The marshrutka swerves to avoid the two young men heaving a pile of Turkish rugs over a rutted road. Russian pop music blares through the open windows of the marshrutka. The vehicle is battered, but still plies the streets of Komrat each day from dawn to dusk.
These minibuses are a staple of the post- Soviet world. In Komrat, as indeed throughout Gagauzia, they are a useful way of getting around. Buses of all sizes are big business in Gagauzia. A flood of minibuses moves like a wave along Lenin Street, flowing south from the Fidesco Supermarket past the park to the Altin Palace Hotel — a perfectly reasonable place to stay, but an establishment which is more functional than palatial in character.
Wander the streets of Komrat and you’ll find Lenin painted in gold standing in front of the surprisingly modest building that houses the Gagauzian Parliament. You cannot miss the canary yellow Orthodox Cathedral, and chances are you’ll stumble upon Süleyman Demirel who graces the plaza in front of the university. Here and there around the town, there are posters proclaiming Moldovan unity.
Gagauzia is a place to watch over the coming weeks. On 23 December, there will be much ado on the streets of Komrat as Gagauzia celebrates 20 years of autonomy. For it was in December 1994 that the Moldovan Parliament in Chișinău enacted legislation to give a measure of self-determination to the country's Gagauz minority. This ethnic group occupies lands abutting onto Ukraine in the southern part of Moldova.
‘Lands’ is the key word here, for the area where the Gagauz people form a majority does not form one contiguous territory. Komrat is the capital of a political unit that is comprised of four separate packages of land which are in total slightly smaller than Luxembourg. For more on the patchwork quilt of Gagauz territory, see the box on page 42. The total population of Gagauzia is about 160,000 (about one third of that of Luxembourg).
The key to understanding Gagauzia is that statue of Süleyman Demirel in Komrat. Demirel served as Prime Minister of Turkey seven times over a 28-year period. He then capped his political career with a seven-year stint as President of the Republic of Turkey. He is a man much admired in Gagauzia, where well over four-fifths of the population are of Turkic ethnicity.