Stage 9: Gagauzia / Comrat

Today we continue towards Comrat, the capital of the autonomous republic of Gagauzia. The last 40 kilometers we drive on the Strada Lenin . Some sections are full of potholes, others are completely new. The repair of the road, which runs right through the former Soviet republic, is being financed by subsidies from the European Union – as signs keep telling us.

Unlike Transnistria, the autonomous region of Gagauzia is recognized by the Republic of Moldova. The Gagauz ethnic minority predominantly lives here, but Russians, Moldovans, Bulgarians and Ukrainians also live here. In addition to Romanian, the Turkic language Gagauz, a dialect related to Turkish, is spoken here. However, Russian is also the colloquial and official language.

Moldova’s secession from the Soviet Union and rapprochement with Romania triggered a pro-Russian countermovement in Gagauzia. After Moldova recognized the region’s autonomous status in 1994, the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict in 2014 and Moldova’s rapprochement with Romania reignited the conflict. In a (non-official) referendum on February 2, 2014, 98.4% of the people in Gagauzia voted in favor of closer relations with Russia and 97.2% against rapprochement with the EU. In addition to Russia, Turkey maintains close relations with the region, which does not de-escalate the conflict.

We learn how present the Soviet past and the proximity to Russia is here during a visit to the regional museum. In addition to illustrations and objects about the history of the region and the everyday life of the people, we discover above all relics from the Soviet era, miniature tanks, photos of high-ranking visitors from Russia (including Putin), medals and much more. In front of the administrative authority of Gagauzia there is a statue of Lenin, which is still well-kept, and a rusty Soviet star hangs on a street lamp. Before we continue towards the Danube Delta, we buy piroshki from an old lady in Russian and a cup of kvas at the roadside.

Text: Tobias Schwessinger

Photos: Christian Faludi