First day of winter, apart from bad weather, also brings inevitable political tension in Moldova. December 1, Great Union Day in neighboring Romania is a cause for celebration and hope for some Moldovans, an existential threat for others and a distraction for all the rest. Around this time, year after year Moldovan citizens of all ethnic backgrounds seek vindication for their deeply held political identities. It should come as no surprise that parties have long internalized this ethno-political cleavage and are exploiting it to the full extent ever since. Unfortunately, Moldova’s developing political system and limited political culture fail to promote public consensus, falling prey to bigotry and mutual recrimination. Even worse, public institutions are often needlessly encouraging or partaking in the sensitive and potentially explosive struggles of identity.
At a recent conference in Chisinau, Governor of Gagauzia Irina Vlah referred to the Gagauz people, not as a minority, but rather as a constituent part of the Moldovan people. She argued that, since the Gagauz do not have a historic motherland other than Moldova, they are not a minority as are Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians etc. Leaving anthropological debate aside, this message is very important from a political perspective, bearing in mind the tumultuous history of Chisinau-Comrat relations, including in the last couple of years. Furthermore, Gagauz Executive and the People’s Assembly (regional parliament) issued a joint declaration denying any separatist activity in the region in response to allegations coming from Moldovan security services that recently expelled a Russian citizen for alleged subversive activity, namely for promoting the idea of the Bugeac Republic in Gagauzia and Taraclia. Yet, the more hot-headed Gagauz nationalists could be excused for asking a pertinent, albeit uncomfortable, question: How come those who advocate for union with Romania represent a legitimate political stance while those who call for more autonomy for Gagauzia are immediately labeled as separatists?
Around the same time, in the northern city of Balti, Moldovan police thwarted a plot by an alleged paramilitary group, later labeled as terrorists, to cause riots and trigger a second Donbas in Moldova. Police detained about a dozen mostly Balti residents on allegations of building “New Russia” and plotting to overtake the entire country. The whole story of this police operation was viewed with suspicion, bordering on sarcasm, by part of the media and expert community, as the other part was fully enrolled in the fear mongering campaign. Oddly, as the donor community is spending western taxpayer money on building an inclusive society in Moldova, local law-enforcement is hell-bent on further dividing the country. This is not to say that national security vulnerabilities are negligible. They are not. However, fueling mass psychosis and mistrust towards Russian speakers or entire regions of the country by the means of a large PR campaign, showcased by the usually very discreet local police and intelligence, is counterproductive, to say the least. Still, it does the job of briefly distracting the public from its daily misery, but at what cost?
In a very good piece by Newsmaker, deeply ingrained myths about Gagauzia are debunked one by one. Then bottom line being: Gagauz people are neither really separatists nor a ‘fifth column’ as painted by Moldovan media. Remarkably, the author points out to the sheer cluelessness of prominent Moldovan politicians about the nature of the Gagauz autonomy, as evidenced by a recent parliamentary debate. A Communist MP labeled Gagauzia as “an autonomous republic within Moldova”, while deputy speaker Palihovici, equally mistakenly, called Gagauzia an “administrative-territorial unit”, instead of autonomous territorial unit, as enshrined in the national Constitution. Liberals, in utter defiance, view Gagauzia as just another district of Moldova, emphasizing the country’s unitary system of government. It is all the more important to engage in myth busting and awareness raising campaigns, so that we can discuss this very important issue from an educated position and not an ideologically entrenched mindset. The newly re-established Chisinau-Comrat parliamentary working group is clearly a step in the right direction. Otherwise, all the rhetoric about Gagauzia ever becoming an attractive example for Transnistria is nothing but wishful thinking. It goes without saying that having no fully functioning government in Chisinau at a time when Transnistria goes through so-called legislative and local elections is not helping.
PS: After recently visiting Berlin for the first time, the condition of separated communities does not seem all that permanent any more. Unfortunately, elsewhere it has proven to be enduring enough. The Berlin Wall – erected two years before my father was born – is a symbolic reminder of enormous suffering and injustice. Thankfully, it is history now. Yet, as a father of a two-year old son myself, I cannot help but decry not one but two walls that plague my country today, one on the Nistru and one on the Prut. Let us tear down these walls by first destroying the barriers we have put up in our minds and hearts!