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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Moldova schools resist threats
The new school year is fraught with tension in Moldova's breakaway Trans-dniester region, where the language used in lessons has become a burning political issue, the BBC's Helen Fawkes reports.


Diana and her friends slowly recite the Moldovan alphabet.

Under the shade of a chestnut tree, the children sit on their school playing field in Trans-dniester, the breakaway republic in Moldova.

Pupils from School Number 19
Pupils from School Number 19 face school without gas and electricity
A few metres away they are watched over by a Moldovan policeman and a group of parents who are guarding the school.

On the other side of the fence, a Trans-dniestrian police car stops and several uniformed men get out. After a few minutes they drive off.

"We are defending the school so our children can study," says Larissa, one of the parents.

"People have come here before to try to forcibly close down the school, but we managed to stop them."

In the wake of growing tension in the region - the new term has just started at School Number 19 in Trans-dniester.

Evictions

For teacher Tamara Leunti, it is an achievement that classes at this Moldovan language school have started after the summer holiday.

"The situation makes me sad and angry. It's very important for both children and their parents that they should be able to study their own language," she says.

We feel under threat, but we are determined to continue so we can preserve our Moldovan language
Tamara Leunti,
teacher
Over the last couple of months, a dispute has been simmering over what language children are allowed to learn in the self-proclaimed state.

Trans-dniester has never been recognised internationally since declaring itself independent of Moldova in 1990.

The authorities in Trans-dniester forced a number of Moldovan schools which use the Latin alphabet to close.

At one boarding school, orphans were evicted onto the streets by the militia.

Soldier on guard in Trans-dniester
Trans-dniester retains some of the symbols of the Soviet Union
The action has been described by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as "linguistic cleansing".

Moldovan, which is virtually identical to Romanian, is the official language of the country.

But the breakaway republic is largely Russian-speaking and wants all schools to use the Cyrillic script.

Most Moldovan schools have now been allowed to open for the new academic year, but two remain closed.

Official registration

Officials in Trans-dniester say the Moldovan schools had been operating illegally as they were not registered with the authorities.

Map of Moldova
The president of the unrecognised state, Igor Smirnov, claims they were destabilising the region with ethnically divisive education.

"A number of schools have now registered themselves," he said. "They need to be properly licensed to ensure they won't be turning pupils into nationalists."

Back at School Number 19 in Trans-dniester, the new term will not be easy.

Like many other Moldovan language schools, their supplies of water, gas and electricity have been cut off.

"We feel under threat, but we are determined to continue so we can preserve our Moldovan language," says teacher Tamara.


SEE ALSO:
Moldovan republic faces blockade
30 Jul 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Moldova
06 Jul 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Romania
14 Jul 04  |  Country profiles
OSCE condemns orphan evictions
28 Jul 04  |  Europe
Peace talks restart on Moldova
24 Feb 04  |  Europe


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