The study Moldova between East and West: Views from Gagauzia and Taraclia is based on an opinion poll conducted among the Gagauzia and Taraclia district inhabitants. The survey was conducted between September 16 and October 2, 2021. The study’s goal was to assess the perceptions and attitudes of the inhabitants of the Gagauz autonomy and of Taraclia district concerning a wide range of matters related to the social-economic and political situation in the Republic of Moldova following the political changes that occurred in 2020-2021.
The Institute for Public Policy has realized opinion polls focused on the inhabitants of the Gagauz autonomy and Taraclia district since 2011. The first two surveys were conducted in 2011 and 2015. The 2021 survey was part of a project funded by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation, a German Marshall Fund’s Project (USA).
The opinion poll revealed that the primary identity of the inhabitants in ATU Gagauzia and the Taraclia district is uncertain. Three primary identities are coexisting – civic, regional-ethnic and community, none dominant. According to the 2021 opinion poll, the ethnicity-based primary identity became irrelevant.
The cultural identity in the researched regions is bidirectional – the respondents feel closer to the culture of their ethnicity and the Russian culture.
The subject of “historical homeland”, investigated within the in-depth interviews, revealed that the interviewees do not refer to the historical origin of the ethnic group itself but define the “historical homeland” based on where they, their parents or their grandparents were born. Hence, the respondents mention the Republic of Moldova and the USSR almost every time, and association with Turkey or Bulgaria is mostly missing.
The respondents largely accept their civic duties, despite the fragmented identity and the lack of a prevailing civic identity. However, the obligation to know the state’s official language by the inhabitants of ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district is a less accepted civic duty.
The respondents perceive the degree of integration into the “Moldovan society” as moderate. At the same time, there are at least three indicators that shape the degree of integration/feeling of integration:
– Knowledge of the official language boosts by almost 25% the indicator of the perceived degree of integration (53% in the case of those respondents who do not speak the official language at all and 77.2% in the case of those who speak it well).
– The high level of education boosts by over 20% the indicator of the perceived degree of integration (53.2% in the group with the lowest level of education, and 75.8% in the group with a high level of education).
– Economic integration also increases the indicator of the perceived degree of integration – with 7% between those economically inactive and the economically active, and by 12% between the group with the lowest income level and the group with the highest income level.
Linguistically, the researched regions remain bilingual. The Russian language prevails both from the viewpoint of the command of language and its use, being supplemented by the language of the ethnic group. The preference for the Russian language is explained by: the use of Russian as a language of interethnic communication, large-scale migration to the Russian Federation for labour and studies, mixed marriages in the region.
At the same time, since the 2011 opinion poll, the share of respondents who speak the official language increased. Over the past decade, the share of respondents who affirm they speak Moldovan language* has doubled over (from 11.6% to 23.4%), and the share of people who stated they have a good command of Romanian has increased from 9,7% to 16,8%. The attitude towards those who succeed in learning the official language has changed, from negative to respectful.
The incidence of difficulties caused by the non-command of the official language remains constant over time.
Although the unsatisfactory quality of official language teaching is often mentioned among the causes for its low level of command by the Gagauzia ATU and Taraclia district inhabitants, the respondents were not very critical about it. More than half of them expressed either content or moderate contentment with the process. Nevertheless, the in-depth interviews revealed that a large part of the official language courses for civil servants are organized “for the show” without producing any real effects in terms of command of the official language.
Linguistic realities determine the main sources of information in the researched regions, dominated by media production from the Russian Federation.
Subsequently, the specificity of the information space also determines the political and geopolitical perceptions of ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district inhabitants. Even if a large part of the respondents anticipates a future in which the Republic of Moldova remains an independent state, according to the 2015 and 2021 surveys, expectations of a state construction jointly with the Russian Federation persist.
When evaluating the activity of public authorities, the traditional inverse relationship between satisfaction and distance to the public authority is observed: respondents are mostly satisfied with the activity of local authorities and most dissatisfied with the activity of national authorities. Furthermore, national authorities are viewed with distrust, including because of their pro-European geopolitical orientation.
The population’s political preferences in the researched regions further reveal unconditional support for political forces perceived as pro-Russian. At the same time, many respondents consider that no party represents the interests of UTA Gagauzia and Taraclia district. Almost half of the respondents (45.2%) do not trust any national politician. There is also a shortage of political offers at the regional level, and most respondents did not express trust in any political leader.
Geopolitical preferences have a solid emotional foundation. The population of ATU Găgăuzia and Taraclia district has a strong sense of belongingness to the so-called “Russian world”. Thus, 34.3% of respondents consider that the Republic of Moldova is part of the Russian World. However, this indicator decreased significantly from the values recorded in the 2015 survey (64.6%).
If a referendum was held, the preferences of the inhabitants of Gagauzia ATU and Taraclia district would have been overwhelmingly for the accession into the Eurasian Union. However, since the 2015 survey, the share of those who would prefer to join the European Union has increased relevantly.
Russian Federation is perceived as the leading development assistance provider for ATU Gagauzia and Taraclia district. This perception is part of a larger view, impregnated in the collective consciousness, of what the Russian Federation is for the inhabitants of the researched regions—fuelled by the information provided constantly and uniformly by Russian media. Thus, the Russian Federation is perceived as the best partner, even though the interviewees cannot mention any case of financial assistance from it.