Why Gagauz people do not integrate into Moldovan society. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



The Gagauz minority, as well as all the other national minorities in the Republic of Moldova, will continue to hesitate to integrate into Moldovan society as long as the ethnic majority will not be the bearer of a distinguished cultural value worth associating oneself with...


Anatol Țăranu

On December 23, 1994, the Parliament in Chisinau adopted the special legal status of the districts populated mainly by Gagauz people, which regulates the establishment and functioning of the Gagauz autonomous unit (Gagauz-Yeri) within the Republic of Moldova. At that time, it was assumed that this organic law would put an end to the conflict between the Gagauz political leaders and the Moldovan national emancipation movement that developed during the years of Gorbachev’s restructuring by fighting for language and alphabet, culminating along the way with the declaring of the Independence of the Republic of Moldova. In those years, most of the leaders of the Gagauz community in Moldova, mostly former Soviet activists, allied themselves with supporters of the preservation of the USSR from the republic, in order to oppose the national movement of Romanian-Moldovans eastward the Prut River.

The most serious anomaly

In reality, the special legal status of Gagauz Yeri, which includes only 3 districts (Comrat, Ceadâr-Lunga and Vulcănești) and which constitutes only over 5% of the total territory of the Republic of Moldova, including one municipality, two cities, twenty villages and three communes, with more than precarious economic potential, not only didn’t solve the Gagauz problem, but also froze it with the prospect of future relapse. The most serious anomaly of the Gagauz Yeri status turned out to be the provision on the Gagauz population’s right to self-determination as, through this stipulation, the Gagauz were turned into a mass that can be easily manipulated from outside to destabilize the Republic of Moldova. In the evilest way, the prophecy of the Socialist academician and MP Artyom Lazarev came true. He vehemently spoke out against the unjustifiable right to self-determination offered to the Gagauz, in protest vacating his seat as a member of Parliament.

Over time, Gagauz society, with a majority Russian-speaking population and strong sympathies for Russia, became a powerful factor of Russian influence in Moldova. Although the region didn’t evolve into a separatist zone following the model of Transnistria, under Moscow’s influence it remained a neuralgic point in the Moldovan state system, constantly agitating the anti-Moldovan reflexes of the Gagauz political leaders, who relapsed not only once in recent history. Throughout the existence of Gagauz Yeri, the political leaders in Comrat continuously defied the unitary character of the Republic of Moldova, challenging its final authority over foreign and domestic policy.

Gagauz national language and culture degenerated

For a long time, the official Chisinau ignored the Gagauz problem, contenting itself with an apparent political lull in the region. Moreover, the ruling left-wing parties even encouraged particular attempts by the Comrat leaders to extend their political autonomy, ignoring the need to fully explore the ethno-cultural component of the special status of Gagauz Yeri. As a result, with the functioning of the special status of the region, the Gagauz national language and culture have steadily degenerated to extinction in a number of public life areas of in the autonomous unit, while the Russification of the life of Gagauz society took on the magnitude of a generalized process against the background of the de-facto marginalization of the Romanian language. A lamentable situation was reached, when the Romanian language in the Gagauz autonomous unit is totally excluded from the official circuit and its use in the daily life meets with revulsion and even aggression.

The policy pursued by President Maia Sandu and the PAS government to address the issue of the Gagauz autonomous unit through an effort of inclusion and national emancipation of the region’s population, seeking to ensure that the development of Gagauz identity takes place in a way that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, hasn’t yielded tangible results. The current official Chisinau’s efforts focus on promoting the Gagauz language and culture within a framework that avoids Russification and supports a harmonious integration into the Moldovan state to the greatest extent possible. But the Gagauz, for the most part, refuse to integrate into Moldovan society, primarily by studying Romanian. They remain alien to the civilization aspirations of the majority of Moldovan citizens and are militantly opposed to the idea of European integration in favor of Russia’s imperial revenge. These dominant political aspirations in Gagauz society are skillfully orchestrated by local pro-Russian actors, who, fulfilling Moscow’s instructions, deepen internal divisions in Moldovan society and greatly complicate Moldova’s prospects of European integration.

Moscow’s stake on the Gagauz factor

The latest political developments in Comrat leave no doubts about Moscow’s stake on the Gagauz factor in order to compromise the Republic of Moldova’s European integration aspirations. Moscow is undoubtedly betting on stimulating Gagauz economic and political separatism in the hope that it will serve as a pretext for delaying or even blocking accession processes, given the EU’s strict regarding the political stability and territorial integrity of candidate states.

The recent congress in Moscow organized by the Shor group, which is fully controlled by the Russian intelligence services, was another action that comes to show the “disobedience” of the Gagauz autonomous unit to the central power in Chisinau. For now, the authorities in Chisinau face serious problems in managing the problematic situation in the Gagauz region, hardly coping with the provocations of the Kremlin, which uses this autonomous unit in its hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova.

Gagauz people in Ukraine understood

Moscow skillfully disseminates disinformation and propaganda to manipulate the Gagauz people in the Republic of Moldova, also profiting from the pro-Russian parties that use information warfare as a political and electoral weapon. This imperial propaganda has long contaminated the minds of the Gagauz people who settled in Ukraine, in whose environment the pro-Russian sympathies were strong. But after 2014, after the occupation of Crimea and the eastern regions by Russian aggressors, the Gagauz people in Ukraine began to radically change their view on Russia. They understood that Russia is not a friend, but an enemy, an occupier. Therefore, the mentality and visions of the Gagauz people in Ukraine underwent cardinal changes. After February 2022, the pro-Russian Gagauz people in Ukraine became pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian, finding themselves in a striking antithesis against their fellow Moldovans who today remain Russophiles of pronounced malignancy.

The considerable and rapid change of mentality, visions and geopolitical preferences of the Gagauz ethnics in Ukraine occurred against the background of the Russian military aggression, which radically contributed to the consolidation of Ukrainian identity as a decisive factor of the amplification of Ukrainian civic patriotism, the Ukrainian Gagauz people being fully part of this patriotism. In the Republic of Moldova, the process of inclusion of Gagauz ethnics in Moldovan society has connotations that are contrary to the Ukrainian case. Unlike the Ukrainian identity in the process of rapid and consistent consolidation, the national identity of the majority ethnic community in Moldovan society remains divided, involving all the susceptibilities of vulgar anti-Romanian Moldovenism of Soviet make.

Until Moldovans solve their identity problem

Under these circumstances, the Gagauz people in the Republic of Moldova don’t feel any incentive to integrate into Moldovan society that lacks distinct national identity and, in this case, to study the language of the ethnic majority that is unable to agree on the name of the own language. The Gagauz minority, as well as all other national minorities in the Republic of Moldova, will continue to hesitate to integrate into Moldovan society as long as the ethnic majority will not be the bearer of a distinguished cultural value with which it is worth associating oneself with.

The ersatz Moldovan culture and language, unlike the natural Romanian one, cannot be attractive to minorities and represent a value worth assuming. Hence the conclusion about the perpetuation of the state of division of Moldovan society until the homogenization of the identity of the ethnic majority by fully assuming the Romanian national consciousness, the only one that is capable of liberating the collective mindset in the Republic of Moldova from the suffocating heritage of the colonial past and guaranteeing due respect from minorities for the ethnic majority of Moldovan Romanians in their own country.

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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