GEOMETR.IT fpri.org 14.01.2016
1.FRACTURED GEOGRAPHY, FRACTUED POLITICS
Găgăuzia’s total land area is only 1830 square kilometers, or about 5% of Moldova’s total territory. Under Moldovan law, Găgăuzia includes all areas where ethnic Gagauz represent at least half the local population, and parts of Moldova that have opted to join the Găgăuziaby referendum.
As a result, the boundaries of Găgăuzia have undergone several small revisions since the region was officially established in 1994. It currently consists of four noncontiguous areas with just three cities between them: the capital, Komrat, plus Ceadîr-Lunga and Vulcăneşti, along with about 30 villages.
Găgăuzia declared independence on 19 August 1991, shortly after the attempted coup d’état earlier that month in Moscow by the so-called “Gang of Eight.” Several days later, on 27 August, Moldova also declared independence. Găgăuzia did not enjoy special status within the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
After their respective 1991 declarations of independence, Găgăuzia and Moldova coexisted warily until December 1994, when a compromise was struck in which Găgăuzia agreed to recognize Moldovan authority over the region. Moldovan political leaders opposed the idea of a federal state composed of three autonomous republics (Moldova, Transdniestria & Găgăuzia), and went only so far as to grant Găgăuzia status as a “national–territorial autonomous unit.”
This granted Găgăuzia limited self-determination in terms of the right to declare independence in the event that Moldova loses sovereignty. That right was abolished, however, in July 2003 by a set of constitutional amendments that declared Găgăuzia a «constituent and integral” part of Moldova, and stated that its land and resources belonged to the Moldovan people.
In the 2011 election to the Găgăuzian People’s Assembly (Romanian: Adunării Populare a Găgăuziei), the Party of Regions and the Democratic Party of Moldova collectively captured 15 of the 25 independent seats, with most of the balance won by the Moldovan Communist Party. Representatives of the Găgăuzian People’s Assembly have demanded (so far, unsuccessfully) a permanent five seats in the 101-seat Moldovan parliament.
- GĂGĂUZIA’S REFERENDUM ON ECU ACCESSION
A February 2014 referendum in Găgăuzia put three questions before voters.
- The first question, printed on a red ballot, asked, «Do you agree with the direction of governmental policy to integrate Moldova into the European Union?»
- The second question, printed on a green ballot, asked, «Do you agree with Moldova’s accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan?»
- The third question, printed on yellow paper, asked whether Găgăuzia should seek independence from Moldova, in the event the latter lost its sovereignty—such as if Moldova and Romania were merged into a single state.
Găgăuzians overwhelmingly voted “no” to the EU (97.2%) and “yes” to the ECU (98.9%), and “yes” to right to secede (98.9%). Over 70 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum, which was monitored by international observers from Belgium, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary, who concluded the voting had proceeded in accordance with international standards. The Moldovan parliament promptly amended the Code on Elections to ban local referendums on issues of state importance.
Most analysts believe the referendum’s timing was linked to a power struggle between Găgăuzia’s governor, Mihail Formuzal, and the mayor of Komrat, Nicolai Dudoglo. The idea of a referendum on ECU accession had longstanding support: for example, New Găgăuzia in December 2012 called for one to determine Găgăuzia’s geopolitical orientation.
However, when Formuzal in October 2013 proposed one, New Găgăuzia only supported it on 27 November 2013 after failing two weeks earlier, on 15 November, to remove Formuzal from office. Had New Găgăuzia members (and by extension, the Democratic Party of Moldova) succeeded in November 2013 to remove Formuzal from office, New Găgăuzia and the DPM would have had a de facto monopoly on political power in Găgăuzia.
Some speculate another reason the referendum was organized was to improve Găgăuzia’s bargaining position in negotiations the Moldovan national government in Chișinău. Current law provides for Găgăuzia to retain all local personal and corporate income tax, and value-added and excise tax receipts. In July 2013 Moldova proposed to drop substantially the share retained by Găgăuzia and other regions to only 25% of local personal income tax receipts, and 50% of corporate income, VAT and excise tax receipts
- HISTORIC ALIGNMENT WITH RUSSIA
Moldovans split when the Soviet Union held its “first, and last” referendum on 17 March 1991. It asked Soviet voters “Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of persons of all nationalities would be fully guaranteed?”
Votes in Găgăuzia and Transdniestria voted to retain the Union whereas the rest of Moldova boycotted the referendum. One commentary observed, “Moldova’s choreography of joining (in 1991), leaving (in 1993) and re-joining (in 1994) the Commonwealth of Independent States reveals the improving and degrading alike dynamic of its relationship with Russia” [sic].
For its part Găgăuzia has long used the threat to adopt pro-Russian policies as a bargaining chip with the Moldovan national government in Chișinău. Russia, though, maintained a studied indifference toward Găgăuzia for the first decade of Moldovan independence, opting instead to foment separatism in the more strategically located (and geographically unitary) Transdniestria.
“This situation may be the beginning of a qualitatively different phase in what has initially seemed like just another East-versus-West confrontation. Increasingly, the developments in Moldova are taking on the trappings of a proxy war.”
This is the historic region known to Russians and Ukrainians as Budzhak and Bugeac to Romanians and Moldovans. It is located southwest of Odessa in an area bounded by the Black Sea, and the Danube and Dniester rivers.
When Bessarabia was reintegrated into the Soviet Union after World War II, the Slavic-majority territories in northern and southern Bessarabia were made part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Central Bessarabia was joined with the Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (centered on modern Transdniestria) to form the Moldovan SSR.
Leonid Slutsky, a member of the Russian Duma and Chairman of the Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States, welcomed the results of Găgăuzia’s February 2014 referendum, which called for Găgăuzian self-determination and the integration of Moldova into the ECU.
Author: John R. Haines fills multiple roles at the Foreign Policy Research Institute – Senior Fellow, Trustee, and Executive Director of FPRI’s Princeton Committee. Haines is author of the FPRI E-Book A Perfect Storm Ahead? An Exploration of the Risk of Nuclear Terrorism (FPRI, 2014) and of several FPRI essays. FPRI’s Princeton Committee is a monthly forum in Princeton featuring presentations by a mix of FPRI and guest scholars.