Japan’s ambassador to Moldova is fluent in the country’s official language: Romanian. But in a geopolitical twist, the mayor of the eastern European nation’s second-largest city is a Russian speaker who needed a translator when he met the diplomat last month.
While Balti Mayor Nicolai Grigorisin’s inability to communicate directly with the ambassador generated caustic comments, he isn’t the only Moldovan who can’t converse in the national tongue nearly three decades after it was changed from Russian to Romanian.
The 1989 switch, which also involved adopting the Latin alphabet, set the former Soviet republic on the road to its 1991 independence. Four-fifths of Moldova’s 3 million inhabitants reported during a 2014 census that they considered Romanian, also referred to as Moldovan, to be their native language.
Russian is spoken daily by the rest of the population, and some residents in the landlocked country situated between Romania and Ukraine want to keep it that way.
Romanian “developed in these three decades thanks to enthusiasts in education and in culture, despite attacks on it from politicians and Russian influence,” political analyst Vlad Turcanu said. “It’s clear that Moldova’s political elite is indifferent and negligent about the issue.”
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