Phantom Autonomy: Chisinau Denied again Gagauzia’s Empowerment

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One could never call simple the relationship between Chisinau and Comrat. The four-year period of Gagauzia‘s  independence, the autonomous status in a unitary state, constantly violated by the center, is all fertile ground for political conflicts that have been manifesting regularly since the mid-2010s (along with the demands of individual Gagauz politicians to restore the sovereignty). A striking example of the confrontation was the referendum held in 2014 in Chisinau’s despite to join the Customs Union and to deferrer the independence status. To “calm the situation down” under the pressure of Western partners, in 2015 was created an inter-parliamentary working group including five deputies from the Moldovan parliament and the Gagauzian’s People’s Assembly. Its main task was to delimitate the region and central authorities’ powers and to fully implement the autonomous status of the territory. The mediator of the process was the Finnish non-governmental organization CMI, which deals with crisis management and prevention in the territory of Eurasia, and the Swedish Embassy who allocated financial assistance to attract local and international experts. With their help, an examination of the legislation was carried out, acquaintance with European practices in building relations between the center and autonomies was organized. Nevertheless, all this vast work went down the drain at the end. Chisinau made only some administrative and financial decisions worked out by the negotiators (moreover, Gagauzia received only something that has been analogically done in other parts of the Republic of Moldova). As expected, three bills related to the political status of autonomy, which were called “Gagauz” in the media, became the stumbling block. They were meant to reflect the powers of the autonomy authorities in national law. One of them regulated the entry and exit of settlements from Gagauzia, the other suggested the establishment of a special level of governance for autonomy (now it is equated with ordinary areas). The third draft was to prohibit the Moldovan parliament from changing the law on the special legal status of Gagauz Yeri without the consent of Comrat. The documents were submitted to parliament in 2016, but their consideration was subsequently postponed several times. In June 2017, the parliament’s legal commission finally found time for the “Gagauz bills” ... and in a rather cynical manner has redrawn everything possible in there and in addition to that excluded the key amendment to introduce a special level of governance for Gagauzia. This actually made senseless the bills prepared by the inter-parliamentary group. It further got normal for the MPs from PDM and LDPM to openly mock during the meeting, and Tudor Deliu generally noticed that the Gagauz deputies "should not get into the national legislation." As a result, the parliamentary majority approved the edited projects. President Igor Dodon, after consulting with the deputies of the NSG (National People’s Assembly) and the Governor Irina Vlah, refused promulgating the “Gagauz” laws and returned them for review, further condoned. It was expected that the Gagauz bills would be returned last year: at least the clause on their adoption was contained in the coalition agreements between ACUM and PSRM. In the future, Igor Dodon even promised the leadership of the autonomy to do this before the 25th anniversary of the autonomy, that is, until December 23, 2019. In mid-December, when it became clear this would not happen, the NSG (National People’s Assembly) deputies defiantly suspended the work of the joint group with the parliamentarians of Moldova until the main legislative body adopted the package of “Gagauz bills”. This week, after Igor Dodon’s visit to the autonomy, the deputies of the NSG retreated and resumed the work of the group. At the same time, during the meeting with Dodon, the Gagauz deputies criticized the situation in the dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat, complaining on the lack of real authority in the region and the subordination of all its structures and power to the center. In response to this, the head of state reaffirmed his desire to adopt the “Gagauz bills” in its original form. However, less and less people believe the words of the president in the autonomy. Moldovan politicians, including Igor Dodon, have made many promises over the past five years but as the saying runs “dun is in the mire.” No confidence adds the head of state’s earlier statements about 5 seats in parliament meant for deputies from Gagauzia and still unrealized. However, the problem lies not specifically in Dodon or someone else Moldovan politician. The political will to change something in the current decorative status of autonomy, that’s what lacks to Moldovan elites. And even if the president now really wants to pass the notorious bills, he is unlikely to succeed doing it anyway - neither the Democrats (who had previously failed the process intentionally), nor the pro-Europeans, who at least out of principle will not vote together with socialists. Therefore, it is not surprising that the “Gagauz bills”, in fact, remain only a tool in the hands of Moldovan politicians who collect electorate for themselves in autonomy. So it was under the Democrats, when both the leadership of Gaguzia and European diplomats assured Candu that there would be no problems with laws adoption just as it happens now. Frankly speaking, the emergence of these projects in Gagauzia is exclusively due to Western partners who wanted to establish a dialogue between the center and Comrat. Chisinau makes a strategic mistake, denying to at least a little "release the reins" for Gagauzia. The central authorities’ neglection annoys the politicians of autonomy and only incites separatist relations in the region, thereby laying another mine under the foundation of Moldavian statehood. Yes, any rebellious mood can still be stopped with the help of the loyal towards the center Irina Vlah, but for how long? Another important point is that the whole situation with the ATU (Autonomous Territorial Unit) Gagauzia serves as a very bad example for Transdniestria. But according to the initial plan of European officials, the normalization of relations with autonomy was to become a model that could be easily operated in negotiations with the left bank. Now Tiraspol has a convenient reason to refuse the “special status” that Chisinau and the 5 + 2 participants offer it, nodding at the sad Gagauz experience. And in fact, there is nothing to say against it.