CHISINAU, January 31. /ITAR-TASS/. Head of Moldova’s southern independence-minded region of Gagauzia, Mikhail Formuzal, has signed a resolution on setting up the teams of people’s volunteer guards in the region to maintain law and order and to rebuff possible provocations in the course of a referendum on giving the region the status of a ‘suspended autonomy’ that will be held Sunday, February 2.
The ‘suspended’ status is supposed to enable Gagauzia, a territory with a population of slightly over 160,000 people, to secede Moldova should the latter lose independence through incorporation in Romania. Voters will also be asked which of the two unions — the EU or the Eurasian Customs Union embracing Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia at the moment — Gagauzia should join in the future.
“This (the setting up of the volunteer guard teams — Itar-Tass) has nothing to do with the creation of an army, contrary to what some news media have been blaring,” Formuzal told reporters. “These teams will consist of real volunteers and their emergence falls in line with the law on the national guard that has legal effect in this country.”
The teams will be acting only on Sunday, February 2, when the voting is in progress so as to help law enforcement agencies keep up law and order and thwart provocations.
“Certain forces outside (Gagauzia) would surely benefit from provocations, which would profile us in a highly miserable light,” Formuzal said.
Earlier, Formuzal and the speaker of the regional legislature, Dmitry Konstantinov, called on the Gagauzians to vote in favor of Moldova’s integration in the Eurasian Customs Union.
Moldova’s central authorities describe the referendum as an illegitimate one and the Central Electoral Commission in Chisinau refused to provide certification stamps. In the wake of this refusal, the local business community volunteered to cover the organizational costs of the plebiscite and the legislature ordered the stamps to a private company.
“The stamps have been made for all the 35 precincts and 65 local electoral bureaus, Valentina Lisnik, the chairperson of Gagauzia’s main electoral commission told reporters.
“The difficulties that have been created have caused indignation and disgust among the local residents but we’ll overcome the obstacles because our actions rely on nothing else but law,” she said.
Gagauzia, which is home to about 160,000 mostly ethnically non-Moldovan people, is located in the very south of Moldova. Its population speaks a dialect of the Turkish language.
Historically, the Gagauzians are descendants of either the Oghuz Turks who converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity or the Bulgarians who underwent linguistic Turkification at a certain point in the past.
The ethnic Gagauzians have been settling in the southern districts of Moldova, or former Bessarabia, since 1812 when the region went over to the Russian Empire. In 1991, when the former Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic declared itself independent from the USSR, Gagauzia and another largely non-Moldovan regions of the country, Transdnistria (or the Dniester region) declared themselves independent from Moldova.
However, contrary to the situation around Transdnistria that grew over into an armed conflict with hundreds of human casualties on both sides, Moldova’s central authorities in Chisinau managed to produce an arrangement that satisfied the local minority’s demand for rights and status to big enough a degree.
Apart from the actions undertaken by the Central Electoral Commission in Chsinau, the opposition that Moldova’s incumbent pro-EU Administration puts up to the idea of the referendum could be seen from the criminal case that Office of the country’s Prosecutor General had instituted against the organizers of the referendum. Alsom a number of Gagauzian legislators were summoned to investigators for questioning.
The district court in Comrat, the region’s capital has entertained the demands from the central government and has declared the polling illegal. Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has contributed to the efforts to dissuade the Gagauzian leadership from holding the referendum — he proposed to have a visiting session of the cabinet of ministers for a discussion of regional problems, which the region’s population finds particularly troublesome.
In the meantime, popular gatherings of local resident were held at the beginning of January in many populated localities of the region. The participants hailed the referendum and condemned the actions of Moldova’s authorities.
Deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia explained for the importance of this referendum by citing “the state policy of neighboring Romania that is overtly oriented at swallowing up the republic on the background of explicit connivance on the part of top-rank officials and state agencies of Moldova.”
Gagauzian legislators believe that the declarations, which Romanian President Trajan Basescu made at the end of November regarding his country’s prime foreign policy objectives, testify to the far-reaching ambitions of politicians in Bucharest.
Unification with Moldova will become a new fundamental project for Romania, President Basescu said on a program of Romanian national television November 27.
“Romania’s first fundamental state project was getting NATO’s membership,” he said. “Project number two was accession to the EU, and now unification with Moldova should become a doubtless project number three.”
Romania and Moldova are very closely ethnically related and speak practically the same language. The territory of today’s Moldova lying westwards of the right-hand bank of the river Dniester belonged to Romania between the two World Wars.
“A people seeking to live together will never surrender,” Basescu said. “I don’t mean politicians here. All my actions related to Moldova have been linked to the idea of a possible reunification. I know this isn’t the right moment now but this will happen anyway.”
His words triggered sharp criticism both in Romania and across border in Moldova.