Overcoming Gagauz impasse. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



This can be easily achieved by holding a national referendum in which all the citizens of the Republic of Moldova will decide what kind of autonomy should be granted to the Gagauz people within the Republic of Moldova. Such a referendum will put an end to the embarrassing situation, when slightly over 100,000 Gagauz people are holding three million Moldovan citizens hostage on the choice of the civilizational path of development...


Anatol Țăranu

On February 2, in Comrat, the leadership of ATU Gagauzia, which is controlled by fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor, assisted by the Sorist members of the Parliament from Chisinau, Marina Tauber and Vadim Fotescu, paraded in a separatist march, celebrating the anniversary of the illegal referendums of February 2, 2014. Then, ten years ago, two consultative referendums on the foreign policy course were held in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia: European integration or integration into the Customs Union. There was also a legislative referendum on the postponed independence of Gagauzia, in case the ‘independent state’ status of the Republic of Moldova is changed.

Referendum inspired and supported from outside

The so-called referendum of February 2, 2014 didn’t arise spontaneously. Initiated by the then Bashkan of Gagauzia, Mihail Formuzal, the Gagauz referendum was inspired and supported from outside, being financed directly from the Russian Federation. Those who supported and promoted this referendum were guided by the interest to stop the Republic of Moldova from following the path of European integration and to compromise the signing and ratification of the Association Agreement. In addition to being offered financial support for the referendum, the autonomous unit was visited by a group of deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation and Russian journalists who had the mission to internationalize this topic.

Even if the holding of the “referendums” of February 2, 2014 was declared illegal by the Comrat court and the results of that plebiscitary didn’t create legal effects, the formal vote of the Gagauz demonstrated a striking dissonance between the dominant political presuppositions in Moldovan society as a whole and the categorical majority of the Gagauz community. According to the data of the Central Election Commission of Gagauzia (CECG) in the referendums held on February 2, 2014, out of the total number of voters – 100,469 people – registered in the basic electoral rolls, 70,777 electors voted, which is 70.42%. 68,023 people (98.8%) voted for the postponed independence of Gagauzia, while 1,324 (1.1%) voted against. 68,182 people (98.47%) voted for integration into the Customs Union (Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan), while 1,057 (1.52%) voted against. 1,718 people (2.57%) voted for European integration, while 66,643 (97.43%) electors in the Gagauz region voted against.

Relapses during recent history

The anti-Moldovan reflexes of the Gagauz political leaders have relapsed more than once in recent history. They were manifested during the expansion of the Moldovan national emancipation movement in the struggle for language, when most of the leaders of the Gagauz community in Moldova, former Soviet activists led by Stepan Topal, allied themselves with representatives of the supporters of the preservation of the USSR in the republic, in order to oppose the national movement of Romanian-Moldovans.

Today, the Gagauz leaders in Comrat like a lot to pose as the most consistent supporters of Moldovan statehood. In reality, things are different. In this connection, suffice it to recall that in August 1990, while the Moldovans were preparing to gain independence from the USSR, the Gagauz political leaders proclaimed Gagauzia as an autonomous republic of the USSR, simultaneously with the same process that was taking place in Transnistria under the leadership of separatist leaders in Tiraspol. On August 19, 1990, the Gagauz separatists proclaimed their independence, being followed in September by the separatists from Transnistria. In March 1991, at the union referendum on keeping the USSR, which was boycotted by Moldovans, the Gagauz, urged by their leaders, voted unanimously to remain part of the USSR, i.e. against the nascent independent Moldovan state. To all this, it is worth adding the Gagauz leaders’ open support for the Moscow putsch of August 1991, as well as the solidarity that was not only once shown by Comrat in relation to the separatist Tiraspol.

Confusion of notions regarding ethno-cultural autonomy

The beginning of the period of independence of the Republic of Moldova was marked by the existence of pronounced separatist manifestations in the region, the settlement of the situation being attributed to the creation of the Gagauz autonomous unit in 1994. On December 23, 1994, the Parliament in Chisinau adopted the special legal status of Gagauzia (Gagauz-Yeri), which regulated practically all aspects of the establishment and functioning of the Gagauz autonomous unit, but also provided, even in Article 1, that: “If the status of the Republic of Moldova as an independent state is changed, the people of Gagauzia have the right to external self-determination”. This provision, along with others, gave the Gagauz ethno-cultural autonomous unit the content of a territorial political autonomous unit, given that the Gagauz society, as part of Moldovan society, is contemplative rather than active and participatory in the political processes in the republic, continuing to be deeply influenced by the old propaganda precepts of imperial origin.

Despite or due to quasi-total denationalization

During the Tsarist and Soviet periods, the Gagauz community didn’t have autonomy, being subjected to an advanced process of denationalization and assimilation into the “Soviet people”. The denationalization of the Gagauz people through education and informational influence, carried out by ignoring the Gagauz language and imposing the Russian language without limits, the massive propagation of the anti-Western spirit, but especially of the anti-Romanian spirit, left deep imprints in the consciousness of the Gagauz. The unsurpassed influence of Russian imperial propaganda, adapted to the Russophile feeling that is traditional for the Gagauz community, created a strong complex of dependence of the Gagauz elites, but also of the bulk of the population for supporting special relations with Russia, including in order to exert pressure on the central authorities in Chisinau. Under these circumstances, the Moldovan citizens of Gagauz ethnicity sympathize more with Moscow to the detriment of Chisinau and rather perceive the Moldovan state as a waiting station where the train to restore unity with Russia is to arrive.

To all this it is added the inefficient communication of Chisinau with Comrat, both at official level and at the level of civil society, which contributed to the institution in the autonomous unit of the spirit of self-preservation, of isolation from the policies of the Moldovan state. This detachment of the Gagauz people was also fueled by the lack of effective policies for the integration of national minorities into Moldovan society on the part of the official Chisinau. However, most citizens of Gagauz ethnicity prefer to live compactly on the territory of ATU Gagauzia and refrain from studying the state language. As a result, the locals don’t have access to objective information and don’t know enough about the prospects and opportunities of the European integration.

Danger to national security, political stability and state integrity

It should be admitted that such a state of the Gagauz community, assisted by the authority of an autonomous unit with political content, represents an imminent danger to national security, political stability and integrity of the Moldovan state. In order to counteract these dangers, the legal status of the Gagauz autonomous unit requires a principled amendment, which will be focused on strengthening the widest possible legal provisions of the ethno-cultural content of the autonomous unit. The status of autonomous unit should contribute to the emancipation of the national culture of the Gagauz, the cultivation and development of the Gagauz language, thus allowing to loyalize and harmonize the interests of the Gagauz community with the interests of Romanian-Moldovans, the people within whom and with whom the Gagauz directly live.

The time has come to correct the blunders committed during the designing and adoption of the current legal status of ATU Gagauzia due to Moscow’s pressure, eliminating the political content of the Gagauz autonomous unit and strengthening its ethno-cultural content. This can be easily achieved by holding a national referendum in which all the citizens of the Republic of Moldova will decide what kind of autonomy should be granted to the Gagauz people within the Republic of Moldova. Such a referendum will put an end to the embarrassing situation, when slightly over 100,000 Gagauz people are holding three million Moldovan citizens hostage on the choice of the civilizational path of development.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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