Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Minuscule Gagauzia Votes 99% to Declare Independence If Moldova Attempts Romanian Reunification

Ukrainians in their hundreds of thousands may be proclaiming loud and clear that they want closer ties with western Europe than with Russia, but in a nearby tiny sliver of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a small band of diaspora Turks are claiming nationhood and choosing Moscow over Brussels.

More than 70% of eligible voters in Gagauzia, an autonomous region within the Republic of Moldova (formerly the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic), turned out on February 2nd to answer a series questions about their tiny nation’s geopolitical future.

Welcome to Gagauzia
On the question of trade, 98.4% of voters in the region of 155,000 people said they wanted closer ties with the nascent Eurasian Union, a proposed bloc of Soviet successor states aligned with Moscow (probably to include Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia at least; the first three have had a customs union since 2010).  97.2% of Gagauz said they were against any closer relationship with the European Union (E.U.).  Moldova, whose 3.5 million or so people are about 76% ethnic Romanian (Moldavia is one of the traditional three constituent portions of the Romanian nation, alongside Wallachia and Transylvania) and only about 6% ethnic Russian, is not a member of the E.U. but signed comprehensive trade agreements with the E.U. in November, including an Association Agreement, generally seen as the first step in the long path toward candidacy for membership.  Romania has been an E.U. member state since 2007.

A Romanian irredentist makes his (or her) point as well.
A third question on this week’s Gagauzian ballot asked whether Gagauz Yeri, the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, should declare independence in the event that Moldova and Romania attempted reunification.  98.9% said yes (following an official statement to the contrary by the Gagauz government back in 2012, as reported at the time in this blog).

Here she comes ... Miss Gagauzia ...
The Gagauz are pursuing all trappings of nationhood.
Independence may be a hard row to hoe for Gagauzia, which is a grapeshot of tiny discontinuous landlocked territories in southern Moldova totalling only about 700 square miles.  But there is a precedent.  Gagauzia and another, larger sliver of Moldova, running most of the length of Moldova’s official border with Ukraine, both declared independence in 1990 when the Soviet Union imploded.  Moldova soon wooed the Gagauz back into its politic by promising, and delivering, enhanced autonomy.  But the other sliver, called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, or Transnistria or Transdniestria for short, remains “independent” (see map above).  No country recognizes it, but because ethnic Russians and Ukrainians make up almost 60% of its population and Moldovans (i.e. Romanians) less than a third, it is maintained by Russia as a puppet state, struggling along only with cash infusions from the Kremlin.  It has no real hopes of becoming a successful, recognized state; it is being maintained, with its own currency and security provided by Russia’s 14th Army.  (See an article from this blog on Transnistria.)  Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, keeps it running mainly to make a point, and to preserve Moscow’s last foothold in the Balkans.  With Ukraine threatening to turn sharply West, Transnistria would be even more isolated.  (It also has said it wants to join the Eurasian Union.)

Moldovan and Gagauz flags often fly side by side.
Moldovan and Transnistrian ones, never.
For the past nearly quarter-century of post-Communist history, the otherwise logical good idea of Romanian and Moldovan reunification has been put seemingly permanently on the back burner, since that would involve deciding the fate of Transnistria.  Right now, Moldova claims Transnistria but allows it its de facto independence.  That careful fiction would have to be replaced with something else.  There was already a war when Transnistria secured its independence-such-as-it-is.  No one wants another one.  Romania is also in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Allowing a territory occupied by Russian troops to become E.U. territory would be unthinkable.  The E.U. already regrets admitting Cyprus, the northern third of which is a de facto independent puppet state of Turkey called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  Plus, Putin is too pig-headed to be at all interested in a negotiated military pullback from Transnistria, certainly not while he’s fighting like hell to keep Ukraine in his orbit.

Gagauzia’s unofficial, and far superior, flag
Therefore, because Romania and Moldova are to all practical purposes unable to reunify, the Gagauz referendum question on independence is moot, until and unless there are drastic changes in the geopolitics of the immediate neighborhood.  But the ongoing Ukraine crisis might lead to just that.  Either way, the Gagauz have made their point.  They don’t feel very Moldovan and are just waiting for their chance to bolt.  Moldova had early said that the Gagauz referendum was illegal.  That they held it at all indicates they are already feeling pretty independent.

[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it some time in 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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