The Conflict Around Gagauzia Turns into Internal One Conflict

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Alexei BARBA
PAS scored a tactical victory, managing to stir up internal conflict in Gagauzia. But the ruling party’s actions still seem too risky and ill-conceived
Last Friday, the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (PAG) again failed to approve the composition of the Executive Committee proposed by the bashkan, Evghenia Gutul. The formal reason was the alleged disagreement of deputies with its structure. Although it is obvious that the root of the problems lies in the widening conflict between the autonomy and the central authorities, which want to turn it “inside” the region by their temporary proxies in the PAG. We can identify several characteristic tendencies. From the very beginning of the election campaign for bashkan’s post, the ruling party tried to prevent the victory of an undesirable candidate and in general vigorously interfered in the electoral process. Government used any means - starting from “demonstrations” with the participation of Fulger Battalion and seizure of voter lists to declaring the “SOR” party unconstitutional. The latter, however, did not prevent Evghenia Gutul from winning the elections. Even after this victory, the authorities tried to pressurize the new bashkan by force, calling her to the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office for “conversation”. After these facts had become public the head of the Prosecutor’s Office Dragalin pretended that she was misunderstood and the scandal was quickly hushed up. The demonstrative unwillingness of the ruling regime to participate in the inauguration of the elected head of the region, which looked at least petty, became another example of this pressure. On the other hand, Gagauzia organized a pompous celebration albeit showing that the absence of top officials did not disappoint anyone. However, the conflict escalated further, and the autonomy began to receive quite sensitive blows affecting it financially. For instance, the regime’s “gift” on the occasion of Gutsul’s inauguration was the decision not to refund VAT from the republican budget, which was taken from under the table and adopted in a hurry. Now this amount of about 100 million lei annually (insignificant by the standards of the country, but essential for Gagauzia) will be reimbursed from the budget of the autonomy itself, which, of course, caused understandable resentment in ATU. While depriving the “SOR” party leadership in Gagauzia of its resource base, the authorities remember about the political one, blocking the appointment of the Executive Committee members. It is obvious that the case is a pure fraud, as the reasons for refusing the composition proposed by Gutul are the most far-fetched, for example, ignorance of the Gagauz language. All the more so because no one cared before. In addition, trips of PAG head Mr. Konstantinov to Chisinau and his clumsy reservations about “protecting the interests of the people” raise a lot of questions. Besides, there are frankly unpleasant things about the past composition of the executive committee, among whose members, as it turns out, were relatives, nephews and friends of “right people”. Perhaps it is the personal composition and the desire to see the right people that causes resistance to the PAG, but so far everything looks like pressure from Chisinau. It is difficult to predict the outcome of this conflict. On the one hand, the elected bashkan has the power to dissolve the PAG if the assembly rejects its composition twice (it is still a long way off, first of all, it is necessary to agree on a structure). On the other hand, the results of potential elections in case of dissolution is not obvious. And I cannot help but recall how distressing was the approval of the current chairman of the assembly. The PAG, in its turn, can also declare impeachment of the bashkan. Thus, the parties will obviously enter a kind of positional war of attrition, playing a political peek-a-boo. It is curious how the Sandu-led regime breaks the law once again by not signing the decree appointing Gutul as a member of the government, which she is actually supposed to be ex officio. However, it seems that for the “SOR” party representative it is today more of an image advantage, which gives extra moral benefits in the confrontation with the central government. To tell the truth, Gutul quite actively started work, rushing to fulfil election promises. Soon after her inauguration, the bashkan met with Yusuf Ozturk, chairman of the Turkish Business Association, and discussed economic and humanitarian projects in the autonomy. In many ways it was a natural outcome of the previous head’s work, but this meeting undoubtedly helped Gutul earn some respect among the Gagauz. Although for now it is just of a PR, which is quite reasonable for a populist party like “SOR”. The announced intention to open a trade representative office of Gagauzia in Russia can be also recorded as asset. The MFAEI openly informed that such an idea is not feasible due to a number of formal reasons. However, we should not underestimate either Ilan Sor or the Russian Federation, which will certainly take advantage of this opportunity to defame the pro-Western regime in Moldova, especially after the massive expulsion of diplomats from Chisinau and given the strong pro-Gagauz lobby in Russia. Such representation can have any organizational-legal form, but the presence of a foreign office of the Moldovan autonomy in another country is a strong irritant for official Chisinau. By and large, the Sandu regime has once again forgotten the strategic costs in these attempts to curry favor with its supervisors. This was the case with “energy independence”, which cost us hundreds of millions of euros, and now this is the same with “escaping” from the CIS. The ongoing conflict in Gagauzia naturally affects the resilience of the entire state, which is already going through hard times, being in an economic recession and a terrible demographic crisis. Besides, for many years in negotiations with Tiraspol, Chisinau used Gagauzia as an example: how good it is for autonomies in the united Moldova - with their own government, their own language, tax exemptions and all the advantages of “recognition”. However, by depriving this autonomy of powers and resources, the authorities fuel the fire of not only Gagauz, but also Transnistrian separatism, thus complicating the process of reintegration of the country. It is difficult to say whether PAS and Maia Sandu’s goal is to irritate the Gagauz so much that in the course of suppressing discontent they would eliminate the remnants of autonomy. Probably, the presidency believes that the potential of “Gagauz wrath” is insufficient to openly oppose Chisinau. We can agree with this assumption, but in any case, a long political crisis between Chisinau and Comrat will not benefit to anyone in an already difficult situation. So far, the regime has scored a small tactical victory by forcing the autonomy’s governing bodies to quarrel with each other. However, if the Gagauz do unite and speak with one voice, or even recall the experience of the early 90s, what will happen then?