„ It is now the Constitutional Court’s duty to repair the own mistake made when declaring the old law on the functioning of languages outdated. The given law should have been better left untouched...”
To shoot a pigeon and kill a crow...
Before the elections, the politicians usually challenge or adopt particular normative documents so as to satisfy particular categories of voters. For example, before the previous parliamentary elections, the Liberal Party (PL) requested the Constitutional Court (CC) to declare unconstitutional a number of articles about the status of the Romanian language as a language of communication between the nations of the USSR, and about the obligation to translate the official documents into Russian, etc. from several laws:
- Law No.3465 of 01.09.1989 concerning the functioning of the languages spoken on the territory of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic;
- Law No.173 of 06.07.1994 concerning the method of publishing and brining into force of official documents;
- Law No. 382 of 19.07.2001 concerning the rights of persons who belong to national minorities and the legal status of their organizations;
- Law No.797 of 02-04-1996 on the adoption of the Parliament’s Regulations.
On June 4, 2018, the Constitutional Court adopted decision No.17, holding that Law No. 3465 of September 1, 1989 concerning the functioning of languages spoken on the territory of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic was outdated. It should be noted that to reach such a conclusion, the CC had to declare unconstitutional article 4, para. (2) of the Constitutional Jurisdiction Code adopted by Law No. 502 of June 16, 1995 and article 31, para. (2) of Law No. 317 of December 13, 1994 concerning the Constitutional Court, which provided that only the normative documents adopted after the coming into force of the Constitution adopted on July 29, 1994, can be subject to constitutionality control.
The Court explained its decision starting from the title of this law and the doubts generated by the way in which it was formulated, noting that the name of the Law itself reflects an outdated reality. The name “Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic" stopped existing on May 23, 1991, when the name of our state was modified into the Republic of Moldova. It’s true, but the CC overlooked that Article 7 of the final and transitory provisions of the Constitution is fully devoted to the given law and the measures for protecting it:
- Law of September 1, 1989 concerning the functioning of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova remains in force as long as it does not run counter to the present Constitution;
- The aforementioned law can be amended during seven years of the coming into force of the present Constitution, by the vote of at least 2/3 of MPs.
So, we see that the text of the supreme law adopted in 1994 updated the name of the law on the spoken languages, transforming it into a constitutional law for a period of seven years, until 2001. This way, the CC’s argumentation based on the inappropriate name of the language law for declaring it outdated was unsuitable and useless. Moreover, the Liberal MPs didn’t ask for this, being aware of the historical value of the given law that proclaimed and legalized “the really existing Moldovan-Romanian linguistic identity”.
Consequently, the CC’s judgment of June 4, 2018 left in force all the other provisions of the aforementioned law, which fully ensure the respect for the rights of the persons who belong to national minorities to use Russian and the necessity of translating the official documents into this language. Instead, the given decision opened widely up the doors for new political confrontations on the extremely sensitive linguist legislation. As Article 13(4) of the supreme law provides that “the method of functioning of languages on the territory of the Republic of Moldova is specified by organic law”, it was expected that political forces will appear at the opportune moment and will benefit from the opportunity of asserting themselves on this slippery ground. Only two years passed and currently, profiting from the political conjuncture, a new Law on the functioning of languages spoken on the territory of the Republic of Moldova was drafted and adopted by the MPs of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and of the Shor Party on December 16, 2020, planning it for the future snap parliamentary elections. So, the first conclusion is that the revision of the linguistic legislation in 2018 was motivated by the PL’s electoral interests and now, before the planned snap parliamentary elections, it turns out that the PL actually did a favor to the PSRM.
Linguistic legislation and PSRM’s intentions
The PSRM does not hide the fact that it is preparing for snap elections. The informal leader of the PSRM Igor Dodon hopes to return to the post of the party’s leader at the congress set for December 30, 2020, given the preparations for the snap parliamentary elections. The hasty adoption of a series of controversial laws is aimed at creating a pre-electoral climate favorable to the interests of the PSRM and this thing was confirmed by the MPs of the given group. Among the mentioned laws is the new Law on the functioning of languages on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, which comes to replace the old law adopted in 1989, which was declared outdated by the CC.
The problem is the new linguistic law is much more dangerous than the old one. Its goal is to anchor the Republic of Moldova in the so-called “Russian World”. This should not surprise us is we remember that the heavyweights of the PSRM are among the notable figures of the Russian imperialist movement and manage this movement’s branch in Moldova. Under the “Russian World” concept:
- the limits of the Russian World are the borders up to which the Russian language spreads;
- the moral nucleus of the Russian values is primarily formed of the Orthodoxy;
- the current margins of the Russian world coincide with the territory of the Eurasian Union, including its current members and the accession candidates.
Together with the adoption of the new law on the functioning of languages by the PSRM, the Republic of Moldova fully satisfies the three criteria for being identified as a component part of the “Russian World” community. If the Republic of Moldova is by definition a part of the Orthodox world, the other two criteria for treating it as a part of the Russian World were generated by the PSRM. This way, in 2018, owing to the efforts made by Igor Dodon, Moldova became an observer to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), while recently, owing to the linguistic law drafted by the PSRM, the Russian language became a language of interethnic communication on the territory of our country. What this can mean was recently demonstrated by the scandal caused by the deputies of the State Duma of Russia – Veaceslav Nikonov and Yevgeny Fyodorov, who put forward territorial pretentions to the EEU member Kazakhstan, which is part of the “Russian World”, even if it does not form part of the Orthodox world. Nevertheless, the Russian officials reminded Kazakhstan of the territorial presents of Russia as they earlier reminded Ukraine of the annexation of Crimea and the provocation of the war in Donbas. So, another conclusion is that it would be much better for the Republic of Moldova to be as far from the “Russian World” as possible.
The irresponsible behavior of the political parties before the elections contributes to the deepening of the sociopolitical cleavages in the country. The Liberal Party’s pre-electoral initiatives from the period before the snap parliamentary elections returned like a boomerang against the status of the official language after the PSRM undertook the initiative in this field and, before the expected snap legislative elections, introduced in the national linguistic legislation the notion of language of interethnic communication that didn’t exist in the previous legislation.
The difference between the status of Russian as a language of communication between the nations of the USSR stipulated by the old law and the status of language of interethnic communication stipulated by the new law adopted by the PSRM is huge. The first status referred to the range of a legal subject that disappeared, while the second refers to the current situation in the Republic of Moldova. The introduction of Russian as a language of interethnic communication raises the status of the Russian language above the status of the official language as the new law clearly provides that the official language cannot play the role of language of interethnic communication in the country that proclaims it official language.
In 2018, the CC unjustifiably ignored the status of the languages law stipulated in Article 7 of the final and temporary provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, giving reasons for adopting a law that is much more dangerous for the status of the official language of the Republic of Moldova. The status of Russian as a language of interethnic communication actually undermines the status of the official language, discouraging the representatives of ethnic minorities from learning it. Moreover, the existence of the language of interethnic communication undermines the achievement of the goal of the old law – real national-Russian and Russian-national bilingualism. Why should the representatives of the minority groups study the official language if the new legislation guarantees their right to use it in any circumstances, without any reservation, as a language of interethnic communication?
It is now the Constitutional Court’s duty to repair the own mistake made when declaring the old law on the functioning of languages outdated. The given law should have been better left untouched. When examining MP Octavian Țîcu’s application, the CC should take into account the examples of other states as regards the ensuring of the supremacy of the official language. A useful example can be given by Kazakhstan to which the Russian politicians recently stated territorial pretentions. The law on the functioning of languages in this country clearly provided that: “It is the duty of each citizen of the Republic of Kazakhstan to master the official language that is the most important factor in consolidating the population of Kazakhstan”. For comparison, the new linguistic law adopted by the PSRM provides only that the Republic of Moldova guarantees the studying of the official language by all the citizens, without insisting on the compulsoriness of studying it.