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Alphabet dispute spells upheaval

The use of Cyrillic script in schools is the latest source of disruption in Transdnestria, the would-be breakaway region of Moldavia. Mothers are blockading roads and railway lines, demanding that schools should use Latin script, which is used by all the higher education institutions in the state.

Cyrillic script was introduced when Moldavia, formerly a slice of Romanian territory, became part of the Soviet Union at the start of the Second World War. The Moldavian language is otherwise to all intents and purposes Romanian.

Moldavia re-emerged as a fully independent state after the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, but it was uncertain how long that independence would last. Many Moldavian politicians spoke about a swift "reunion" with Romania. In Transdnestria, the Slavs, who make up 53 per cent of the population (in approximately equal numbers of Russians and Ukrainians) were alarmed. The Transdnestrian Russians, backed by the Russian Fourteenth Army, declared themselves independent and almost three years of conflict followed.

In Bendery, the region's largest city, the alphabet issue flared up with the Transdnestrian "government" supporting a Cyrillic script and banning the use of Latin script in schools. However, Ukrainians and Russian women have been joining ethnic Moldavians in the recent mothers' protests. An unlikely ally in General Aleksandr Lebed, the commander of the Russian Fourteenth Army, who said the ban on Latin script by the authorities was "inadmissible", although he added that the schools issue would not be solved by blockading roads.

The women started their protests when Moldavia adopted a new constitution, giving up union with Romania and promising Transdnestria considerable autonomy.

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