A Visit to the Soviet Breakaway State of Transnistria
Early yesterday morning I jumped on a Mashrutka minibus going from the Moldovan capital to Tiraspol, the capital of the internationally unrecognised country of Transnistria. Driving through the border, which is manned by Moldovian, Russian and Transnistrian army guards I had to complete all the formalities of a border crossing. Because Transnistria, although being a part of Moldova, works exactly like any other country having it’s own government, parliament, military, police, postal system, currency, passports and so on. It is just not recognized by any of the other countries in the World, including Russia which Transnistria strives to be an old version of.
The country first declared their independence in 1990 as the Soviet Union was breaking apart and the Transnistrian people wanted to keep Russian as the first language to be taught in school. Since then they have been clinging to their Soviet roots, and in their first two years their military had to fight very hard for the victory they got in 1992 and since then Moldova has let them to themselves. Today you can still see bulletholes in the walls of some buildings and in front of their government building you can see a Soviet Union tanks standing together with a tall statue of Lenin himself.
Walking around the streets of Tiraspol can be described as nothing else than surreal. The communist hammer and sickle emblem is still being kept on their national flag, passports, trains and government buildings and when you walk past the KGB building you almost start believing that you have traveled twenty years back in time to the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and receive the fewest tourists of all European countries. Transnistria is no different and probably for the reason that it has a reputation for smuggling, organised crime and corruption. Some say it’s a place where illegal weapon sales and money laundering take place and it has been isolated by the international community except for Russia who are assisting with military presence and economical support. It is sure that Transnistria will never become a fully recognized country, but it will be interesting to follow the cold war taking place between East and West that is happening in this country. Maybe one day Transnistria will be another Russian state, who knows.
On the bus ride from the Transnistrian capital to Odessa in Ukraine I sat next to a guy from Tiraspol quite upset by the situation. He was born after the war and had taken a masters degree in Economics in Transnistria which would only be recognized in his own tiny country and in Russian friendly states. His Transnistrian passport was just a joke outside his country and his pay in the bank where he worked was too lousy for him to save any money. So much for independence, which in the end was not worth much to the people.
Transnistria is a place for people to visit to drink the Worlds cheapest brandy and see life just like in the Soviet Union. It does not really have more to offer than that, so the ten hour visa that you get on arrival will usually be plenty and even though the experience was really interesting, it is not a place I would yearn to go back to.