But now, with use of the state language becoming more widespread, particularly in the public sector, the need to speak Moldovan/Romanian is growing and action is urgently needed.
The small town of Comrat is located in Moldova's southern autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia. The population is mainly Gagauz (Orthodox Christians of Turkic origin), and the state language is not widely spoken.
Determination to learn
Today, though, a classroom at the Lyceum "Gaidarji" in Comrat is buzzing with activity. It is host to a seemingly strange contingent of adults: judges, police officers, medical workers, engineers, civil servants - some with many years of experience - who are back in school, united by their determination to learn the state language properly.
An Ireland-funded project by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is helping them to do precisely that.
"For me it was very difficult to actually start speaking Moldovan/Romanian," says Ruslan Caraivan from the General Prosecutor's Office. "I learnt it in school but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. The psychological barrier to start communicating is strong."
The Chairman of the Court of Appeal of Gagauzia, Elena Lazareva, is one of those who is working to overcome that barrier. "As a judge, I have to know the state language," she says in fluent Moldovan/Romanian.
"We hold hearings in Moldovan/Romanian too, depending on the request, which means that I also have to read all related and background material in this language. My goal is to be highly proficient in it and to use it freely in my work."
In the streets of Gagauzia, in the shops, restaurants or even in public institutions, the languages that can be heard are almost exclusively Russian or Gagauz. Does that mean that Gagauzia is linguistically "self-sufficient" and the occasional switch to Russian will do the trick?
Natalie Sabanadze, Senior Advisor to the HCNM, thinks not: "A good command of the State language is a precondition for real, effective communication between national minorities and the state authorities, and a means by which they can participate in the political and social life of the country."
Igor Munteanu, Director of IDIS Vitorul, HCNM's initial implementing partner agrees: "In Moldova, a national survey has shown that one of the reasons for the existence of a certain amount of tension between the national minorities and the central government lies in the fact that national minorities cannot communicate adequately in the language of the country. In this situation, the national minorities feel isolated and marginalized by society."
In 2005, the HCNM and IDIS Vitorul launched a project to offer language teaching for civil servants in southern Moldova. It aimed to tap into the activities of other international organizations in the region, but the slate was almost blank.
Today, however, the statistics are impressive: 470 national minority civil servants from the Moldova's southern and northern regions have received training in the state language, and 60 per cent of them are able to speak it fluently.
Mihail Furmuzal, Bashkan (Leader) of Gagauzia, says the initiative to implement the project comes from the Gagauzians themselves: "I personally participated in the language courses. I estimate that the project is a positive one, bringing its advantages and results to the region."
Positive side effects
Apart from the main objective of promoting knowledge of the state language, another of the project's important accomplishments has been the development of a new language teaching methodology for adult speakers, including role-playing, pair and group work and class discussions, as well as new teaching materials.
The effect has been immediate, says Ludmila Gutul, a local trainer for civil servants and a teacher of the state language at the Lyceum "Cara Cioban" in Gagauzia.
"The new methodology has made classes much more interesting. Sometimes I start the lesson with a joke, some interesting information, or a song, to attract the attention of the participants. I even applied some of the things I have learned in the Lyceum where I work, and the reaction was instant. Children loved it."
Another offshoot of the project is a new professional network, the National Association of European Trainers of Moldova (ANTEM). Its aim is to share experience and provide the best possible quality of language training to civil servants, thereby facilitating civic, socio-cultural and professional integration in Moldova.
Learning a new language may be a tough nut to crack but the enthusiasm of Moldova's minorities will no doubt help them face up to the challenge.
Written by Ivana Radenkovic
23 July 2008
Source link: High Commissioner on National Minorities