Dialogue and Devolution in Moldova

Following the finalising of a protracted and controversial governmental reform process, the 12-month period between 2018 and 2019 in Moldova was politically turbulent. Parliamentary elections were followed by political crises and the inability for three months to form a coalition government – which, having finally been established, was then dismissed five months later. This unsettled period was the backdrop against which dialogue and mediation expert Natalia Djandjgava (JST 2018, Moldova) returned from her John Smith Trust Fellowship Programme in the UK to implement her Action Plan.

Natalia’s Action Plan focused on contributing to effective governance in Moldova in the case of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia. Natalia has more than 15 years professional experience working in politically sensitive environments and has been a project manager with the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) – a non-profit organisation working to prevent and resolve conflicts through informal dialogue and mediation – since 2015. At CMI, she is responsible for the overall management of the Gagauzia Dialogue project and also leads the Gagauzia Parliamentary Dialogue process. The aim of her Action Plan was the creation of new mechanisms for the governing of relations between Moldova and Gagauzia and the improvement of existing ones.

In 1994, autonomy had been granted to the small region of Gagauzia in southern Moldova to safeguard the rights of the Gagauz people. The region’s self determination was guaranteed by the Moldovan constitution and recognised under law. This law allowed Gagauzia to have many state-like characteristics such as their own legislature, their own police and their own capital – Comrat. However, in the intervening years, relations between Chisinau and Comrat were strained, affecting political progress. The Gagauzia Dialogue project aims to support inclusive dialogue and strengthen the capacity of the Gagauz Autonomy and Natalia had applied to the John Smith Trust Fellowship Programme to learn more about the UK’s devolution models and the role of civil society in the decision-making process, all of which could be usefully applied to her project at home.

Natalia gained a wealth of practical knowledge from the meetings with UK devolution experts set up for her by the John Smith Trust team. Her learning of the various UK devolution models and how they function gave her plenty of ideas for the mechanisms she was looking for. For instance, she felt the discussions with Professor Page of Dundee University on the best place for the creation of these new mechanisms, gave important validation to her existing view that more active involvement of the executive branch was needed in the process. She also found it very useful to hear about the experience of Northern Ireland’s civil society and its engagement in the decision-making process, given some of the shared similarities with polarised societies.

Natalia was particularly interested to learn more about the role of the Parliamentary Committee on Delegated Power and Law Reform in Scotland which examines all acts related to devolved powers. She felt a similar mechanism in the Moldovan Parliament could solve the issue of discrepancy and contradictions within the national legislation vs the local legislation.

Equipped with this new technical knowledge and inspiration, since her return home, Natalia has seen progress in the dialogue process with legislators from central government and the autonomous area working together to devise solutions in a Parliamentary Working Group. There is now a joint understanding on the mechanism design to govern relations thanks to the contribution of many capacity building activities and the thorough analysis of existing mechanisms and their efficiencies (or non-efficiencies). And the dialogue process has led to positive changes in social and economic spheres for the people of Gagauzia and Moldova as a whole. For example, the Working Group has issued more than forty joint decisions, two of which are a plan of action for the socio-economic development of Gagauzia adopted by the government, and the establishment of the Gagauzia Agency for Regional Development, which has enabled a number of investment projects to be run in the autonomous region.

In her career, Natalia had taken part in other fellowships meant to improve leadership skills and good governance practice but she says, “The John Smith Fellowship Programme remains the best for me in terms of quality, professionalism, the high level of group meetings and access to experts and the tailored Action Plan programme. It really was a unique, life changing opportunity which contributed both to my professional and personal development and gave me a valuable wider regional perspective from other Fellows in the group. I also managed to improve my leadership and public speaking skills and overall gained the confidence that I can become a driving force for positive changes in my country”.

Indeed, Natalia’s public speaking skills developed to such an impressive extent that she was chosen as one of two Fellows to speak at the farewell reception at Downing St to an audience of dignitaries! See photograph.

September 2020