Tiraspol: Back in the U.S.S.R.
Published: April 12, 2014 (Issue # 1805)
TIRASPOLáŚ Theástuffy minibus carrying passengers fromáthe Moldovan capital, Chisinau, cranks toáa halt atáthe border with theáself-proclaimed Transdnestr republic. Aáthrong ofáRussians, Moldovans andáUkrainians jostle foráposition ináthe passport control queue inside aásmall hut just beyond theádemilitarized buffer zone.
Onáthe other side ofáthe window sits aácurvaceous woman with long bleach-blond hair wearing aákhaki military uniform. Her face is expressionless except foráthe blood-red lipstick but she suddenly comes toálife onáseeing aáBritish passport, warning, ôYou need toáleave byá9 p.m.ö
Visiting Transdnestr, also known as theáPridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, or simply theáPMR, conjures thoughts ofáJames Bond movies, heavy weaponry andáone ofáthe worldĺs most secretive states.
Ináreality, Tiraspol is theácapital ofáa rebel region whose independence is only recognized byátwo other only partially recognized states, Georgiaĺs breakaway regions ofáSouth Ossetia andáAbkhazia. But despite theálack ofáformal recognition, Transdnestr has its own government, currency, passports, police andáarmy, andáfor all intents andápurposes it functions as aáseparate state.
Transdnestr occupies aánarrow sliver ofáland between Moldova toáthe west andáUkraine toáthe east. Its population ofáabout 550,000 is evenly split between Moldovans (32 percent), Russians (30 percent) andáUkrainians (29 percent). Theátwo main cities worth visiting are Tiraspol, theáSoviet-inspired capital, andáneighboring Bender, which has aámore cultured, laid-back feel toáit.
After crossing theáunofficial border, patrolled byáMoldovan andáTransdnestr soldiers, as well as Russian peacekeepers, theáold minibus shuttles its resilient passengers onward toward Tiraspol.
Through theáwindow theálandscape reveals clapped-out Ladas, propaganda posters proclaiming theárepublicĺs independence, andámakeshift markets selling everything fromáclothes toáspare car parts. It is otherwise gray andánondescript. But there is aácertain thrill atáarriving ináa place you feel you should not be, where rumors abound ofáthe mafia, weapons smuggling andáthe KGB.
Recent history has generated this myth, which ináturn is making Transdnestr anáincreasingly popular place toávisit because ofáits very uniqueness, particularly foráthose fascinated byádisputed territories andápolitical black holes.
As theáSoviet Union fell apart andáMoldova swiftly promoted its own non-Soviet national identity andálanguage, theámainly Russian-speaking diaspora toáthe east ofáthe Dniester River, forming Transdnestr, feared alienation andádeclared theáregionĺs secession fromáMoldova ináSeptember 1990.
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