GEOPOLITICAL CHARACTERISTIC OF THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA
4. THE PLACE OF THE SOUTH BESSARABIAN CONFLICT IN THE GEOPOLITICAL CHARACTERISTIC OF THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA
The Moldovan-Ukrainian border treaty signed in 2000 and the territorial and administrative reform in the Republic of Moldova that took place in 1999 opened the case of the South Bessarabian conflicts. In other words, they kept the conflict opened because starting with 1989 this region was an arena for a passive conflict.
Together with the Transdnistrian conflict, the conflict knot in South Bessara- bia has an enormous destabilising potential, with a dimension that has not been enough analyzed. To be fair, if the solution of the Gagauz problem in 1994 seemed to loosen the tension of that situation, at the southern border of the Republic of Moldova there still exist two potential conflict zones: the presence of a Bul- garian minority and the one generated by the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. There- fore, this represents the ultimate problem and underlies the genesis of the South Bessarabian conflict knot. Hence, the lengthy process of negotiation of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border passed unnoticed by public opinion and the mass media from the Republic of Moldova, which denotes a dangerous tendency of losing interest in politics among the population and a spectacular decline of the civic spirit in Bessarabia. Even the attention of the political circle of Chisinau returned the problem of South Bessarabia to agenda only after the recent inci- dents related to the border of Palanca village (Tighina County) and the problem generated by the Bulgarian minority from South Bessarabia at the end of 1999.
Referring to the Bulgarian problem or the Taraclia case, we can affirm that this story was for Chisinau, as well as for other capital cities, a lesson with the topic
the role of minorities in foreign policy strategy. The Bulgarians have managed to do in the Republic of Moldova with only 80,000 people, something that neither Chisinau nor Bucharest managed to do in Ukraine with 500,000 Romanians they gained a separate county and the right to cultural autonomy.
It is to be noted that, from the point of view of geostrategic opportunities for the Republic of Moldova, this zone has a significant importance, deserving much more political as well as academic attention not only for the aspirations and the pretensions of some countries from the region, but also the interests of some big foreign powers meeting here at the Danube Delta. However, before talking about the South Bessarabian conflict knot, I will try to forge a short geo- historic scheme of the region (implicitly of the conflicts in the region).
The south of Bessarabia, also called Bugeac, has never been a very stable region and the principality of Moldova, in spite of what we think, controlled only superficially these areas. Although this particular territory was included in Moldova in the last decade of the fourteenth century, the Moldovan domination lasted in this region just a century. The territory of Bugeac was annexed at the end of the fifteenth century by the Turks and partly became Romanian territory only in 1856, after the peace conference in Paris. In 1812, the Russian Empire annexed these lands directly from the Turkish Empire and not from the principality of Moldova, which were located in the centre and north of the future Bessarabia. After the annexation of Southern Bessarabia by the Russians, Saint Petersburg launched a campaign of capitalisation and colonisation of the region, identical to the one in the Novorossiysk region. Most of the colonists were of German, Turkish-Gagauz, Bulgarian and Ukrainian origin. Prior to the annexation of the region by the Russians, the zone was clearly inhabited by Romanians, as well as Russians, Tatars, Greeks and Armenians (the last two ethnics lived mainly in towns). In the middle of the 19th century, Bugeac was turned into a kind of Dagestan in the Balkans. Six main ethnic groups inhabited this region: Romanians, Ukrainians, Germans, Russians, Bulgarians and Gagauz Turks. To the ethnic landscape, one could add the Tatars, Greeks, Armenians and Romany. Those two meridional counties of Bessarabia Izmail and Akkerman were the most non-Romanian regions in the whole province.
On 2 August 1940, Ukraine received a territory of 12,400 square kilometres in the south of Bessarabia, territory that will ultimately form the region of Izmail. The motivation of this fact was the ethnic composition of the region. Obviously, this was only a pretext and not the real cause, because Ukrainians did not represent in the particular region a larger community than Romanians. A relative majority was obtained only after the repatriation of those 100,000 German Bessarabians who mainly populated the present districts of Tarutino, Sarata and Arciz. Certainly, the localities that used to be inhabited by them were populated by Russians and particularly Ukrainians from Malorussia. As with the other two important ethnic
minorities from the region the Bulgarians and the Gagauz Turks their repar- tition was done in the following manner: the Bulgarians and the Gagauz Turks stayed within the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, and the majority of Bulgar- ians was included in the Ukrainian Republic. Thus, according to the general population census since 1989, out of 175,000 Gagauz Turks from the south of Bessarabia, 150,000 were within the Republic of Moldova and 25,000 in Izmail, Odessa Oblast. Correspondingly, the Bulgarians constituted 320,000 persons, in- cluding 240,000 within Izmail Region, Odessa Oblast and 80,000 in the south-west of the Republic of Moldova.
With the decline of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the process of national revival in the Republic of Moldova, the Bessarabian issue peacefully solved in 1940 came to life again. Obviously, due to the decisions of the Paris Peace Treaty of February 1947, Romania could not claim these territories anymore.
The ones who re-opened the Bessarabian case were the proponents of the national idea from Bessarabia, who, in 1988-1989, were asking not only for lan- guage, alphabet or national identity, but also for the unity of the nation. Even though only a decade passed since those events, many have forgotten that initially the idea of national unity had a different geography from the present form. In 1988, many Bessarabians feared to call themselves Romanians and many of them dared say aloud that the tearing of the north and south of Bessarabia from the body of the Moldovan Republic in 1940 was an act of colonial abuse.
These geographic remembrances of the Bessarabian Romanians could not pass unnoticed on the other side of Dniester River, to our Ukrainian neighbour, which, regardless the political colour, took an extremely hostile position towards the Republic of Moldova. Of course, Moscow did not show a friendlier position towards us, but we should not forget that the ones who directly profited from the
28 June 2 August 1940 affair were our eastern neighbours. This is why Kiev supported and continues to support the separatist movements in the Republic of Moldova in the east as well as in the south. Even if in our view the main guilty part in the Transdnistrian and Gagauz cases is Moscow, it is absolutely clear that Kiev played not a less negative role in both cases. Alternatively, the very conflicts from the east and south of the Republic of Moldova have made the position of Chisinau in its dialogue with Ukraine more flexible and made us believe in the abhorrent idea that Ukraine would be our natural ally against Russia.
Obviously, with such a historical prologue we cannot trust optimistic affirma- tions that try to persuade us that by the creation of Gagauz autonomy, Taraclia County for the Bulgarian minority and by signing the disputable border agreement with Ukraine the conflict knot from the south of Bessarabia would be annihilated.
In reality, we continually postpone the problems but do not solve them. It is, however, very difficult to predict the future of this region. Will we manage to politically naturalise those two ethnic communities, maintain this very non- Romanian territory, as well as in the ethnic composition, within the Republic of Moldova? In my opinion, the status of autonomy offered to the Gagauz-Yeri is not
at all capable to give us a soothing answer in this sense; too big and too dangerous were the rights offered by Chisinau, and at some point in time the
rebellious autonomy could have the temptation to capitalise on them. Analyzing the situation created in the south-west of Bessarabia, we have reached the conclusion that in the future, there can only be one possibility to completely solve this conflict, since, as I was saying, the present situation cannot be called solution of a conflict. Moreover, in some instances it seems to generate instability.
This unique option would be the merger of Taraclia County and the autono- mous district Gagauz-Yeri into a common autonomous district Bugeac, with autonomy and having three official languages- Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian.
Even under economic and geographic aspects, as well as political, the region would have been more coherent, getting rid of the present complex of a con- tinental archipelago. Thus, for those two communities the project of joint au- tonomy would only be beneficial. However, what would be the benefits for Mol- dova? I believe there are two similarly important benefits related to this option.
First of all, we would have an autonomous district based on historical and geo- graphic criteria (Bugeac) and not on ethno-geographic terms, as in the case of Gagauz-Yeri. In this autonomy, the Gagauz Turks would represent about 59 per cent of the population, Bulgarians about 29 per cent and Romanians and representatives of other ethnic minorities approximately 12 per cent. Thus, we would have a diminution of the majority and equilibrium between the two prin- cipal ethnic components. The procedure of equilibration is classic in geopolitics and is used in different complicated situations. The Soviets, for example, used such a method in the 1920s and 1930s in the northern Caucasus, merging the
difficult autonomous areas of Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Che- chen-Ingush. In post-war Europe, Italy merged the German autonomous region of Upper Tyrol and the mainly Italian Trentino region into a single rebel autonomous region, in order to diminish the share of the German element within the newly emerged regions of Trentino and Upper Tyrol. Considering that such powerful countries as the Soviet Union and Italy have used these methods, I see no reason why not analyze the possibility of creating an autonomy that would carry the name of a historic province (and not the name of an ethnic group) which would include two basic ethnic components that would counterbalance each other.
Another positive element for the Republic of Moldova that would emerge from this fusion would be the possibility (even the necessity) of a new negotiation of the status of this autonomy. It is the only legal way to withdraw some privileges offered to the autonomous district of Gagauz-Yeri given in 1994. Thus, the price paid for the geographic expansion of the autonomous region would be a quali- tative diminution of this and its adjustment to a political status for example similar to the status of Crimea within Ukraine. For the moment, however, the victory of the Communists in the parliamentary elections of February 2001 placed the Gagauz autonomous region in a very favourable political situation. Possessing a status of wide autonomy and protected by the vigilant eye of international
institutions extremely sensible in the issues of ethnic and linguistic minorities, Komrat remains as one of the eventual unpleasant surprises for Chisinau.