Europeanization of Gagauzia. Op-Ed by Victor Pelin

“The Europeanization of Gagauzia is evident and is welcomed, even if it is a simply circumstantial one. In such circumstances, despite the efforts made by propagandists from the country and outside it, the escalation of the conflict between Chisinau and Comrat is put off, for now. The eventual worsening of the conflict is not excluded and depends on the evolution of Russia’s war against Ukraine...”
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Gagauzia in the vanguard

President Maia Sandu on July 13, 2022 met with the chairman of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia Dmitry Constantinov to discuss the tense relations between the central and regional authorities. After the aforementioned meeting, substantial differences were noticed in the press releases of the presidential press service and the People’s Assembly. On the one hand, emphasis is placed on such subjects as: socioeconomic situation in the country; necessity of building peace and proper understanding in society, so as to overcome the crises caused by the war in Ukraine; informing of the citizens about the European integration of the Republic of Moldova and its benefits. On the other hand, the press release of the People’s Assembly emphasizes: the violation by the central authorities of the procedure for applying for the status of EU candidate state; the necessity of respecting the powers of the Authority, which is stipulated by the law on the special legal status of Gagauzia; improvement of the efficiency of the interparliamentary working group etc.

Despite the highlighted differences, the meeting achieved its goal, quelling for now the propagandistic élan of the internal and external forces, aimed at worsening the relations between Comrat and Chisinau. In this connection, it should be noted that the meeting was preceded by the adoption, on July 6, 2022, of the statement of the People’s Assembly on the attitude to the obtaining by the Republic of Moldova of the EU candidate status. The given statement is unique as it marks a cardinal change of the attitude of the Gagauz elites to the European integration process. The most important theses of the statement are:

  • non-opposition to the European integration, deliberate refraining from commenting on the submission of the application for EU membership so as to avoid eventual accusations regarding the placing of obstacles to the European future of the Republic of Moldova;
  • dissatisfaction with the lack of transparency in the process of obtaining by the Republic of Moldova of the EU candidate status, non-involvement of the authorities of Gagauzia in this process;
  • dissatisfaction with the ignoring by the central authorities of a series of powers offered to Gagauzia;  
  • certainty that the obtaining of the EU candidate status will contribute to implementing the reforms needed to justify the country’s European development course;
  • confidence that the EU candidate status offers the central authorities a unique chance to show their attachment to the European values;
  • eventual skepticism towards the country’s European course, if the stated wishes and the legal powers of Gagauzia are ignored etc.  

When citing the statement of the People’s Assembly, it seems that the representative forum of Gagauzia wanted to transmit a very simple message – the Gagauz authorities are more pro-European than the central authorities, representing the authentic vanguard of the Europeanization of the Republic of Moldova. In this connection, it is important to note the warning included in the statement – in the eventuality the wishes of the People’s Assembly are not fulfilled, the latter will call on the administration of the European Union and the partner countries to become guarantors of the rights of the people of Gagauzia.

Dissatisfaction with statement of People’s Assembly

The statement of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia remained practically unnoticed in the Republic of Moldova, but generated bewilderment inside the Russian press. This way, Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) dedicated to Gagauzia an editorial in which it ascertains with regret that: “For the first time the Russia-oriented Gagauz region decided to seek help from the West in the protection of its rights. This is probably due to the situation in which Gagauzia found itself. This, being caught between Moldova, on the one hand, and Romania, on the other hand, does not have common borders with Russia. The people of Gagauzia, against the conflict in Ukraine, have to ask for guarantees not from Moscow, but from Brussels”. Moreover, NG reached the conclusion that something similar can happen to Transnistria, which, being flanked by Moldova and Ukraine, “does not hurry to openly show its support for the Russian Federation”. Strange, but no one wants to become cannon fodder.  

Other Russian publications expressed their regret at the fact that Gagauzia actually renounced the policy to separate from the Republic of Moldova, not wishing to follow the Transnistrian model so as to become a new hotbed of instability in Central Europe. In fact, the Kremlin is dissatisfied with the offering of the EU candidate country status to Moldova, which creates preconditions for Moldova to be fully lost - not only as an allied state, but also as a simple partner. The situation would change radically if, besides Transnistria, Chisinau had one more uncontrolled region – Gagauzia. The conclusion reached by the propagandists is that with two uncontrolled regions, the European integration of Moldova would be solidly frozen for an indefinite period of time. The place of countries with unsolved territorial disputes is in the “gray area”, not in the EU, which is a common space without customs barriers, with large financial flows and support for helping the poorer counties.

Sometimes, we should be grateful to the propagandists for their sincerity. The main dissatisfaction refers to the banning in the Republic of Moldova of Russian propaganda as the free movement of propaganda would considerably expand the public for raising awareness of the violation of the rights of the people of Gagauzia and of their discrimination for the reason that shortly after the start of the special operation of Russia in Ukraine, Chisinau banned the citizens from using the symbols of Victory and of the special operation – the ribbon of Saint Gheorghe and the signs “Z”, “V” and “O”. The regrets are amplified by the unsteadiness of Gagauzia that ten years ago twinned with a series of subjects of the Russian Federation, benefitting from their financial support. It is curious, but the propagandists avoid exemplifying how namely Gagauzia benefitted, preferring to invoke the generosity of Russia towards the separatist regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that annually get by 12 billion Russian rubles for remaining afloat, or Transnistria that annually receives by $1 billion. Evidently, the Russian propagandists avoid providing details about how the Russian-backed Abkhazia and Adjara, which is part of Gagauzia, develop.

Invoking the Romanian danger is ultima ratio of the Russian propagandists in the attempt to transform Gagauzia into a kind of Moldovan Donbas. Referring to the annexation of Moldova, they cite the ex-President of the Republic of Moldova Igor Dodon: ”Romania gets ready to send troops to the territory of Moldova and to annex the country. An imaginary Russian threat is created to justify the entry of NATO troops”. It is not surprising that Igor Dodon makes such statements as he was one of the main supporters of the illegal referendum of February 2, 2014 within which Gagauzia proclaimed its delayed independence from the Republic of Moldova, until the eventual unity with Romania, and the preference for the Eurasian integration course. Did Dodon act like this out of conviction? It is not easy to answer this question if we take into account the saying – he who pays the piper calls the tune. It is yet strange that after eight years of the aforementioned referendum, the Gagauz elites changed their attitude to the European integration under the pressure of circumstances, evidently, while Igor Dodon did not!   

Conclusions

The Europeanization of Gagauzia is evident and is welcomed, even if it is a simply circumstantial one. In such circumstances, despite the efforts made by propagandists from the country and outside it, the escalation of the conflict between Chinua and Comrat is put off, for now. The eventual worsening of the conflict is not excluded and depends on the evolution of Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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