday for approving a proposal from pro-EU deputies to change the nation’s constitution. Photograph: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

 

Moldova’s pro-Kremlin president Igor Dodon has vowed to block efforts by its West-leaning government to change the name of its official language, in their latest clash over the direction of a country pulled between the European Union and Russia.

Mr Dodon denounced Moldova’s highest court on Wednesday for approving a proposal from pro-EU deputies to change the nation’s constitution, to state that its official language is not Moldovan but Romanian. The move will be debated in parliament before a vote, which would probably not take place before next spring.

The territory of Moldova moved between Russian and Romanian control for centuries before claiming independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union, which enforced use of the Cyrillic alphabet to create a distinction between the otherwise identical Moldovan and Romanian languages and between residents of the neighbouring states.

Mr Dodon said he would do everything possible to prevent the change, warning that even if “enough traitors” backed it in parliament, he would “raise the entire Moldovan people in defence of our native language and our dignity”.

“I don’t advise going down that path . . . Our ancestors defended our language and our traditions for centuries. We are obliged to defend it for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At any price,” he told Russia’s Ria news agency.

Independent Moldova has always been divided over ties between Moscow and the West, and its main Russian-speaking region, called Transdniestria, has run its own affairs with Kremlin backing since breaking from government control in a 1992 war. Russia still keeps about 2,000 troops there, despite agreeing to withdraw them by 2002.

Corruption and poverty

Russian aggression in Ukraine, which borders Moldova, has intensified debate over the future path of the 3.5 million-strong state, where Mr Dodon’s presidential election victory last year reflected widespread disillusionment with a scandal-plagued government’s failure to tackle corruption and poverty.

Since 2014, Russia has banned many food products from Moldova in apparent retaliation for its signing of a major trade deal with the EU, and in March this year the government banned state officials from visiting Russia after several complained of mistreatment by Moscow’s security services.

Some officials linked the alleged abuse to Moldova’s investigation into the suspected laundering of $22 billion (€18.9 billion) in Russian cash through its banks.

In May, Moldova expelled five of Moscow’s diplomats and in August it declared Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata, after Romania and Ukraine barred his plane from their airspace as he sought to visit separatist Transdniestria to “celebrate 25 years of Russian peacekeeping” there.

Last month, Moldova’s constitutional court allowed Mr Dodon to be briefly suspended to allow the speaker of parliament to swear in a new defence minister whom the president did not support.