Moldova in itself is a tiny landlocked country squeezed between the Ukraine and Romania and has played a role as a buffer between Europe and Russia. The country is incredibly split in this aspect of its politics…should they go towards a future with hopes of entering the EU, or should they start to make closer ties with Russia again?
Two areas where this debate is no longer necessary are Transnistria and Gagauzia. These areas have made their decision to join forces with Russia.
Transnistria is often called a de-facto state, but I am going to just call it a country. It has been working independently since 1990, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union in Moldova. It has its own parliament, government, judicious system, currency, university, flag, culture, and border patrols. Every Transnistrian resident has a Transnistrian passport as well as either a Moldovan, Ukrainian or Russian one.
Mostly Russian in heritage, the people feel a strong connection to Russia and thus are eagerly awaiting the recognition of the sovereignty of their state. From talking to Transnistrian teenagers I heard that many in their country are angry that they haven’t been recognized by the world because so many other states have. The example they gave me was Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia when the country decided to split up. Transnistria has been an independent country for over 20 years now, and is still not recognized. In their point of view this was because of it’s strategic position as the border between the EU and Russia.
Having said this, within the country there seem to be two different views on independence. Due to the poverty in the country (with an income of around $US 150 per month and 2-bedroom-apartment prices between $US 80 and $US 150) some Transnistrians believe that their lives would improve if they were to become part of the Russian Federation again. The other part of the population wants to be a sovereign, independent state that can make its own decisions.
If it were to be its own country though, one thing they would need to focus on is options for youths, because one of the questions I asked the teenagers I talked to was whether they enjoyed living in Tiraspol and whether they wanted to continue to live here when they were done with school. As a response, I got that they did enjoy living here for now, but that they wanted to leave this country when they finished school. The most common answer was that they wanted to go to Russia.
Tiraspol is the capital and with its 200,000 inhabitants it is also the largest city of Transnistria.
As I walked out of the front door of the bloc I stayed in for the night and the cold, crisp air hit my face, I felt like I was sent back a couple of years to the time of the Soviet State. My new friend and guide, and I walked past trolley busses and huge, disproportionately large, empty boulevards to see the city centre of Tiraspol where statues and monuments overlooked the Sunday morning shoppers and market vendors. Past a Lenin statue and bust towards the University and the theatre until we reached Vadivostok park; half of which consisted of concrete roads that went through grass and patches of trees, while the other half consisted of old theme park rides and two gated playgrounds: one in Soviet style and the other in European style…this immediately made me think of the split of opinion of the nation…ironically the European playground was completely empty, while there was a small number of families in the Soviet playground. Foreshadowing?
The country really did feel like the last part that was left of the USSR. It is a very strange place to be. It feels like its own country, but then again, I didn’t get a stamp in my passport on my way in. In some ways it feels like a normal small eastern European town, while in other ways it seems very Russian…that might be because everything is in Cyrillic and no one seems to speak anything but Russian.
This region in the south of Moldova is not quite as independent as Transnistria. There are no border controls, they use the same currency as Moldova and the people have Moldovan passports. However, the region has some political autonomy and has made it known that if Moldova were to enter the EU, they would become an independent state…backed by Russia.
Although this city is a lot more welcoming than Tiraspol was, people still seem to only speak Russian. There are some signs written in the Latin script (mostly road signs), but most of the shops and advertisements are written in Cyrillic. As I go on my search for an ATM..because obviously all exchange places are closed on a Sunday afternoon…and since I had to give 100Lei to the border guard at the Transnistrian border (a separate post on my border experience is coming soon) I didn’t have enough to get me back to Chisinau. Anyway, as I go on my search for an ATM I find out that everyone assumes you speak Russian, and only a very, very, very small minority of the people actually speak Romanian or Moldovan. Anyway, at least I get to see a small part of Comrat, the capital city of the region, before I get on another bus to go back to Chisinau.