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Transnistria, that small country that remains stuck in the former USSR

With the Soviet Union reaching the collapse and the Republic of Moldova about to be created, began to appear some problems between the Moldovan government and the government of the breakaway region of Transnistria, which ended with an unilateral declaration of independence in 1990 and a war between them that lasted until 1992. Since then, and even if it is not recognized by the international community, this territory is de facto independent. I’ve been to this small country and this is what I saw.

 

    Delimiting its borders

Transnistria, also known in Russian as Pridnestrovie or PMR (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic) is a small self-proclaimed Eastern Europe republic located between Moldova and Ukraine.

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Its name derives precisely from where it is located geographically, as it means beyond the Dniester River and the territory claimed it’s between the river and the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Still, the real border between Moldova and Transnistria is not strictly the Dniester River because the separatist government also controls the major city of Bender and part of the Causeni and Aneni regions, both on the left bank from the river.

 

    Political situation and linguistic conflict

With a population of a little more than half a million inhabitants, this country has basically three main ethnic groups: Moldovans, Ukrainians and Russians, and each one of them represents approximately one third of the population.

The truth is that if you got there without knowing where you are, you could easily believe you are in Russia, since all street names, road signs and any explanation in a museum is always written in Russian, as is the lingua franca and the most used.

The linguistic problem occurs because a part of the society is bilingual (they speak Russian and Moldavian) so the other can be monolingual (Russian) and the conflict reaches another level when it comes to the education their children receive, where the vast majority of schools teach only in Russian, few in Moldovan with Cyrillic alphabet, and almost none teach Moldovan in Latin alphabet, as the government has been closing schools gradually.

 

    Next level of de facto independence

I have been to few self-proclaimed independent territories but certainly Transnistria is the closest one to a normal country. While in the post of the also unrecognized state of Nagorno Karabakh I said that its inhabitants enjoy their own constitution, parliament, police and army, in Transnistria it’s not only this but also own currency and car registration. As in other territories under similar circumstances, they have a passport from their own government, but since no country recognizes it, all of them use Moldovan or Russian passport to leave the country.

Signboard on Tiraspol with currency exchanges for the national currency: the Transnistrian ruble

Signboard on Tiraspol with currency exchanges for the national currency: the Transnistrian ruble.

 

At the diplomatic level, in recent years they have been trying to give the conflict an international facelift, as it’s still recognized only by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabakh, all post-Soviet territories in similar situations. In September 2006, with the intention of advancing in this aspect, a double referendum was held: the first to ratify the independence of Moldova and the second for future integration into the Russian Federation. The answer was clear: an overwhelming majority voted for independence and annexation to Russia. Internationally it was not given any validity since it was considered that it lacked of democratic guarantees.

 

    Relations with its neighbors

The relationship with Moldova is really better than one might expect after so many years of conflict. In what would be the border, there is in one part the Moldovan police and on the other the Transnistrian army, but it’s been several years since the last time that fire was opened. Inhabitants of one side or the other, can travel without problems and without having to justify the reason to the other side, as if there was no border. The Moldovan government, perhaps thinking Transnistria is lost already, in recent years has opened up a little more to Transnistria, leaving for instance that self-registration cars go where they want in Moldova.

For the part that concerns Ukraine, they are as friends and enemies depending on the political color in the government. If the Ukrainian government is more pro-Russian, Ukraine will be more to their side (yet always saving distances to avoid problems with Moldova) and if it is more pro-EU, will be less. Since last year, with the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation, the environment has become far more hostile considering Ukraine that Russia might want to expand from Crimea through Odessa until Transnistria.

Even with all this, Transnistria is interested in having good relations with Ukraine since it was, it is and seems that will be their opening door to the world.

 

    Close ties with the USSR and Russia

Having said that a little less than 10 years ago they massively voted for integration with Russia, it goes without saying that this one has always been its best ally, starting with their independence war against Moldova which they won with the help of USSR troops.

Since March 2014, with the precedent set by the annexation of Crimea they have intensified the desire of being also part of the Russian Federation. On the other part, Russia responds diplomatically without even recognizing their secession and without expressing openly about the possibility of incorporating Transnistria into its territory, but showing some complicity opening an embassy in Tiraspol, the capital, where no other country has done it before.

One of the main administrative buildings in Tiraspol, presided by a statue of Lenin

One of the main administrative buildings in Tiraspol, presided by a statue of Lenin.

 

Finally, just say that walking down any corner of this narrow country you can smell USSR nostalgia.

Street names and Lenin statues in every village, the sickle and the hammer are not only in the same flag of Transnistria but everywhere, there are tanks exposed from decades ago in the streets throughout the country, posters praising communism and the workers’ struggle, speakers in the capital so everyone can hear the anthem of the Soviet Union at a certain time of the day, and many more small details. You might like more or less the country or you may like more or less the USSR and what it meant, but to live all this in 2015, it is simply magical.

 

1 Response

  1. Am aflat aceasta pagina, dupa ce am cautat despre Where you now,
    Jordi? Transnistria, that small country that remains stuck in the former
    USSR pe Google. Se pare ca informatia dvs e foarte valoroasa,
    mai ales ca am mai gasit aici si despre ora, ora
    exacta, lucruri interesante si folositoare. Mult succes in continuare!

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