CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldovan poet Grigore Vieru, admired for his courage in promoting Romanian, the country's native language, when Moldova was a Soviet republic has died. He was 73.
Vieru died Sunday in a hospital in Chisinau, Moldova's capital city. He had been in a car crash there on Friday.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin declared Tuesday a day of national mourning.
Vieru was born in 1935 in a rural village in northeastern Romania, five years before that part of the country was annexed by the Soviet Union under a Nazi-Soviet pact, becoming the Socialist Republic of Moldova.
Moldova declared independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent. But the country has not reunited with Romania.
"Other people dream of traveling to outer space," Vieru said in 1973, when he traveled for the first time to what remained of Romania. "I have always dreamed of crossing the Prut."
The River Prut forms the border between Moldova and Romania.
In the Soviet era, when Russian was the official language and the use of Romanian was strongly discouraged in Moldova, Vieru fought for the cultural reunification of Moldova and Romania. In the 1970s, he wrote "The Little Bee," Moldova's first Romanian-language school manual for young children.
"He lived for the Romanian people and for our unity. The way a mother loves a child, that is the way he loved Romania," Razvan Theodorescu, a former Romanian culture minister, said Sunday. "There was something candid about him in an often dirty and miserable world."
Moldovan writer Nicolae Dabija told the Associated Press: "He was the most beloved poet of the Romanian language."
After communism crumbled in Eastern Europe, Vieru became an honorary member of the Romanian Academy, which proposed him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Romanian President Traian Basescu said Vieru will remain in people's memory as "the voice of Romanian conscience."
Vieru's funeral will be held Tuesday in Chisinau, and a moment of silence will be observed nationwide. He is survived by his wife and two sons.