Triggering a direct conflict with Gagauzia, the authorities want to establish a situation that would justify the deprivation of the autonomous status of the region
Vladimir Rotari, RTA:
It’s not a secret that Moldova’s statehood restoration process at the end of 1980-1990’s, complicated enough, left the country with two big wounds. One of them, Transdniestria, is still open, while the second one, Gagauzia, was healed relatively quickly. But the scars from it remained and periodically give phantom and not-so-phantom pains.
Having ethnic autonomy in a unitary state is always tricky and requires careful consideration and compromise from central authorities. Which in our case, especially in the last decade, was not observed quite often. This led to regular problems with Gagauzia, where they either would hold a referendum (to spite the authorities) about the right to self-determination and Moldova’s joining the Customs Union, or demand that its autonomous status be fully implemented. This would then lead to the well-known ‘Gagauz bills’ which themselves became the cause of long-standing disputes, grudges and rebukes.
So far, it has been possible to keep the Chisinau-Comrat relations from excessive conflict, but PAS taking over the power clearly laid the foundation for a future open confrontation. The new ruling team has never concealed their negative attitude towards Gagauzia, which they see as one of the strongholds of their ideological and electoral opponents. Since 2021, Comrat has remained on the outskirts of the country’s leadership, which showed no desire to return to the solution of long-standing problems, such as distribution of powers between the center and the autonomy, and growing misunderstanding and even irritation of the people of Gagauzia regarding domestic and foreign policies carried out by PAS. The only visit of Maia Sandu to Gagauzia was a complete failure and scandal.
Frankly speaking, the policy of the ruling party in relation to Gagauzia can hardly be called fine. PAS, not really tolerant to alternative points of view, has so far used only the carrot method, demonstratively deploying special forces into the region, showing exactly how any discontent will be suppressed. Later, the so-called law on separatism was added to the threat package, adding a range of new articles to the penal code with serious sentences, meant to cool down the ardor of all would-be rebels.
In such a heated environment, the elections of the Gagauz governor, with the victory of Evghenia Guţul, the candidate of the rival party, were predictably a bifurcation point. Of course, this was the result of a well-plotted populist campaign, but it was also partly a protest vote, as even the Gagauz voters, who are not very familiar with the intricacies of Moldovan politics, understood well how this choice would be openly opposed by the pro-European authorities of the country.
However, the reaction of the latter turned out to be even too harsh. A very politically blunt move of taking the ballots from the local CEC by the security forces seemed to be widely misunderstood. On the one hand, it did not make much sense in terms of achieving the goal of canceling the election, but on the other hand, it was even somewhat too provocative. PAS was criticized by almost everyone: the center-left parties declared ‘usurpation of power, while the rightists accused the authorities of basically letting Evghenia Guţul win rather than removing her as early as before the elections.
Yesterday, my colleague noted
that the ruling party’s defiant actions were motivated by their unwillingness to see Ilan Shor and his supporters’ similar victories in local elections this fall. This is quite logical, but I do not exclude the possibility that this whole conflict was staged by the authorities on purpose.
Namely, PAS deliberately allowed voting with such a pool of candidates, predicting, at least, that Gutsul will make it to the second round. Moreover, unlike the Balti elections, where Marina Tauber was ‘rejected’ before X-day, no urgent measures were taken in this case. They followed only after the official results were announced.
I think that the seizure of ballot papers in such a brazen manner, the demonstrative disregard of the country’s leadership for the choice of the Gagauz people is all part of a tactical plan to ignite a full-fledged revolt in the autonomy, something they have not dared to do for a long time. The authorities pressed so hard this time that most Gagauz political forces now have to consolidate to repel it together. On 21 May, a nationwide rally is going to take place in Comrat, with political demands to stop Moldova’s exit from the CIS, to keep the country neutral, to stop pressuring the opposition and the CEC of Gagauzia, etc.
Why does PAS need this? I think in order to create a justified legitimate reason to launch a dispute on depriving Gagauzia of its current status. Even earlier, the experts from the loyal pool and a number of the ruling party deputies started to prepare an ideological basis for this step, presenting the autonomy as non-functional, not serving the purpose of protecting the cultural and linguistic identity, as a ‘backdoor’ for Moscow, which is trying to take over Moldova and anchor it to its sphere of influence.
The thesis of “Gagauz autonomy as the Kremlin’s tool” in the speeches of those who support the current government is now spreading like wildfire. The coming unrest and conflicts will further reinforce it to build it into the country’s internal political agenda. Especially when Moldova, as PAS sees it, is on the verge of a landmark decision to open accession negotiations with the European Union. Any threats to this process will be seen as existential and as such will be addressed as quickly and reliably as possible.