On December 5 and 24, 2013, Moldova’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling and the substantiating arguments (Moldpres, Unimedia, December 5, 24). These documents are widely interpreted to require the renaming of the state language, from Moldovan to Romanian. If so, any renaming of the state language would involve changing the Constitution and legislation accordingly, by disposition of the Constitutional Court. However, supporters of such change and some neutral commentators are reading too much into the ruling and its substantiating arguments (Adevarul, Timpul, Jurnal de Chisinau, RFE/RL, December 24–30).
In fact, the Court’s ruling mentions neither the existing (Moldovan) nor any other (Romanian or otherwise) name for the state language. The ruling does not even mention the language at all.
The Court merely asserts in general terms that Moldova’s Declaration of Independence (1991) “prevails over” the country’s existing Constitution (1994). The ruling goes no further. The Court adopted this ruling (technically named a “decision”) with five votes in favor and one dissenting vote.
By way of inference, however, the decision does seem designed to open a way for renaming the state language from Moldovan to Romanian. The 1991 Independence Declaration includes a reference to the “Romanian language” in its preamble (not in the body); whereas Moldova’s 1994 Constitution, as well as the Language Laws (incorporated into the Constitution), use the term “Moldovan language.” By asserting that the Declaration prevails over the Constitution, the Court communicates an intent to change the name of Moldova’s state language to Romanian.
The Constitutional Court’s decisions are final and unappealable by definition, and enter into force from the date of their publication in the state legal register. In this case, the Court’s decision does not in itself mandate any action. But the same Court might later on try to invoke this decision as grounds to invalidate the constitutional name of the state language—and potentially to amend the Constitution in some other points.
On December 24, the Court made public its considerations in a lengthy exposition (along with the one dissenting opinion). The explanatory text clarifies the five justices’ intent. But this text again stops short of prescribing any legislative action; nor could it require one, as the supporting text lacks the force of a ruling. In what can only be seen as an academic argument, the Court reasons as follows:
1) The preamble to the 1991 Declaration of Independence references the state language as Romanian; 2) the preamble to the Declaration of Independence is then referenced by the 1994 Constitution, establishing a direct causative link, which makes the Constitution a derivative of the Declaration; 3) the 1991 Declaration overrides the 1994 Constitution, if discrepancies between them are found; 4) the override would provide a basis for revising the constitutional name of the state language (Unimedia, December 24).
The Court’s entire argument, however, is built on a misquote that exists in the 1991 Declaration of Independence. That Declaration’s preamble claims incorrectly that the 1989 language laws, adopted by Moldova’s legislature, had enacted the “Romanian language as the state language.” In reality, the 1989 language laws stipulate that “the Moldovan language is the state language.” Those laws use the term “Moldovan language” throughout, not “Romanian language.” Those three laws remain in force, along with that Constitution, whose article 13 names the state language as the “Moldovan language.”
Thus, the 1991 Declaration’s misquote cannot provide a basis for constitutional revision—not even if a preamble were construed as legally binding, and not even if the Constitution were derivative from the Declaration.
The Court further claims that the Constitution’s preamble references the Declaration as a source of legitimacy. The Court’s thesis about the Declaration being primary and the Constitution derivative, and the former “prevailing over” the latter, rests also on this particular claim in the substantiating arguments.
This is also inaccurate. The Constitution’s preamble references “the age-old aspirations of our people to live in a sovereign country, and fulfilling those aspirations in proclaiming the independence of the Republic of Moldova.” The reference is to popular aspirations, not to the 1991 Declaration or any specific document.
The 1991 Declaration of Independence, adopted in parliament on August 27 that year, was a compromise between “Moldovanists” and “Romanianists.” The document’s preamble was its most contentiously debated part during the drafting. It contains some oblique allusions to Romanian identity, as well as the awkward point about the “Romanian language.” The next parliament adopted the Constitution in 1994, by which time the balance of forces had shifted markedly. The Constitution’s preamble contains multiple references to Moldovan identity, ethnicity and statehood.
The Constitutional Court now steps forward with its ruling that the Independence Declaration “prevails over” the Constitution. Redefining the Constitution as derivative, this thesis seeks to provide grounds for constitutional revision, in line with the politics of the most influential members on this Court.