On July 17th, in a string of anti-government protests held across Gagauzia, the people demanded the resignation of the Moldovan government and cuts in rising prices, threatening to block the roads and collecting signatures for a plea to Russian President Vladimir Putin to lower the gas prices.
The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has incited anger and reconfirmed the tension between Moldova and the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia. A few months ago, the Moldovan government passed a law prohibiting the use of insignia associated with Russia’s war effort, such as the display of the Ribbon of Saint George which symbolises the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. In response, many in Gagauzia reacted with anger and disapproval. A few days later, thousands of people flooded the streets of Comrat, the regional capital, bearing Russian flags and painting graffiti in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Tensions continued to rise, with Gagauzians accusing Moldova of attempting to eradicate Gagauzia’s statehood. The rising prices of gas, food, and electricity are making life more difficult for the people in the already impoverished area and worsening the feelings of injustice. Combined with a clear clash of ideology with the Moldovan government, the region appears to be at threat of conflict.
The Republic of Moldova is a country in the east of Europe whose territory is inhabited by multiple ethnic minorities, such as Ukrainians, Gagauzians, and Russians. Most of these ethnic groups are spread across the country, unlike the Gagauzians, who have formed a pro-Russian autonomous territorial unit in the country’s southwest. Throughout their history, Gagauzians have been subjugated to the control of numerous people, acquiring a strong Russian influence. It was only in 1990 that Gagauzia proclaimed its independence, and support for the Soviet Union remained high, with a referendum in March 1991 showing a great desire to be part of the U.S.S.R. The referendum, however, was boycotted by Moldovans in the Gagauzia region and the rest of the country. From then on, the friction between Gagauzians and Moldovans has never been entirely extinguished, leaving the path to conflict always open.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu stated that the people in Gagauzia are trying to break the already unstable harmony in the country by working with Russia, stating “there are certain attempts to destabilise the situation by certain individuals and groups in Gagauzia, which we believe are working for foreign interests. It is difficult, but our departments are trying to keep the situation under control, monitor it, and take measures when necessary.” Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita also stated her concern for the current situation and her worry about a potential Russian invasion. The rising tension in the region has also drawn the attention of Russia. Foreign Ministry Representative Maria Zakharova stated that the ban of Russian war symbols was “a real betrayal” from Moldova and she threatened harsh and painful repercussions for the said embargo.
Every spark could cause a fire in such an unstable environment, generating a much bigger conflict. It is essential to rebuild the road to peace, which can be obtained through financial aid. The international community should promote reconciliation by sending resources to Moldova, which would be equally divided between its regions, and can help to ease grievances of poorer regions such as Gagauzia. The political and social situation is tense in Moldova and can also generate a bigger-scale dispute with dire consequences both for Eastern and Western Europe. Although it is easier said than done, it is essential to create a more stable connection between the central government and Gagauzia to prevent conflict and restore peace.
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