I recently came back from a trip to Moldova and Ukraine, and one of the stops was Tiraspol. Tiraspol is the capital of the disputed territory of Transnistria (or Trans-Dniester), land now located officially in Moldova.
To explain the situation shortly, “the land after the Dniester river” (which is what the name literally means) has been, along with the rest of Moldova, part of the USSR, but as opposed to Moldavians, the Transnistrians did not want to split from the union and they do not consider themselves to be part of the nation of Moldova. Therefore, in 1990, they declared themselves independent from Moldova and created their own government – one of the last comunist rules still remaining, their own parliament, military, currency and legislation, border police etc.
Transnitria is officially recognised only by one country as an independent state and that is Russia, which also offers support in the relationship between Moldova and Trans-Dniester. This relationship is currently stable and things have calmed down since the 1992 war between the two parties. Moldova respects the administrative independence of the area, but the territory is kept dependent on Moldova economically, Moldova having a monopol over any sort of trade – all trading businesses of the territory must be registered also in Moldova and pay the Moldavian taxes.
TRANSNISTRIA – SHOCKING FACTS
Research on the this breakaway state had raised enough interest in order to convince me to make a stop on the trip and visit its capital. I was not at all disappointed by the exotic landscape and vibe of the place. I am listing below all the things that shocked me when visiting Transnistria.
The big contrast between the Houses of God and the people’s Houses
The first thing that struck me, riding on the minibus towards Tiraspol, were the very poor looking apartment buildings and houses along the way. Growing up in Bucharest, I am not easily impressed by poorly built, ungly apartment buildings, but the ones I was able to observe here were barely standing, all the windows and balconies had clothes hanging waiting to dry. No maintenance had been done on them in decades. From spot to spot, there was a poorly painted entrance to a block that gave color to the otherwise washed up building.
Once I got off the bus though, I had a the big surprise of founding, between similar apartment buildings, big new churches, with golden domes. There were many of them and they were all far from modest. So in a place that looks almost deserted, where the living conditions are clearly far from comfortable, there is still money to be invested and a lot of it goes to the houses of God.
The lack of people
Walking down the streets of Tiraspol, you can barely see any people around. We went there just before the New Year’s Eve, and even on this day of celebrations the streets were deserted. The few people we saw was around the Christmas market (yes, they did have a minimal, modest one, with decorations from a far gone time). An exhibition of tanks and military airplanes, just across the street from the Christmas market, seemed to be the main attraction, many parents had brought their children to take photos with the exhibits.
Apart from this city center, you were barely able to spot people around and, in the 3 hours we spent walking around we were definitely able to easily distinguish between the locals and the 3 other tourists in town – a Russian couple who arrived on the same bus as us and a single guy, the only person we saw in Tiraspol holding a camera ( we used our phones for taking photos, not wanting to stand out).
The big gap between social classes
Looking at the (few) cars parked around the streets of Tiraspol, we saw a mixture of many soviet era cars, a fair amount of second hand European cars and some extremely luxurious, top of the line cars that you wouldn’t expect to see in such an otherwise poor looking place. I mentioned before the poor looking apartment buildings, which constitute the majority of the buildings. Apart from these, we saw plenty of barracks on the suburban area of the capital and also spotted a couple of luxurious mansions. Along the main street of Tiraspol, you can see some stores, but as far as we had it understood, there are very few small businesses and, apart from Kvint, which is a cogniac producer and the only exporting company of Transnistria, the rest of the production and sale is controlled by a gouvernment owed company, Sheriff. There is also a huge number of banks for such a small town and all these things made me feel like the country is highly corrupted.
There is few advertisement and there are small signs of an upcoming capitalism here and there, but most of the materials found around town are just government propaganda related. The coat of arms, the USSR sign, Lenin statues can found all over the place. I remember the feel of communism from my first 3 years, when Romania was still under its rule, and going to a place where this is still a current thing, 25 years later, was definitelly a big shock to me.
The rulling powers: military and church
Seeing the two next to each other was quite bizzare to me, as I grew up in a place where the ex communist rule tried, as much as possible, to minimize the importance of the church in people’s lifes and where the political leader of the country was the supreme authority, controlling all the institutions. I saw in Tiraspol many soldiers around the streets and I saw many new, or under construction, churches. This highlighted to me what are the values of the Transnistrian society.