PITESTI

Just like Asterix's small village held out against the Romans, 2,000 years later in Romania a fight is on to keep Latin alive just as it dies elsewhere in Europe.

Latin is compulsory at all Romanian schools for one hour a week in the final year of middle school — ages 13 to 14 — and for older pupils studying literature.

This makes Romania an outlier in Europe. Even Italy, the cradle of Roman civilisation, abandoned compulsory Latin for all middle school pupils in 1977.

But this is under threat. Romanian education reforms last year proposed abandoning Latin in order to allow children to focus on subjects "more in step with modern times".

This prompted an unexpected outcry, however, with backers of Latin organising an online petition and bombarding the government with complaints.

"Many voices in society mobilised to defend Latin," recalls Theodor Georgescu, professor in classical languages at Bucharest University.

"It's not normal for a government or a minister to decide the fate of a language studied in Europe for millennia," he told AFP.

Latin forms not only "the foundation of humanist culture" but also the bedrock of Romanian, the only Romance language spoken in mostly Slavic eastern Europe, he said.

Cowed by the resistance, the Romanian education ministry performed a U-turn and kept the one hour of compulsory Latin in place.

Gheorghita Cucu, a Latin teacher at the I.C. Bratianu school in the southern town of Pitesti, was pleased.

PATRIOTIC DUTY

"The Latin language is a language of culture, it's the language of our ancestors, and it's a patriotic duty to learn it," Cucu said.

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