Constraints on changes. How can Gagauz referendum change Moldova


IPN analysis: One year ago, Gagauzia held a referendum that Chisinau called ‘separatist’. Did the expectations and fears related to this event come true?

Illegal ‘holiday’

There are two important dates in the Gagauz political calendar: August 19, which is the day the Republic of Gagauzia was proclaimed, and December 23, which is the day the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia was formed. One year after the scandalous February 2, 2014 referendum, we can say with certitude that this day has all the chances to become a national holiday for the residents of the autonomous unit.

It should be noted that one year ago, the authorities of the autonomous unit held a local referendum within which the inhabitants of the region overwhelmingly pronounced against the official European integration course and for the region’s right to self-determination if Moldova loses its independence. Chisinau described this referendum as illegal even when it was only prepared. According to the position of the central authorities, the official Comrat exceeded its authority when it put up issues of national importance for a plebiscite.

Privilege of day of February 2

The anniversary of the referendum was marked in Gagauzia by a large-scale car race and by a forum whose participants assessed this event that caused so much controversy. The results of the referendum, though it was rather representative judging by the number of participants in the conference, were yet examined in a purely Gagauz circle. No representatives of the official Chisinau attended this event. In fact, the organizers of the forum specified that only those who supported the idea of holding the referendum were invited to it.

Judging by the speeches made at the event, the day of February 2 became a great privilege for the Gagauz people. Among the results of the risks and efforts made one year ago were mentioned the increased attention of the world community towards Gagauzia, the political defeat of the Unionists (who, in the opinion of the Gagauz politicians, had to temper their rhetoric given the risk of losing Gagauzia), and the stimulus to democratizing Moldova. Moreover, it was stated that the value of the referendum resided in its holding and this allowed strengthening Gagauz society.

It should be noted that the participants in the forum preferred not to lay emphasis on such rather practical results as the reduction in the price of Russian gas and the stay of Moldovans in Russia even if one year ago such arguments were among the key ones within the campaign that preceded the referendum.

Threat or stimulus?

The referendum held in Gagauzia had consequences for both of the sides. We should refer here to the way in which the results of the referendum were treated in Chisinau. By all appearances, the Moldovan people are not really concerned about this theme and their interest was satisfied by the several mass media reports about ‘hour it was’. There was held no roundtable meeting and the central authorities didn’t react officially. Even the Prosecutor’s Office, which started a series of criminal cases against the organizers of the referendum a year ago, now seems to be looking for a possibility to forget about these cases as soon as possible.

However, the referendum was a very important event in the relations with Comrat to be forgotten. The atmosphere in which the plebiscite was held points to its importance. The arrests and searches of cars of deputies of the People’s Assembly on the eve and on the day of the referendum and the presence of members of the special police brigade “Fulger” near the Gagauz villages are just details that were never made public by the media, but which are known by many residents of the autonomous unit.

The central authorities’ main concern about the Gagauz referendum was related to the intensification of the separatist trends. One year passed and Moldova continues to be whole and undividable, while the official Comrat assures of the faithfulness to the Moldovan statehood. Can we say that the fears of Chisinau didn’t come true?

On the one hand, the referendum held in Gagauzia was surely a challenge for Moldova. Comrat exceeded the admissible limits. Earlier, some of the statements of the Gagauz authorities could cause resonance in society and could be then easily forgotten. Something unusual happened a year ago, which will not remain without consequences for Chisinau. If, from legal viewpoint, we can admit the impossibility of discussions on the legality of the referendum, from political viewpoint, this was definitely a goal in the gate of the Moldovan administration.

On the other hand, the events that took place one year ago can be perceived as a stimulus to developing the country’s political system. The reforms of a higher quality, real combating of corruption, the dialogue with civil society and other points of the standard set of expectations from the Moldovan authorities can become if not a solution to the disagreements with the autonomous unit than factors for diminishing them.

Will Chisinau be able to work out a solution to the ‘dilemma of the referendum’? Anyway, the fact that the same “Fulger” acted only as observer one year ago can be regarded as a test passed in favor of the sense of reality. This is not an insignificant result given the developments in the neighboring state Ukraine.

Veaceslav Craciun, IPN