Another Gagauzia. Concerning prospects of western Idea of autonomy

IPN analysis: Despite permanently re-edited assertions, many residents of Gagauzia support the pro-European parties. Moreover, the existing trends can cause Gagauzia to play a decisive role in overcoming the geopolitical division in Moldova.

Geopolitical balance

Sociological polls show half of Moldova’s population is oriented to the West, while the other half to the East. The content of the current election campaign only confirms the existence of this division. If we assess the geopolitical preferences of the Moldovan citizens by districts, we can see that in general, the picture is homogenous. In most of the administrative units, the majority of people give priority to the pro-Western political forces.

There are only several districts in the country where the states of pro-European spirit are so evident that at national level they look like ideological division. The Territorial Autonomous Unit of Gagauzia is the main ‘hindrance’ that prevents the supporters of the pro-Western course from inclining the balance in their favor. But even in this region there are forces that support the European development model. Moldova’s geopolitical future will depend greatly on the way these forces act and if they manage to change the mentality of the local community.

Each fourth is a supporter of the pro-Western course

Gagauzia has about 160,000 residents. Approximately 100,000 of them are included in the voter rolls in different forms of elections. It’s not easy to determine how many of them sympathize with Russia and how many sympathize with Europe as no criterion will be accurate. For example, in the local referendum of February 2, 2014, about 98% of the residents voted for Moldova joining the Customs Union. But it will be incorrect to consider that only 2% of the locals are for the European integration. Even if the turnout at the referendum was of 70%, many supporters of the European Union described the idea of the plebiscite as illegal and considered it was reasonable to ignore it. So, a considerable part of those who didn’t take part in the referendum on February 2 are probably for the Western foreign policy course.

The results the Moldovan pro-Western parties achieve in the parliamentary elections on the territory of Gagauzia can be used as an index. For example, the parties that created the Alliance for European Integration after the legislative elections of 2010 won together 20% of the ballot in Gagauzia. If we add together the results of all the pro-Western contenders, we will get almost one fourth of the vote in Gagauzia, which is a rather good result.

“Manipulation” for the sake of European integration

Surely, the results of the pro-Western parties cannot serve as an indicator of the geopolitical orientation of their supporters because the political activists can express support for a political parity based on political sympathy or on another type of solidarity – from local to clan – and this is especially evident in the realities in Gagauzia. For example, the representatives of the local offices in Gagauzia of the main two ruling parties – the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Parties – took part in the campaign activities that preceded the February referendum. Thus, those 98% who voted for joining the Customs Union included people who vote for Marian Lupu and Vlad Filat.

It results that the people following certain principles, in virtue of certain causes, are ready to vote for parties that pursue opposite goals. We can thus say that there is a kind of political manipulation. This is obvious when the Gagauz representatives of the same Democrats and, to a smaller extent, of the same Liberal-Democrats adjust their electoral platforms to the states of spirit of the local population in the election campaign. However, we cannot be sure that these platforms will be adjusted to the interests of the Gagauz people, to the same extent, if a new government coalition is formed.

Anyway, the result counts most of all: a large part of the Gagauz voters are used as a resource for the western development course of Moldova. Such a ‘manipulation’ approach pursues an evident goal. Ultimately, everything is reduced to the solving of problems related to personnel that, in case the regional representatives are more or less influential, are to do not much – to only use the administrative resources and to engage well-trained IT and electoral specialists.

System approach – an irreversible result

The stake on the local leaders who are ready to become promoters of the Western ideas has its own risks. It’s enough for these leaders to lose authority and the work to ‘unite’ the Gagauz voters will have to be started from the very beginning.

Some circumstances allow us to say that there is also another strategy, aimed at modifying the geopolitical states of spirit in Gagauzia. They include the opening of the Pro Europe Center in Comrat, which is designed to inform the population about the European integration priorities, the concentration of the attention of Moldova’s European and international donors on the social- and infrastructure-related needs of Gagauzia and the diplomatic attempts of Chisinau to use the foreign partners close to the Gagauz people as an argument in favor of the European course (the most relevant example is the statement made by the President of Turkey in a meeting with Nicolae Timofti last December. He said that the European integration is favorable to all the Moldovan citizens, including those from Gagauzia).

Such a strategy is a long-term one and cannot produce substantial results immediately. But, in virtue of its systemic character, its results will yet appear. However, the consequences of the change of mentality of the Gagauz society can become irreversible. This is the main distinction and the main priority of this strategy compared with the political manipulations of the pro-European parties.

If no political events or cataclysms happen in the region in the near future, which could ‘crystallize’ the social states of spirit prevailing now, the European Idea or the Western one has chances to occupy a safe position in the autonomous unit. But this will be Another Gagauzia that will deprive the pro-Eastern course of the chance to become dominant in Moldova.

Veaceslav Craciun, IPN

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