The Anti-Government Demarche in Gagauzia: What Is the Threat?

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Anton Șveț
The ruling party’s short-sighted policy creates dangerous trends in the country
According to organizers’ estimates, 700 delegates, including members of the Moldovan Parliament (from the Socialist Party) and of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, have attended the congress of the new social-political Gagauzia Peoples’ Union movement. The rally was strongly pro-Russian and had a rather critical tone towards the current authorities. Head of the Gagauzia People’s Union Victor Petrov, a prominent pro-Russian regional politician, was elected at the congress in Komrat and a resolution assessing the economic and political situation in Moldova was passed. The member states criticized the government for a disastrous rise in prices, alienation of Moldova from Russia and the CIS, stirring up of Russophobic sentiments in the society, curtailment of powers of the Gagauz autonomy, aggressive attacks on Transdniestria and Russian peacekeepers on the Dniester, and violation of the constitutional principle of the state neutrality. Despite the fact that the new political project starts at the regional level, the resolution of the forum contains a message on consolidation of the so-called “healthy pro-Russian forces of entire Moldova”. This has been talked about since PAS won the single-seat majority in the parliament and especially since Igor Dodon, who had previously acquired a monopoly position as the “Kremlin’s favorite”, has had problems with the law. The reverence towards Transdniestria is not accidental in the resolution either – the ties between the two territorial units have a serious history, going back to the beginning of the 1990s, when Gagauzia and “the PMR” fought together against the constitutional authorities. During Dodon’s presidency close cooperation between Transdniestria and Gagauzia ceased for political reasons, since Komrat, unlike Tiraspol, was able to temporarily cure its contradictions with the central authorities. Plus, Moldova’s former president and his trustees repeatedly cited the Gagauz case as an example of political settlement of the conflict and “successful reintegration”, which irritated the Tiraspol administration a lot. It should be understood that the calling of the Gagauzia People’s Union was in tune with regional public opinion, as traditionally pro-Russian residents of the autonomy are strongly affected by the current authorities’ Russophobic policy and “ukrainianism”. It is in Gagauzia that numerous pro-Russian actions organized “from below” – placement of symbols of Russia’s “special operation” in Ukraine on public roads and vehicles took place. The ban on St. George’s ribbon irritated the population in particular and at the May 9 events few people followed it. Moldova’s acquisition of the EU candidate status, with extremely negative rhetoric from President Maia Sandu and Speaker Igor Grosu about Moldova’s participation in the CIS structures, is not left without the local community’s reaction either. This attitude, among other things, contradicts the opinion of the autonomy’s residents expressed in the February 2, 2014 plebiscite. Then, with a turnout of 70%, the absolute majority voted for the right of Gagauzia for external self-determination, as well as for Moldova's accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Circumstances of that referendum were very similar to those of today – the conflict in Donbas and the wave of Russophobia that swept the authorities in Chisinau, signing of the Association Agreement of Moldova with the European Union. Today, the geography of the Ukrainian crisis has expanded and the related anti-Russian hysteria has aggravated, and Moldova has made an even greater step toward integration with the EU and the West, which predetermines the reaction of the residents of the Gagauz autonomy and local elites who perceive their demands. It has to be admitted that it is PAS that has triggered the “Gagauzian aggravation”, as it makes more and more steps against Russia, against the opposition and against the financial well-being of the citizens, which is understandably considered unacceptable in Gagauzia. However, the authorities haven’t decided how to react to the launching and the statements of the Gagauzia People’s Union – the presidency, the government and the parliament keep silent. Only the former NGO member, the current ambassador to Romania Victor Chirila, spoke openly. His speeches were conciliatory and superficial in the sense of “forgive them, they know not what they do”. Mr. Ambassador clearly was not familiar with the subject. It is not surprising that the current government has managed to damage relations not only with the autonomy, but also with some other regions of the country. The anti-Russian attacks of the authorities can’t help but worry mainly Russian-speaking residents of the north of Moldova. The situation is further complicated by the travesty of the elections made by the ruling party and the CEC under its control at the end of last year. It is worth recalling that after all the machinations, the turnout at the scandalous elections that brought Nicolae Grigorisin to power did not reach even 10%. This story, characterized by regional dissatisfaction with the actions of the central authorities, is closely related to the situation in Orhei. After all, in November 2021, the CEC controlled by Maia Sandu did not allow Marina Tauber to take power for political reasons. Today, the headliner of the Sor party finds herself under arrest, while Ilan Sor himself has long been in exile, but may be extradited. Thus, the authorities have quarreled with the population of the Orhei district, where support for Ilan Sor’s political project is so strong that it makes it possible to mobilize enough protesters even for actions in the capital, which will escalate, especially when some sympathy for the protests is shown by the PSRM. It was not without controversy with the ethnic Bulgarians who live compactly in the Taraclia region. The occasion was not so much malicious as indicative of the authorities' unprofessionalism, unable to take regional specifics into account in their decisions. In the course of the notorious optimization of the higher education system it was planned to merge Gregori Tsamblak Taraclia State University with the Chisinau Pedagogical Institute, i.e., actually liquidate the former. It naturally caused a wave of dissatisfaction of the Bulgarian public and cultural organizations. The conflict had to be extinguished at the level of the presidents of the two countries, who spoke by telephone on July 9. On the whole, a large front is forming against PAS and its incompetent board. It is now divided not only by political preference or social status, but geographically too. Even a glance at Moldova’s map makes the current government uneasy, because in all cases there is dissatisfaction with the policies of the ruling party. The government is still lucky that the pro-Russian Transdniestrian region, whose administration has its own reasons for disagreement with the Moldovan authorities - for example, the refusal of Maia Sandu and Natalia Gavrilita to meet with the local leadership, despite intrusive appeals, clearly dictated by an interest in resolving some serious issues, does not interfere in these matters. One way or another, the ruling PAS, due to its ideological intolerance, is becoming increasingly at odds with the public, including on a geographical level. The party’s strategists should have adapted to the demands of society, but so far the retrospect of its short rule does not give such hope.