Moldova’s eastern border is Ukraine. But down a strip of that border exists the “State of Transnistria” (or Pridnestrovia, as its Russian-speaking population calls it), population 500,000. I know this sounds like something I made up, and that’s because, officially, every UN country considers it to be part of Moldova. Moldova begrudgingly desribes Transnistria to be an “autonomous region” within Moldova.
Being that I had never heard of Transnistria until a couple of weeks ago, you’ll forgive me if I get the history wrong. Most of what I’ve gleaned comes from Wikipedia and WikiTravel and Lonely Planet and what people have told us in their biased opinions.
What appears to have happened is that, in the waning days of the USSR, Moldova (or Moldavia, as it was called when still Soviet) fought for and won its independence. But Transnistria had a majority Russian culture and population, and they felt marginalized in the new country, so they fought their own war of independence with Moldova.
Transnistria won, to a point: the Transnistrian army holds Transnistria, and its government established a truce with Moldova, in which Moldova (and the rest of the world) won’t officially recognize Transnistria as separate from Moldova, but lets it operate as its own de facto nation, with its own military, flag, anthem, currency, and even passport (which can only be used to go to Moldova; to go elsewhere, a resident needs to get a Moldovan or Ukranian or Russian passport, if they’re able).
The surreal part is that by the time Transnistria achieved its truce with Moldova, in 1992, the USSR, to which they wanted to belong, was no more. But, rather than adapt as other post-Soviet states have, Transnistria’s outward presentation is still full-on USSR flavored, right here in 2018, giving it the feeling of a land lost in time. Their flag has a hammer and sickle. There are statues of Lenin in front of monolithic state buildings.
Needless to say, considering that while in Chisinau, I was only an hour away or so from somewhere this odd and isolated and unknown, I HAD TO FUCKING GO TO THERE.
I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I’m just gonna call Transnistria a country, not as a political opinion, but for convenience. It looks and feels like a country, so fuck it. For touring purposes, it’s a country, recognized or otherwise. I’ll tell you about what it was actually like there in the next post.