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Language and education laws in multi-ethnic de facto states: the cases of Abkhazia and Transnistria


Even after the conflicts of the early 1990s that brought them to their de facto independence, both Abkhazia and Transnistria remained strongly multi-ethnic. In both territories, no single ethnic group is an absolute majority and Russian is the language that is mostly spoken on the streets of Sukhumi and Tiraspol. Legislators of both entities felt the need to deal with multi-ethnicity and multilingualism, including in their constitutions, in laws related to education, or more directly with specific language laws (1992 law “On languages” in Transnistria; 2007 law “On the state language in Abkhazia”). The protection of linguistic rights that is formally part of the legislation of both territories finds limitations in practice. The language of education has proved to be particularly contentious, in particular for Moldovan/Romanian language schools in Transnistria and Georgian language schools in Abkhazia. Why are language laws in Abkhazia and Transnistria so different, in spite of the fact that they are both post-Soviet, multi-ethnic territories that became de facto independent in the early 1990s? The different approaches found in Abkhazia and Transnistria represent remarkable examples of language legislation as a tool for nation-building in ethnically heterogeneous territories.