OSCE: Linguistic cleansing underway in Transdniestria
THE HAGUE/CHISINAU, 15 July 2004 - "Today's forced closure of the Moldovan School in Tiraspol is nothing less than linguistic cleansing," the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, said on Thursday.
He made the comment after local authorities in the break-away region of Transdniestria (Moldova) surrounded Tiraspol School No. 20 with armed police in the early morning hours and forcibly removed the school's furniture and equipment. Parents and teachers attempted to block the trucks carrying the materials but they were also forcibly removed by militia.
The Transdniestrian action is especially provocative as it comes one day after the OSCE High Commissioner visited the school. He had received assurances from the local authorities that legal registration of all the schools could be allowed within one week.
"I am deeply disappointed by this illegal and inhuman action today in Tiraspol," said the High Commissioner. "It is further evidence of the Transdniestrian disregard for basic human rights and education standards. This indifference is damaging to thousands of children who are being used by the Transdniestrian authorities as pawns in a political game".
The Tiraspol school remains surrounded by police and access is blocked to parents and teachers. This unprecedented and reprehensible measure is the latest by local authorities in a long-standing campaign designed to force the closure of all schools in the region which teach Moldovan/Romanian in the Latin script.
In the City of Benderi (Tighina) the authorities recently shut off the water supply to a Moldovan school used by handicapped children. Other schools have had their property and utility contracts revoked.
In a campaign of intimidation against schoolchildren and parents, the local broadcast media are announcing that all of the schools will be closed. In meetings with parents, directors and teachers, the OSCE has heard of a pattern of harassment by the local authorities reminiscent of forced assimilation efforts in other conflict regions.
An estimated 40 per cent of the population in the Transdniestrian region has Moldovan/Romanian as their mother tongue. Approximately five thousand pupils have been studying the language in the Latin script for over ten years. However, Transdniestrian authorities claim that Moldovan is only an official language of the region when it is written in Cyrillic script, as it was in the Soviet Union.
"The clear will of the parents of these children is that they should learn in the Latin script," Ambassador Ekeus said. "This must be respected by the Transdniestrian authorities."
In 2003, after months of effort, the OSCE brokered a formula to allow the schools to be legally registered with local authorities in Transdniestria.
"We went to great lengths to meet Transdniestrian concerns", said Ambassador William Hill, Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova. "But the agreement has been torpedoed at every step by the same authorities. The forced closure of the school in Tiraspol is scandalous and irresponsible. This is hardly the behaviour of a reliable negotiating partner."
The OSCE is urging the Transdniestrian authorities to implement the agreement signed in 2003 for the schools to function unhindered while a broader accord on their status is being discussed.