Moldovan schools in Transnistria

The Moldovan schools in Transnistria became an issue of contention in 2004 in the context of the disputed status of Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova since 1990/1992.


Moldovan schools were first established in Transnistria after the 1924 formation of the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which was part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. In 1940 the former Moldovan Autonomous Republic was split, 8 districts were included in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine and 6 districts were joined with part of Basarabia in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia. In the Ukrainian part of the former Moldavian autonomy Moldovan schools were transformed into Russian-language schools, but in the 6 districts that remained part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova a Moldovan-language network of schools was kept.

Post 1992 situation

The Moldovan 1989 language law, that introduced the Latin script as the official script of the Republic of Moldova, was boycotted by the Transnistrian authorities, and all Moldovan schools in Transnistria were ordered to keep the Cyrillic script. After the War of Transnistria ended in mid-1992, the local schools became regulated by the government of Transnistria. The schools that chose to use the Latin script back in 1989 came under pressure of the authorities and most were forced to return to the Cyrillic script. Only six Romanian language schools in Transnistria were allowed to keep the Latin script.

Attempts to expand the number of schools which are using Latin script are met with heavy-handed repression. In 1996, the director of the only Moldovan school in Slobozia, who supported the wish of the parents to conduct education in Latin alphabet was fired and forced to leave the region. In 1999 a lecturer of Moldovan language of the Bender Pedagogical College has been dismissed for promoting the Latin script in the institution. The dismissal has been preceded by threats on the phone and an aggression in the building where she lived.[1]

In September 1996, the Grigoriopol administration used Cossacks and police to stop the activity of Moldovan School.[2] On 2 October 1996 three teachers were arrested and taken to Tiraspol. On 7 October 1996, as a result of a demarche by the President of the Republic of Moldova and the OSCE Mission, the teachers were released.

Another attempt to teach Romanian clandestinely in Grigoriopol, in a ‘PMR state-funded school’, failed in 2002. Teaching staff and parents were blatantly vilified in the local press as ‘enemies of the State’.[3] One by one they were invited to ‘reconsider’, threatened with loss of employment and the corresponding entitlement to housing. Children (and teachers) were forced to write explanations as to why they used the Latin script and local officials routinely visited classes to check whether tuition was being ‘properly’ conducted. The parent-teacher association was abolished and its head, Mihai Speian, was arrested.[4] The Moldovan school in Grigoriopol was forced to move in Doroțcaia, a village controlled by Chișinău, and children commute 10–15 km daily to attend the school.

The 2004 crisis

In the summer of 2004, the Transnistrian authorities closed four of the six schools in the region that taught Moldovan language using the Latin script, known as Romanian. Some of the 3,400 enrolled children were affected by this measure and the teachers and parents who opposed the closures were temporarily arrested for up to six hours. During the crisis, the Moldovan government decided to create a blockade that would isolate the disputed region from the rest of the world. The blockade was ineffective because of a lack of cooperation from Ukraine, led at the time by Leonid Kuchma. Transnistria retaliated with a series of actions meant to destabilize the economic situation in Moldova, in particular, by cutting the power supply from the power plants that were built in Transnistria in Soviet times. As a result, this crisis generated power outages in parts of Moldova.

A leading figure in the conflict was Elena Vasilievna Bomeshko, the Minister of Education for Transnistria. According to her, and official Transnistrian policy, the language is referred to as "Romanian" when it is taught in Latin script and referred to as "Moldovan" when Cyrillic script is used. Transnistria rejects accusations of anti-Romanian bias and defends its preference of Cyrillic for Moldovan as a way to maintain the original language, pointing to the fact as far back as the Middle Ages, Moldovan Bibles were always written in Cyrillic.[5] While the Romanian language used the Cyrillic alphabet for centuries, it is no longer used in Romania. Cyrillic script is still used in some parts of Moldova, but only one newspaper (state-owned by Transnistrian authorities) prints a few hundred copies in Cyrillic.[6]

The closed Romanian schools were reopened, after registering as private institutions with the Transnistrian authorities. Pressure from the European Union (a travel ban was introduced to 10 Transnistrian education officials) may have sped up the process.,[7] but they still have the status of "private schools" and consequently do not receive funding from the Transnistrian government. As publicized by the government in 2006, there are now 6,700 students at ten secondary or high schools. In the state financed system, there are 33 schools in Moldovan (Cyrillic script) of the total of 186 schools.

Many teachers and parents of students studying at Moldovan schools with Cyrillic script had contacted the Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights asking support to turn education in Romanian (Latin script), as the studies based on the Cyrillic script and Soviet curricula don't have any perspective and the children are unable to pursue higher studies anywhere.[8] The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has condemned the actions of Transnistrian authorities as a "linguistic cleansing".[9]

Current situation

Students at Alexandru cel Bun High School in Bender celebrating the end of the academic year in May 2013

An OSCE report from June 2005 states: “If they [Moldovan parents in Transnistria] enroll their children in one of this schools that offer a Moldovan curriculum using a Latin script, they risk being threatened by the regional security service, and seeing their jobs put in jeopardy. Sending their children in one of the 33 Transdniestrian schools they teach in their native language in Cyrillic is, however, hardly an appealing alternative, as the schools follow an out-dated curriculum and use textbooks from the Soviet period”.[10] This is the reason why many Moldovans from Transnistria send their children in harassment-free Russian language schools.

Transnistrian authorities don't recognize the diplomas issued by Moldovan schools using Latin script, making impossible for graduates of those schools to study on Transnistrian higher educational institutions.[11]

Involvement of European Court of Human Rights

In November 2006 the European Court of Human Rights accepted to examine the claims submitted by three Moldovan schools in Transnistria (from Tighina, Rîbnița and Grigoriopol) regarding the violation of their right to education and right to work in conditions of non-discrimination. The three schools concerned regard Russia and Moldova as responsible for violation of their rights.[12] In June 2009, the Court conducted hearings on three similar cases: Caldare and 42 Others v. Moldova and Russia (no. 8252/05), Catan and 27 Others v. Moldova and Russia (no. 43370/04), Cervaschi and 98 Others v. Moldova and Russia (no. 18454/06).[13] In 2010, the Court has decided the case to be partly admissible[14] In 2012, the Court decided that the right to education of the applicants was violated by Russia, but not violated by Moldova.[15]

Pressure on Transnistrian authorities

In November 2006, Louis O'Neill, head of OSCE mission to Moldova, has urged local authorities in the Transnistrian city of Rîbnița to return a confiscated building to the Moldovan Latin-script school located in the city. The building was built by the Government from Chișinău and was almost finished in 2004, when Transnistrian police took it by force, during the school crisis.[16]

See also


  1. Non discrimination review under the stability pact for South Eastern Europe
  2. Interview with Eleonora Cecavski, teacher from Grigoriopol
  3. BIG SCANDAL IN A SMALL TOWN, article in "Dnestrovsky Kurier" 8 March 2002
  4. Unworthy partner: the schools issue as an example of human rights abuses in Transdniestria
  5. Interview with V. Tulgar, Union of Moldovans (in Russian)
  6. RGN Press report: No Romanian language textbooks available in Grigoriopol. (in Romanian)
  7. pp. 17-18: "The Council adopted a Decision implementing common position 2004/179/CFSP on restrictive measures against the leadership of the Transnistrian region of Moldova (15061/05). [...] The Decision reduces the list of persons (from ten to two) affected by visa restrictions in order to take account of the improvements in the situation of Latin-script schools in some areas of the Transnistrian region. In August 2004, the Council expanded the scope of the restrictive measures to persons held responsible for the intimidation campaign and the closure of Latin-script Moldovan schools and established a new list of persons subject to the visa-ban."
  8. Helsinki-Moldova Committee Says About 50 Schools in Transnistria Want to Study in Romanian
  9. OSCE: Linguistic cleansing underway in Transdniestria
  10. OSCE report: Moldovan schools in Transdniestria
  11. Transnistrian point of view about Moldovan schools Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ECHR TO CONSIDER CLAIMS LODGED BY MOLDOVAN SCHOOLS IN TRANSNISTRIA Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ECHR press release
  14. Admissibility decision on applications nos. 43370/04, 8252/05 and 18454/06
  15. ECtHR Grand Chamber judgment in case Catan and Others v. Moldova and Russia (appolications nos. 43370/04 18454/06 8252/05) 19.10.2012
  16. Ribnitsa authorities must return confiscated school building, says OSCE Mission Head

Transnistrian side

Moldovan side

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