The specifics of the Gagauz euroskepticism

IPN analysis: The people in the Gagauz autonomous region support pro-Russian parties and oppose Moldova's European integration. However, when it comes to protecting their rights, they rely on European support. What is actually that the Gagauz don't like: European integration or the Euro-integrators? 

Ideology and pragmatism

Any state of mind must have at its core a rational calculation. What's the rational part in the Gagauz society's pro-Russian attitude? Normally, the Gagauz themselves will tell you several reasons. First, Russia is a big labor market for tens of thousands of Gagauz, for whom it's difficult to earn a living in the EU because of language barriers. If we consider all the families as a whole, we can say that half of the inhabitants of Gagauzia depend on remittances from Russia. Secondly, the pro-Russian pragmatism is running out of fuel. Of course, there are aspects like the unifying Orthodox Christians faith, the shared culture, the use of the Russian language. However, these are all ideological aspects that, while important, aren't always decisive: I don't know who would daresay that the Orthodox Romanians and Russians are “fraternal peoples”. Pragmatism alone will unavoidably lead Gagauzia in a different direction.

The big news from Comrat these days is that the Gagauz autonomy became part of the Euroregion Siret-Prut-Nistru. According to Mihail Formuzal, the bashkhan of Gagauzia, membership in this Euroregion will allow the autonomy to “develop projects and attract European grants and European financing”.

The EU as a guarantor

On December 23, authorities in Comrat will celebrate 20 years since the creation of the Gagauz autonomous region within Moldova. Two decades isn't such a short spell: one has what to remember and what to assess. This was basically the topic of the conference “20 years of Gagauz autonomy: past, present and future. Gagauzia's place in contemporary Moldova”, which took place in the capital of the region on Friday, December 12.

All the speeches touched upon one of two theses: the creation of Gagauzia is a unique experience in the resolution of inter-ethnic conflicts and that the Law regarding the Gagauz autonomy, although good, isn't implemented properly. It's noteworthy that Moldovan politicians focused on the first topic, while the Gagauz speakers' speeches, with small exceptions, contained a series of demands to the central authorities.

Comrat has always complained about the insufficient application of the Law granting Gagauzia a special legal status and everybody has gotten used to such statements, but the result of the recent parliamentary ballot made Comrat's criticism against Chisinau worthy of special attention.

On one hand, we are dealing with a Gagauzia that is finally calm after the electoral race, when the absolute majority of its inhabitants voted against the European orientation of the country. On the other hand, Gagauz politicians recommend the Moldovan authorities to take up the European experience regarding relations with the regions of ethnic minorities. Moreover, authorities in Comrat expect the European bodies to oblige Moldova to fulfill its commitments towards the autonomous region.

Such a stance was expressed at the conference in Comrat by Fiodor Gagauz, a newly-elected MP on the list of the Party of Socialists. According to him, the experts of the OSCE Mission to Moldova could provide expertise for the negotiations between Chisinau and Comrat regarding the implementation of the Law on the special legal status of Gagauzia. Furthermore, the MP said that the Gagauz authorities had already sent such a request to the OSCE Mission and to the EU Ambassador to Moldova.

“It's hard to love what you haven't seen”

Ludmila Mitioglo, head of the “Pro-Europa” Center in Comrat, thinks that one of the causes of insufficient support for pro-European forces in the region is that the people are poorly informed about the EU. She told the IPN reporter that the broadcast information about the EU doesn't offer a full picture of the EU and doesn't show the people the benefits of the EU for each of them. As such, people don't recognize the European values and standards as their own and without them there is no future in this direction, she said.

The difference between the true essence of the EU and its advertised image might partially explain its limited popularity. However, this is true for Moldova as a whole and doesn't explain the specifics of the Gagauz attitude.

A possible ideological explanation in this regard was shared with IPN by Dmitri Popozoglo, editor-in-chief of the “United Gagauzia” newspaper. He sees the Gagauz attitude towards Europe as based on three problems.

“First of all, the fall of the iron curtain on the Prut fell too late. Our people could travel to Moscow freely, they could admire Moscow and get used to it. In the West however, it was more difficult to travel and as a result fewer people have traveled there, at least from Gagauzia. Moldovans were advantaged by their Latin language. It's hard to love what you haven't seen, it's hard to long for the unknown”, explained Popozoglo.

Another cause of Euroskepticism identified by the journalist is in the different approaches of the EU and the Customs Union. If the latter is open today to accept Moldova as a member with full rights, there is no such offer from the former.

A third cause is, according to Popozoglo, the Moldova-EU Association Agreement, which he thinks that “contains only unilateral concessions and victims on Moldova's part”.

Popozoglo says that the Gagauz's anti-European state of mind might change if the EU applied a more favorable commercial-economic policy towards Gagauzia. In other words, if the EU buys all the wine and apples in Gagauzia, then the Gagauz might reorient themselves towards Brussels.

It must be remarked that on December 18, the EU doubled the quotas for imports of Moldovan fruits. Although this won't solve all the problems of Gagauz farmers, who still find it difficult to sell their production, it undermines the argument that the Gagauz don't look favorably on the EU because of poor commercial relations.

Euro-integration and euro-integrators

There is an obvious contradiction between the prevailing state of mind of the Gagauz and the political practice in the region. The Gagauz who have voted for the billboard with Russia's Putin think that the European standards for protecting minorities are among the best. They apply for membership in Euroregions and do their best to attract European grants. Gagauz leaders also admit that Moldova should apply the European principles of fighting corruption and reforming the judiciary.

Why then, while aspiring to the European standards of state-building, the Gagauz are Moldova's main Euroskeptics? If we look beyond the curtain of propaganda and see the Gagauz objectively, we'll see a wholly European people, who defend their interests through European methods and aspire to live in an European country. Perhaps then the negative source for the attitude of the Gagauz isn't the EU itself, but the Moldovan authorities that operate under the slogan of European integration? Perhaps it's not European integration we don't need, but Euro-integrators?

Veaceslav Craciun, IPN

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