Transnistria may not be recognized internationally, but many will recognize the castle that sits amidst it’s borders. The Bender Fortress, which looms above the Dniester not far from Tiraspol, is one of Transnistria’s primary tourist attractions. Sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine in eastern Europe, the tiny region of Transnistria remains unknown to most of the world.
It was here that Baron Munchausen rode a cannon ball over the walls of the fortress in the movie “The Adventures of Baron Von Munchausen”. The baron is primarily known as a fictional character who was fond of stretching the truth (American have a real character just like this). The real Baron Munchausen wasn’t happy about how he was being portrayed as much as Transnistrians feel they aren’t Ephemera. Because of its location between Ukraine and Moldova, Transnistria is of not-insignificant geo-strategic importance. Many of it’s citizens don’t want deeper links with the West. When asked whether they can think of any benefits that the EU may bring, the answer is an emphatic “nyet”.
Transnistrians maybe a displaced people but they want to stay where they are and have a stanch belief in were they belong in the larger scheme of things. It is sometimes difficult to avoid the feeling that Transnistria, that small worm squashed between two larger creatures, is nothing but a collective hallucination. But the country is more than just a harmless operetta created by people who have decided to live in a bygone era. They want to be a part of Russia again. This can be seen all through this tiny but fascinating little country.
Highly Prized Transnistrian Cognac
Transnistria’s cognac is highly regarded around the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and beyond. Brewed by the gargantuan Kvint factory in Tiraspol since 1897, it is a sizable source of employment and a singular antidote to critics who decry the region as merely a nexus for contraband. Though hailing from an unrecognized state, it is widely exported around Europe and the combination of its potency and price (a liter bought locally costs around $5) arouses cheerful spirits.
Transnistria has its own currency, passports and number plates which aren’t recognized by the majority of the world’s countries. Moldova considers Transnistria to be occupied territory, a gangster state cultivated by Russia which poses a risk to their national security. But is it really?
Many of residents in the capital Tiraspol disagree. “Life here is better than Moldova. “Moldova has a village mentality and don’t know who they want to be, a high majority of Transnistrians have a clear identity.” The Russia government invests a lot of money in hospitals, kindergartens and other infrastructure. It would be nice to be independent but many many would be very happy if they were reunited with Russia then that would be even better, like the Crimea.”
Vestiges of the Communist Era
Curiously Transnistria is the only place in Europe that still flies a national flag that depicts a hammer and sickle. The country’s secret service is still called the KGB and its parliament is known as the Supreme Soviet. Many who travel to Transnistria believe that it’s the last remaining hold out of the Soviet Union. While it may be true that they honor their history the country has taken steps toward capitalism which could be viewed being more like Belarus or China in nature.
Despite the current balancing act between Moldova and Transnistria it has worked since 1992, conflict has been surprisingly rare. To be sure, the two sides quarrel regularly about customs formalities and the exclaves, but they generally find a way to resolve their disputes. One example is the Moldovan prison located on the Transnistrian side of the river: Every morning, the guards must don overcoats to hide their uniforms. That is part of the status quo.
What is certain, however, is that were the Russians to arrive, Transnistrians would be standing on the roadsides waving flags to welcome them. The question is what does Russia want?