Moldova’s Gagauzia region challenges government over judicial reforms and language status

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Moldova’s internal political landscape faces increasing tension as the Gagauzia region, known for its pro-Moscow leanings, confronts the central government over proposed judicial reforms and language rights. This challenge emerges amidst a broader geopolitical struggle, with Moldova’s pro-European government pushing for closer ties with the European Union.

On Friday, the local assembly in Gagauzia, home to around 140,000 residents, primarily ethnic Turks practicing Orthodox Christianity, voiced strong opposition to judicial reforms proposed by Moldova’s government. These reforms include the closure of a regional appeal court. Moreover, Gagauzia’s leaders are demanding enhanced status for the Russian language, aiming for it to be recognized alongside Romanian, Moldova’s sole state language.

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The region’s confrontation with the government is compounded by controversies surrounding its leader, or bashkan, Yevgenia Gutul. Despite being an automatic member of the government under Moldova’s constitution, President Maia Sandu has refused to sign an enabling decree for Gutul, who was elected on the ticket of a banned pro-Russian political party led by the fugitive businessman Ilan Shor.

Prime Minister Dorin Recean stands firm on the judicial reforms, asserting they are necessary to dismantle criminal elements allegedly controlling the region. “The judicial system will do what it has to and bring to account all members of these groups,” Recean stated in a television interview, emphasizing that the reforms aim to build a European future for Moldova.

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President Sandu has declared Russia as the biggest threat to Moldova and has scheduled a referendum later this year on joining the EU, coinciding with a presidential election. In contrast, Gutul has expressed deep skepticism about the EU integration plan, accusing Sandu of victimizing Gagauzia. She has also sought support from Russian President Vladimir Putin amidst these tensions.

Political analyst Vitalie Andrievschi suggests that the demands from Gagauzia, including the call for the Russian language’s improved status, are part of a Kremlin-backed campaign to destabilize Moldova, especially given the upcoming presidential election and EU membership referendum. “They need this to stir things up in a year with a presidential election and referendum on the agenda in order to undermine stability and divide the country,” Andrievschi explained to Reuters.

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The ongoing dispute between Gagauzia and the Moldovan government highlights the complex interplay of local autonomy, national integrity, and foreign influence in Moldova’s politics. The resolution of this conflict will be critical in determining Moldova’s path towards European integration and its ability to maintain internal cohesion.

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