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Moldovan School Principal To Receive Democracy Award

Eleonora Cercavschi
A Moldovan high-school principal is being honored for her efforts to ensure her students are educated in their own language.

Eleonora Cercavschi is principal of Stefan cel Mare (Stefan the Great) High School in Grigoriopol, a town in the breakaway province of Transdniester, where Cyrillic script is used.

For the last six years, Cercavschi and her staff and students have made a 34-kilometer round trip each school day to avoid a crackdown on the use of Latin script in the pro-Russian region.

Cercavschi's efforts have won her the 2008 Ion Ratiu Democracy Award, to be presented at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center in December.

The prize is awarded each year to an individual who has shown an outstanding contribution to democracy.

Latin Vs. Cyrillic

Cercavschi's school is at the heart of a more than decade-long dispute over the closures of Romanian-language schools in Transdniester that use Latin rather than Cyrillic.

Until 2002, Cercavschi's school was one of only a handful in Transdniester that were allowed to teach Romanian using the Latin script. That year it was closed under pressure from separatist authorities in Tiraspol and forced to relocate to Dorotkaia, a village 17 kilometers away under the control of Moldova's central authorities.

Transdniester's six remaining Latin-script schools were closed two years later, a move described by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as "linguistic cleansing."

Cercavschi says she is tired of her struggle, but that the children keep her going.

"Of course, I'm tired. We're all human," she tells RFE/RL's Moldova Service. "The kids are the only ones who don't let me step back and lose my faith. When you look in their eyes, you have this wish and energy to do even more. And believe me, I want to do more, but unfortunately I can't control a lot of things anymore. My heart is breaking that already for seven years our kids have had to travel 34 kilometers back and forth from Grigoriopol to Dorotkaia in order to study."

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