BACK IN THE USSR? WELCOME TO MOLDOVA’S TRANSNISTRIA

Posted August 18, 2016 by David McGuinness

Transnistria (also known as “Transdniester”) is a Russian-speaking, break-away “republic” North of the Dniester river in Moldova. Recognised only by three other wannabe nations – Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan (but claimed by Armenia). The three share a tiny embassy in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. Though wholly dependent on Moscow for its continued existence, even Russia doesn’t recognise Transnistria’s claim to independence.

Not that any of this holds Transnistria back. The region has its own flag, government, parliament, military, police force, currency and collection of Lenin statues. Yes, Transnistria is yet to fully accept the fall of the USSR, and the communist architecture and Soviet style statues, memorials and the like make many refer to it as an “open air museum”.

As relations between Ukraine and Russia have deteriorated, Transnistria’s border and trade with Ukraine has become more complicated, leading to modest shortages of goods. There are always other ways, and most trade continues uninterrupted. The open air market in Tiraspol is buzzing and the bright computerised display show which units have been rented out ($2 a day is the going rate) and a modern sprinkler system keeps both punters and produce cool. And it is spotless. No rubbish anywhere. Natasha, my Russian-speaking guide, explains that this is how everywhere was in the Soviet Union. “Not like the market in Chisinau” she remarks. Though it is more expensive here, she prefers to shop here. There is a good vibe it must be said. People are smiling, people are buying.

Transnistria is not without its problems. Corruption is rampant. Sheriff, a local company, have fingers in every pie imaginable – supermarkets, petrol stations, textiles, car sales, publishing, cognac, TV, mobile phone operators and advertising. They also bankroll FC Tiraspol, Moldova’s most successful football team over the last decade or more, and stuffed full of foreign players.

And of course suspected shady dealings with Smirnov, the long time former president. The region’s status makes it ideal prey for such types. Putin allegedly refers to Transnistria as the “Republic of Sheriff”! Hard currency is so short in supply, that Transnistrians no longer turn up their noses at Moldovan Lei. Don’t be surprised when you join the queue to change money into Transnistrian roubles if a local joins the queue behind you to see if they can get a hold on whatever it is you have just changed.

Popular stops here include the bookshop (maps and flags from the middle of nowhere anyone?) and the post office. Postcard from the Soviet Union for your granny? There is also a historic fort at Tighina as well as an atmospheric war graveyard, some ancient monasteries and some very respectable cognac distilleries.

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