Vieru: he pushed for Romanian to become an official Moldovan language
The Nazi-Soviet pact of August 1939 was implemented in two stages. The first was when Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland between them in 1939. The second came in the summer of 1940 when Hitler took France and most of the rest of Western Europe and Stalin absorbed lands on his southwestern border.
Among the latter was Bessarabia, which had been part of Romania since the end of the First World War. Its population was diverse, ethnically and in terms of religion, but the Romanians were the dominant element. The region reverted to Romania in the Second World War but after 1945 it was reincorporated into the Soviet Union, becoming the Soviet Republic of Moldavia.
In Soviet times the Romanians of Moldavia were forced into a subordinate position; and under one communist boss of Moldavia, Leonid Brezhnev, many Romanian speakers were resettled in other Soviet territories; this was one of the main reasons for the visceral hatred the dictator of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, had for Brezhnev.
But Romanian cultural life in Soviet Moldavia could not be extirpated, and when the Soviet Union collapsed Romanians resumed their predominant role in what became the independent Republic of Moldova. The standard bearers of Romanian culture in Soviet and independent Moldova were the intelligentsia, in which the poet Grigore Vieru was a prominent figure.
He was born in 1935, in the village of Pererata in the Hotin county in the far northeast of Romanian Bessarabia. His parents were farmers. His obvious talent earned him a place at the Ion Creanga Pedagogical State University in the Moldavian capital, Chisinau. He took his degree in history and philology in 1958, by when he was already established as a poet of promise. His first volume of verse, poems for children, had been published in 1957.
Like many intellectuals in the Soviet system, Vieru found work in a variety of publishing houses. In 1959 he was appointed editor of the journal Nistru, published by the Moldovan Writers’ Union and between 1960 and 1963 he was editor-in-chief of the Cartea Moldoveneasca publishing house.
If publishing produced his salary it was poetry which made his name. In 1965 he published Poetry for Readers of All Ages, the book being awarded the Moldovan Prize for Youth Literature two years later. In 1968 came what was probably his most notable publication, Your Name, which was a popular text among Romanian students in the universities of Soviet Moldavia. Other popular volumes included Close, A Green Sees Us, Because I Love and The Little Bee, the latter being an important work because it was Moldova’s first Romanian language manual for young children.
The official language was Russian, and cultural relations between the region and Romania were sensitive and frequently hostile. It was not until 1973 that Vieru was able to visit Romania; he joked that whereas some people dream of going to the Moon, his ambition was to cross the Prut, the river that divided Soviet Moldavia from Romania. He visited again in 1974 and 1977 as a guest of the Romanian Writers’ Union. In 1978 The Friday Star became the first of his books to be published in Romania.
No doubt partly for reasons of political circumspection Vieru published in Russian as well as Romanian, but there was never any doubt that his primary loyalty lay with the language of his birth. With the collapse of Soviet power he became overtly politically active. In 1989 he was elected to the Moldovan parliament. He was prominent in the campaigns to secure recognition for Romanian as an official language in the Moldovan Republic and for that language to be written in the Roman rather than the Cyrillic alphabet.
Both campaigns were successful. When Moldova proclaimed its independence in August 1991 Vieru was prominent among those who argued, in vain, for the unification of Moldova and Romania.
Nevertheless, his efforts earned him the gratitude of cultural nationalists in Romania. In 1990 he was made an honorary member of the Romanian Academy, and in 1992 that body nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2000 he was awarded the Eminescu medal by the Romanian Government.
On Vieru’s death the Romanian President, Traian Basescu, declared that he had been “the voice of the Romanian conscience”, and bestowed upon him the republic’s Order of the Star of Romania with the rank of High Cross.
The failure of the campaign for the union of Moldova and Romania did not diminish Vieru’s stature in Moldova. He was widely recognised as the republic’s greatest poet and the day of his funeral was declared a day of national mourning.
Vieru is survived by his wife, Raisa, whom he married in 1959, and their two sons.
Grigore Vieru, poet and politician, was born on February 14, 1935. He died from injuries after a car accident on January 18, 2009, aged 73