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Moldova: Court Rules Against Expanding Use Of Russian Language

Moldova's Constitutional Court has overruled a parliamentary decision requiring that civil records be kept in the Russian language as well as Moldovan. The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the opposition Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD), which favors closer ties with neighboring Romania. The court ruling follows a government move earlier this year to withdraw a measure introducing the mandatory study of Russian in the country's schools. The Christian Democrats have welcomed the court decision as a victory in their campaign to stop what they call the government's attempts to "re-Russify" Moldova.

Prague, 3 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Moldova's Constitutional Court has reversed a move by the Communist-dominated parliament to increase the use of the Russian language in civil and local administrations.

Following a complaint by the opposition Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD), the Constitutional Court overruled on 30 May measures requiring all civil records, including birth, marriage, and death certificates, be kept in two languages: the official language, Moldovan, as well as Russian.

The court also invalidated measures providing for the bilingual inscription of city and street names and public announcements in train stations and airports.

The measures were part of two bills passed by pro-Russian Communist deputies who control more than two-thirds of the Moldovan parliament's 101 seats.

The PPCD welcomed the court decision. PPCD lawyer Bogdan Ciubotaru told RFE/RL the ruling upholds the constitutional provision that declares Moldovan the sole official language.

Ciubotaru said granting privileged status to Russian also discriminated against Moldova's other ethnic minorities. "The articles [that we challenged] were giving Russian a privileged status, thus violating the 13th article of the constitution, which says that Russian has a status equal with the languages of the other minorities in Moldova. It also [violated] Article 16, which says that all Moldovan citizens are equal before the law. This implies that all members of the ethnic minorities must enjoy the same rights and duties. By giving Russian a privileged status, this provision was infringed upon," Ciubotaru said.

Moldova was part of Romania before World War II and some 65 percent of its 4.5 million people speak what is officially called Moldovan, which is virtually the same language as Romanian.

The vast majority of Moldova's remaining citizens speak Russian, but there are also other ethnic groups, such as Ukrainians and the ethnic Turkish Gagauz minority.

Russian speakers are mainly concentrated in the separatist Transdniester region, which broke away from Moldova in 1990, and in Moldovan cities.

Communist President Vladimir Voronin's government came to power last year amid growing poverty, promising to restore living standards to Soviet-era levels by bringing Moldova economically and politically closer to Russia.

But the Moldovan Communists' rapprochement with Moscow was met with stiff resistance by the PPCD, which calls for closer ties with Romania.

Despite holding only 11 seats in the legislature, the Christian Democrats managed to organize mass rallies over several months to protest what they said was the "re-Russification" of Moldova and calling for the government's resignation.

Protesters scored a success in February, when -- following mass demonstrations -- the government renounced a plan to reintroduce compulsory Russian-language classes and to scrap Romanian history in Moldovan schools.

But demonstrations continued, with protesters demanding the government's resignation. Meanwhile, relations between ruling Communists and the Christian Democrats worsened further, when PPCD Vice President Vlad Cubreacov was abducted in March by unidentified kidnappers. Cubreacov resurfaced last month, but few details have been forthcoming about his two-month absence.

Meanwhile, demonstrations ended only after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in late April issued a nonbinding resolution expressing alarm at what it called "the deterioration and radicalization of Moldova's political climate."

The resolution called on both sides to reach a compromise based chiefly on granting more rights to the opposition in return for halting opposition-organized protests.

The Christian Democrats are now hailing the Constitutional Court ruling as a new success in their fight against growing Russian influence in Moldova.

But Communists say the court's decision was wrong. Communist deputy Ion Matu told RFE/RL the ruling against public announcements in Russian violates an article of the Constitution guaranteeing the right to receive information.

"In my opinion, the provisions [which were overturned] are in accordance with Article 13 [of the constitution, which grant Russian equal status with other minority languages]. Besides, there's Article 32 of the constitution, which provides for citizens' right to information, and if we speak about information, then information can also be in Russian, so that everybody understands it," Matu said.

However, PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said the measures had placed the Russian minority in a privileged position in comparison with all other ethnic minorities. "The two laws have been readjusted in accordance with the Moldovan Constitution. All ethnic minorities have regained equal status with the Russian-speaking minority, which had been in a privileged position compared with the non-Russian ethnic minorities," Rosca said.

Last week's ruling by the Constitutional Court came before the Communist authorities had time to implement the measures, which would have also required substantial funding from the budget.

But despite the apparent victory for the PPCD, the political climate remains tense in Moldova. Cubreacov's mysterious disappearance and reappearance has prompted the two sides to trade accusations of organizing the abduction.

Cubreacov, who was one of the main organizers of the opposition's mass rallies, disappeared in late March in Chisinau while returning home from work. On 25 May, he stumbled upon police officers stationed at a construction site in Moldova after abductors released him by the side of a highway.

Christian Democrats have accused the Communists of trying to eliminate Cubreacov. The government, in turn, has said Cubreacov's abduction may have been staged by its own party.

Cubreacov, meanwhile, has refrained from giving any public details about the incident in order not to hinder the official investigation. The one detail he revealed was that his captors "were speaking only Russian."