Gagauzia gained the status of an autonomy within the Republic of Moldova almost 25 years ago. However, discussions around this status are still ongoing, and some have fears that due to its status, the region may secede from Moldova. The Gagauzia Dialogue project works to dispel these fears and establish dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat. Within the project framework, the four-day Autumn Academy “Decentralization, Autonomy and Minority Rights” took place in Moldova.
The Academy was attended by 38 representatives of civil society, the media, and local authorities from Chisinau and Comrat, who were introduced to the key principles of international and national law in the field of decentralization and autonomy.
While it is more than 25 years since the establishment of the Gagauz autonomy, public authorities and civil society in Moldova do not fully understand why such decentralization is needed and what advantages this gives both Chisinau and Comrat. To solve this problem and establish a dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat, the Finnish non-governmental organization Crisis Management Institute (CMI) developed the Gagauzia Dialogue project, with financial support from Sweden. The project started with the creation of a platform for inter-parliamentary dialogue between deputies of the Moldovan Parliament and deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia. In 2019, the framework of the Gagauzia Dialogue project was expanded to include civil society and academia.
“We will avoid making the same mistakes”
Within the framework of this project, the four-day Academy “Decentralization, Autonomy and Minority Rights” took place in Gagauzia. The speakers at the academy were mainly experts from Eurac Research Institute (based in the Italian city of Bolzano, the capital of the autonomous province of South Tyrol) which unites 11 institutes working in four areas – autonomy, technology, health, and mountains.
Almost 38 participants took part in the academy: social activists, journalists, experts and officials from Chisinau and Gagauzia. The Academy began its “studies” in Vadul-lui-Voda. The participants learned about decentralization, examples of resolving conflicts between central and local authorities, about different models of autonomy, and also about how ethnic minorities can protect their rights.
“We were told about the experiences of Italy and Germany, how autonomy works, and how the rights of national minorities are protected in other countries. We learned about what mistakes they faced, so that we can avoid them” stated Nikolai Keles, member of the Youth Platform for Interethnic Solidarity.
Vadim Barinov, an Academy participant from Bender, told Newsmaker (NM) that he was interested in learning about the experience of protecting the rights of national minorities in European countries.
“Most of all we talked about South Tyrol (an autonomous province in Italy). This is a great example of what policies should be pursued with regard to national minorities and the use of languages in places of compact residence of national minorities”.
In an interview with NM, Steve Young, Country Manager of the CMI Office in Moldova, said that the project aims to increase confidence and expand the dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat:
“We are developing platforms for sustainable dialogue. We are talking about decentralization, about authority, about good governance, about what unites us. Increasing the level of understanding of the processes of decentralization and autonomy avoids the isolation of Moldovan citizens. The project’s activities are aimed at involving citizens in the decision-making process for the Republic of Moldova as a whole”.
“It is necessary to change laws and thinking”
The Academy its next “stop” in Comrat. There, participants listened to several lectures at Comrat State University. University teachers Andrei Smokine and Elena Kuyuzhuklu talked about the possibilities of improving Moldovan legislation in the field of decentralization and the Gagauz autonomy, as well as the specific features of the autonomy and the problems that arise with this. The discussion was continued by Elizabeth Alber, Senior researcher at the Eurac Research Institute for Comparative Federalism, who talked about the international experience of decentralization using other territorial autonomies in Europe as an example.
According to Vyacheslav Krachun, a participant of the Academy from Chisinau, the law on the status of Gagauzia, adopted in 1994, was at that time very advanced.
“But Moldovan laws have evolved, and this law has remained at the same level”.
As an example of this discrepancy, he cited the fact that in the beginning, Gagauzia had the right to independently administer tax collection.
“But two years ago Gagauzia was deprived of this right, and now the State Tax Service southern department is engaged in tax administration in the autonomy”.
In Comrat, students of the Academy also visited the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (PAG), where the head of the PAG Vladimir Kyssa and the Deputy Governor Olesya Tanasoglo introduced the work of the autonomy authorities.
The final event of the Academy was the Conference “Promoting Good Governance through Decentralization, Autonomy and Minority Accommodation”, organized by Eurac Research Institute in collaboration with Moldavan and Comrat State Universities. The conference was addressed by Jan Feldman, Head of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality (Equality Council); Elizabeth Alber, Senior Researcher at the Eurac Research Institute for Comparative Federalism; Natalia Putin, Deputy Dean of the Department of International Relations at the State University of Moldova, and others.
Speaking at the conference, Francesco Palermo, head of Eurac Research, called Gagauzia a “unique” territorial entity in the region. In an interview with NM, he expressed that, in his opinion, for the normal functioning of autonomy two things need to be changed: first, laws that were written in the reality that existed 25 years ago that have become outdated, and second, the “thinking and politics” of the central authorities regarding autonomy. The expert also recommended that the central authorities appoint responsible officials who would be responsible for the dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat on an ongoing basis.
“Why dialogue is needed”
The Gagauzia Dialogue project was launched back in 2015 to increase the level of trust and openness between Chisinau and Comrat, enabling the development of joint solutions to issues related to autonomy-centre interactions.
The first project in the framework of this program was the creation of a joint working group of deputies of the Moldovan Parliament and the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, which ran from 2015-2018. With the assistance of mediators, the Working Group on Gagauzia developed amendments to 11 laws, which contributed to the harmonization of national legislation and the legislation of Gagauzia.
According to Jale Sultanli, CMI representative in Moldova, there is sufficient reason to consider the dialogue of recent years between Comrat and Chisinau successful.
“We have achieved the goals that we set ourselves – to build confidence, assess inconsistencies in the legislation, and ensure a sustainable dialogue. At the same time, we understand that the process cannot be just for the sake of the process. This was also understood by the deputies of the working group. Therefore, they developed a roadmap for joint action and began an analysis of the law. The Gagauz and Moldovan representatives had a common vision of the work of the joint group, a common view of the shared problems, and a common understanding of the need to improve the mechanism. In particular, they decided to create a more stable mechanism of interaction at the level of the executive branch in order to resolve issues under the government”.
The group’s three years of work resulted in 56 recommendations and proposals, many of which were implemented by the respective authorities. For example, a Regional Development Agency was created in the autonomy (in line with Regional Development Agencies in the north, south and center of the country). Thanks to this, Gagauzia gained the opportunity to implement investment projects within its territory, including infrastructure such as the construction of new roads. Based on the group’s recommendations, the Government also adopted the first document related to development within the autonomy – an Action Plan for improving the socio-economic situation of the Gagauz autonomy for 2016-2019.
According to Daniela Vidajku, representative of the Swedish Embassy in Moldova, Sweden supports the Gagauzia Dialogue project to support the establishment of a strong institutional connection between the Moldovan authorities and the leadership of Gagauzia:
“The dialogue between Chisinau and Comrat is important for the development of democracy and better governance in the Republic of Moldova, and this will inevitably lead to an improvement in the life of every citizen. Sweden, as a partner in the strategic development of Moldova, supports activities and initiatives that strengthen society by providing equal opportunities to citizens throughout the country. That’s why Sweden supports the creation of platforms for communication and cooperation at various social and administrative levels”.
CMI is a Finnish non-governmental organization founded in 2000 by Marti Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. CMI works to prevent and resolve tensions and conflicts through dialogue and mediation. The organization helps maintain lasting peace through regional programs in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Text: Nikolai Pakholnitsky
Design: Christina Demian
Collage: Christina Demian