The Gagauz conflict

Although clashes did take place between Gagauz demonstrators and Moldovan police in 1991, the situation in the Gagauz area never escalated to large-scale violence. As a fairly small minority living in a poor and isolated agricultural area, the Gagauz—unlike the Transdniester—were not perceived by other Moldovans as a significant threat to the country’s independence and territorial integrity.

Establishing a recognized autonomous territory

Discussion of draft laws to create a recognized autonomous territory for the Gagauz began as early as October 1991, and in April 1993 a Gagauz congress decided that the Gagauz would remain within Moldova provided that they received the necessary guarantees. However, resolution of the conflict on this basis was blocked so long as the parliament remained dominated by the MPF. The blockage was removed in February 1994 by the election of a new and less nationalist parliament.

Special status of the Gagauz area
The flag of Gagauzia.

The flag of Gagauzia.

The new constitution adopted in July 1994 envisaged the granting of special status to the Gagauz area (as well as to the Transdniester region). The basis for resolving the conflict was established in December 1994, when a law was passed codifying the autonomous status of Gagauzia. The OSCE Mission to Moldova played an important supporting role in nurturing the negotiation process and monitoring implementation of the new arrangements.

Elections
OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier (l) meets the Governor of the Gagauzia autonomous territorial unit of Moldova, Mihail Formuzal, Chisinau, 17 July 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbător)

OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier (l) meets the Governor of the Gagauzia autonomous territorial unit of Moldova, Mihail Formuzal, Chisinau, 17 July 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbător)

Dimitru Croitor won the 1999 elections and started using the rights granted to the Gagauzia governor in the 1994 law. Tensions erupted, as central government authorities were unwilling to go along with the changes. Croitor resigned in 2002 under pressure from Chisinau. He was not allowed by the Central Elections Council to run again for governor. Mihail Formuzal was elected Gagauzia governor in 2007 and reelected again in 2010.

Challenges for Gagauzia

The economic situation in the largely agricultural Gagauzia is no better than in the rest of Moldova. Governor Formuzal has requested the central government to fund Romanian language studies in the autonomous territory.  In 2011 a large percentage of school children failed Romanian language exams needed for entrance to University. During Soviet times Gagauzia had mainly Russian-speaking schools. Without the Romanian language, Gagauzians have limited employment options.

Gagauzia referendum on EU or Russia-led Customs Union
Preference for Russia in referendum without legal status

A referendum organized by the Peoples Assembly of Gagauzia in Febuary 2014 produced overwhelming majorities for closer relations with the Russia-led Customs Union (98.4%), against a closer relationship with the EU (97.2%),  and the right to independence if Moldova surrenders or loses its independence (98.9%).  Turnout was reportedly over 70%. 

Gauguaz Autonomous Territorial Unit Governor Formuzal called on residents to participate to make their voices heard even though the central government and a local court ruled the referendum unconstitutional and without legal status.  The referendum's outcome does underline the affiliation many Russian-speaking Gauguaz have for Russia, their interest in participating in the Russian labor market, and concern at the impact of Russian sanctions aimed at giving Moldova second thoughts about an association agreement with the EU..