Moldova has been warned to stop referring to its language as Moldovan - and call it Romanian instead.
In a statement Friday, the Romanian Academy, a government-backed cultural institute, said that the language referred to in Moldova as Moldovan is in fact a dialect of Romanian.
It said that the language should be referred to as Romanian just as the language Austrians speak is German and non-Flemish Belgians speak French.
"Promoting the idea of a Moldovan language distinct from the Romanian one is not only a distortion of a cultural reality and identity, but also an ideological manipulation on which the international community will never accept,” it said.
It comes after Moldova’s new president, Igor Dodon, spoke in favour of the Moldovan language during a speech at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and as relations between Romania and Moldova have been strained by new governments in both countries.
Dodon, who was elected in 2016, has pursued closer ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and has clashed with Romania’s new leader Ludovic Orban, who was appointed prime minister in 2019 and has promised to restore Bucharest’s tattered relationship with Brussels.
In his speech on 29 January, Dodon said Moldova was committed to establishing a united Europe “from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” a city in the far east of Russia.
'They are identical'
But the row over language goes far further back than the last elections, said Dionis Cenusa, a researcher at JLU University in Germany.
“The linguistic issue has its roots from the Soviet times, when the Soviets created an artificial Moldovan identity different from the Romanian one,” he said.
Romania and Moldova were first unified in 1918 after the end of World War I but was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. After the end of World War II it became part of the Soviet Union, until it declared independence in 1991 during the Glasnost era.
Ever since, Moldova has been subject to a tug-of-war between Romania and Russia, compounded by Russia’s designs on its breakaway region of Transnistria, into which Moscow funnels cash in payouts and subsidies and stations hundreds of soldiers.
While Dodon’s closeness to Moscow has angered Bucharest, many Moldovans speak Russian as a first language and feel closer to Russia than to Romania.
In a 2004 census, 60% of people identified their first language as Moldovan, and only 19% said Romanian was their native language.
Asked for comment on the language issue by Euronews on Friday, a spokesman for the Moldovan government said: "We kindly ask you to consult the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, Art. 13."
In its 2008 constitution, the language of Moldova is defined as ‘Moldovan’ and not Romanian.
Radu Magdin, a regional political analyst, said that the Romanian Academy's intervention was "welcome".
"The use of the Romanian versus Moldovan language rhetoric has been damaging to the public discourse in both Bucharest and Chisinau, triggering and fuelling political conflicts on a matter will eventually prove to be detrimental to the people's interests," he said.
"Although Moldova is a separate state, there is no question that the language spoken by the majority of Moldovans is Romanian."
In 2013, the Constitutional Court of Moldova ruled that the Romanian and Moldovan languages were identical.
Meanwhile, just 34% of Moldovans favour unification with Romania, according to a recent poll.