Romania relents on use of language

July 25, 1997

CLAIMS that changes to Romania's education laws undermine the status of Romanian as the state language have been dismissed by Virgil Petrescu, the education minister.

All students in Romania will still have to study Romanian, he has stressed. But the rightwing National Unity Party is to sue the government following the changes which, it claims, favour the national minority communities at the expense of ethnic Romanians.

The 1995 Education Act imposed severe restrictions on the use of other languages. For two years it has been the target of a campaign by Romania's minorities - in particular the ethnic Hungarians - since the international conventions on "national minorities" guarantee the right to mother-tongue education.

This spring, the two ethnic Hungarian ministers in the Romanian coalition government threatened to resign if the law remained in force. Finally under pressure both at home and abroad the government approved amendments for September by an emergency ordinance. This produced a new burst of criticism from the right and the National Unity Party went to court to stop its introduction.

Despite the amendment, the government will still not allow Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj to split into two separate institutions: one Hungarian-taught and one Romanian. Nor will Hungarian church schools confiscated under communism be returned.

The amendments do, however, remove the ban on founding new minority-language higher and tertiary education faculties and allow school-leavers who have been educated in their mother tongue to take university entrance exams in their language.

The minorities also regain the right to study history and geography in their own languages - provided that they learn the relevant terminology in Romanian as well.

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