The major goal of the creation of ATU Gagauz-Yeri was to satisfy the national needs and to safeguard the identity of the Gagauz people by keeping and developing their national language first and foremost. However, after 23 years of existence of the autonomous unit, the situation of the national language has worsened. A bill to extend the application of the Gagauz language was presented in Comrat not long ago. At fist sight, the bill is designed to make a habit of having discussions about the saving of the national language. But the bill divided Gagauz society: recognizing the good intentions, many anticipated that the law will not be functional and can even become a generator of interethnic tensions.
The initiative to draft a bill that would consolidate the position of the Gagauz language in the Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) of Gagauzia was put forward by Ecaterina Jecova, Elena Caramit and Mihail Jelezoglo, deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri. Almost a year ago, they presented the idea. Since then the authors have staged a series of briefings, consultations and debates with linguists and education specialists. The initiative was presented in the form of a bill at the beginning of this year. On May 11, the authors held a round of public hearings.
The policy of using the Gagauz language in the education system and the public sphere is the essence of the bill. In particular, the bill refers to the creation of a linguistic environment in kindergartens in Gagauzia, teaching of particular school subjects in the Gagauz language and financial motivation of Gagauz language teachers, the obligation for the representatives of the local authorities to know the Gagauz language and promotion of the language in the field of culture.
Deputies Jekova, Karamit and Jelezoglo presented the idea as an “initiative to save the Gagauz language”. Such a name is rather inappropriate for a law, but this underlines rather well the situation of the mother tongue of the Gagauz people. Despite the official status at regional level, the Gagauz language is not only seldom used in the official sphere, but is also substituted by Russian in everyday communication. Regarded from this angle, the proposals formulated by the bill authors are rather pertinent.
No one questions the importance of the support for the Gagauz language, but the initiative generates ambiguities of a legal character that were addressed in the May 11 hearings.
In particular, Sofia Torlac, head of the Main Education Division, said a series of laws of the ATU Gagauzia enable to fully use the Gagauz language and the bill initiated by the group of deputies brings nothing new.
Among others, Torlac gave as an example the local law on education that contains rather many provisions concerning the use of the Gagauz language in the training process. As regards the use of the language in the public sphere, there is the law on the functioning of languages on the territory of Gagauz-Yeri. Moreover, it can be easily proven that some of the articles of the new bill not only repeat the already existing norms, but also run counter to some of these.
For example, according to the new bill, all the representatives of the state power in Gagauz-Yeri as from 2021 should know the Gagauz language and should use it while in service. Moreover, this is a condition for them to be confirmed to posts. But the official language and the Russian language also work as official languages on the territory of the ATU, with the same rights as the Gagauz language. Under the local law on the functioning of languages, the correspondence between the bodies of the state power and the people in secretariat work can be conducted in one of the three languages, of one’s choice.
The draft law’s requirement to hold the working meetings of the bodies of the power, starting with the local councils and ending with the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia and the Executive Committee, in the Gagauz language also runs counter to the principle of existence of the three languages at the local level. The bill can generate bewilderment mainly in localities with a population that is predominantly of another ethnicity than the Gagauz one or with mixed a population.
The directors and teachers of education institutions, who were present in a large number at the public hearings, expressed different opinions on the bill. A part of them supported the bill, saying the disastrous state of the language requires immediate intervention. Others centered on the difficulties in using it, noting, in particular, the risk of firing faced by many teachers who, in the absence of a terminological basis and teaching aids, will not manage to translate a series of school subjects into the Gagauz language.
Among those who supported the draft law without reservation was Petr Pashaly, ex-director of the Scientific Center. This not only formulated categorical assessments and arguments, but also demanded that 20% should not rule over 80%.
What is the solution?
How one cannot be surprised when the “saving” of the Gagauz language takes place in the autonomous union where the Gagauz people represent 80% of the inhabitants and where there is no obstacle to using it in the public sphere, trade or everyday communication. If the laws that regulated until now the given area didn’t manage to improve the situation of the mother tongue, it is rather improbable that the appearance of another law will generate improvements.
Therefore, it would be much more interesting to discuss the instruments, besides the legislative ones, that can be used to give the Gagauz language a chance of survival. The solution could be in the activity of civil society, not in new laws formulated by functionaries.
Veaceslav Craciun, Comrat
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.