Preventing Armed Conflict In Moldova (Gagauzia)

Preventing Armed Conflict In Moldova (Gagauzia)

Year(s): 1990 – 1994.

Location: Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, Moldova.

UN Regional Group: Eastern Europe.

Type of Conflict: Risk of a Vertical (state-based) Intrastate Conflict.

Type of Initiative: Diplomacy.

Main Implementing Organisation(s): The Government of Moldova.

Impact: Lasting.

Summary: A second war in Moldova during the 1990s was prevented thanks to the negotiation of an effective political compromise with Gagauz leaders.

Description of Case 

Moldavia was a republic within the Soviet Union. The area was home to a predominantly Moldovan population, some of whom advocated unity with Romania while others hoped for independence, along with a large Russian minority and the Gagauz – a Turkic speaking Orthodox community who live in the south of the country. When the leaders of the Moldovan nationalist movement rose to power in 1989, they introduced policies that were intended to empower Moldovans at the expense of the traditional Russian elite. This included discriminatory legislation on language, which threatened the position of other minorities, such as the Gagauz. In response, Gagauzian leaders proclaimed the formation of an independent republic in September 1989.[1] When the Soviet Union began collapsing in 1990, this range of political outlooks left newly independent Moldova in an extremely unstable situation. In September of that year, Russian leaders in Transnistria declared independence and fell into conflict with the Moldovan administration in Chișinău. This conflict distracted from the situation in Gagauzia, where the leaders of the unrecognised republic were mustering a local defence force with some assistance from their counterparts in Transnistria. Armed clashes between government security forces and Gagauz paramilitaries occurred intermittently while the conflict in Transnistria took place, setting the stage for another war on Moldovan soil should the situation escalate.[2]

After Moldovan forces failed to re-establish control of Transnistria with a major offensive in the summer of 1992, the incumbent administration resigned, creating an opportunity for a resolution of the incipient conflict with the Gagauz. The first formal talks were held in 1993, but the process gained traction when the February 1994 Moldovan elections brought yet another new government to power. By the end of the year, an accommodation with the Gagauz was negotiated and the Moldovan parliament approved a Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia, establishing a ‘national-territorial autonomous unit’ with Gagauz, Moldovan, and Russian as its official languages within Moldova.[3] Gagauz schools and a university were also supported. Membership of this polity was approved in a series of village-wide referenda, and once it was established, the local population elected a popular assembly and a governor.[4] These actions served to diffuse the crisis and prevent the eruption of another armed conflict in Moldova in the 1990s. Although the extent of autonomy enjoyed in Gagauzia is disputed, arguments over this issue remain peaceful.

[1] Steven Roper. “Regionalism in Moldova: The Case of Transnistria and Gagauzia.” Regional & Federal Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3. (2001) pp.104-5

[2] Oleh Protysk. “Gagauz Autonomy in Moldova: The Real and the Virtual in Post-Soviet State Design.” in Marc Weller & Katherine Nobbs, eds. Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts. (Philadelphia, 2010) p.233

[3] Johann Wolfschwenger & Kirsten Saxinger. “Federalism, National Identity and Overcoming

Frozen Conflicts: Moldova’s Experience.” Ethnopolitics, Vol. 19, No. 4. (2020) p.359

[4] Roper. “Regionalism in Moldova.” p.118