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Strangers In Their Own Land

Natalia Morari
Natalia Morari
A friend of my husband's decided to send her daughter, Nastya, to a preschool. According to her, she and her family speak only Russian and know virtually no Romanian. I'm not saying whether that is right or not, but just reporting the facts.

They spent a long time choosing a preschool and in the end opted for a Russian-language one. They were prompted toward this choice in part by some friends who last year enrolled their 3-year-old Sasha in a Romanian nursery school and, to hear them tell it, came to regret it within six months.

Little Sasha started coming home from school and speaking Romanian with his parents. His mother understood a little bit, but his father didn't know anything more than "Buna ziua" (hello) and "La revedere" (good-bye) and fell into a panic when his son said, "Papa, toarna-mi un pahar de apa" (Papa, pour me a glass of water).

"Soon we won't be able to understand our own child," they decided and promptly transferred Sasha to a Russian-language school.

I argued with Nastya's mother for a long time about this. I insisted that her inability to speak Romanian was her problem and that she didn't have the right to deny her child a fair shot at a full future in her own country.

Whether we like it or not, it is clear that in five years, even less Russian will be spoken in Moldova than now. And in 10 years, still less. And in 15 years, when Nastya is applying to enter the university -- well, you can imagine.

Now you can argue about this and disagree, but it is absolutely natural and similar processes are going on in all the post-Soviet republics. In some places faster; in others, more slowly.

I tried to tell Nastya's mother that her child's native language will always be that language with which she communicates with her parents and closest relatives. Going to a Romanian preschool would not mean that she would forget how to speak Russian.

It is natural that parents are concerned about their child being brought up in a foreign culture -- even one that is very close, but nonetheless different. "But what about Pushkin?" the young mother asked. Of course, everyone makes their own choices, but it is perfectly possible to learn about Pushkin by following the good example of one's parents rather than just studying him in school.

And the curriculum in Romanian schools can be just as good -- if not better -- than what is found in Russian schools. But the fact that in 15 years a graduate of a Russian school will be less competitive than a graduate of a Romanian school should be clear to everyone even now.

A Question Of Culture

According to a recent poll by Gallup, about 23 percent of Moldovans consider Russian their native language (in Armenia, that figure is 3; in Georgia, 7 percent; in Kazakhstan, 68 percent; in Ukraine, 83 percent).

I, for example, am a Moldovan -- there never were any Russians in my family, but it happened that my parents sent me to a Russian preschool and, later, to a Russian school. My mother, like many Soviet women, raised her two children by herself. And she decided that knowing Russian would be the best way for her kids to "get ahead." As a result, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Bulgakov, and Brodsky became part of my native culture. They are not foreign to me.

As for Cioran Hasdeu, and Eliade, they aren't exactly "native." I have read a smattering of them, but that's all. Such a cultural metamorphosis happened to the majority of Russian-speaking Moldovans. Back then, through no fault of our own but because of the gravity of the political center, a foreign culture supplanted our native culture. And our own, real native culture was relegated to the high shelf with the rest of the "foreign" literature.

Of course, some readers might argue that there is more to culture than literature. That there is also history and traditions and so on and so forth. And I won't argue with that. But I do remember that when I was young and my system of values was being formed, it was literature that made the greatest contribution.

Now many Russian-speaking Moldovans are isolated and live on their own cultural reservations. And this is understandable -- they feel at home among strangers and like strangers among their own people.

How will Nastya feel in 15 years? Who knows? But her parents can do her a favor now -- if they can keep from placing the burden of their own ignorance of Romanian on her little shoulders.

-- Natalia Morari, blogging for RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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