If you don’t hold your military actions, tomorrow I will have breakfast in Tiraspol, lunch in Chisinau and dinner in Bucharest – with those words general Lebied stopped Moldovan army in 1992 and de facto created a new country on the European map: Pridniestrovian Moldavian Republic, which officialy keeps close relationship with Russia and remains in their influence until today. Lebied threat was so powerful that resulted in ceasefire right on the next day. Situation has not changed over the last 20 years.
HOW IT ALL HAPPENED
It is not really the truth that Transnistria was created by Lebied in 1992 because the region announced its independence already 1990 hearing that the authorities of Moldova consider its reunion with Romania. At that time their decision was recognised only by countries such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia who remain their exclusive suppotrers until today. In 1992 Moldovan authorities tried to do something with this difficult issue but Russia stood up for it in person of above mentioned general Lebied. It is when those famous words were said; thanks to them ceasefire was agreed and Russian troops located in Transnistria were not send to fight. Strong Russian influences in the region may proove the fact that right after self-styled Republic of Crimea decided to join Russian Federation, Transnistria parliament turned to Kremlin with similar proposition. So far it remains unanswered. We will see for how long.
Today officialy unrecognized republic occupies 10% of Moldova’s territory to the east of River Dniester. Its citizes are in almost even parts Russians, Moldovans and Ukrainians, who all together opt for Transnistria independence. Although the country officialy does not exists, it established border controls, has its own government, president and even their own currency. The capital of Transnistria is Tiraspol – a small city located in southern part of this narrow stripe of land occuppied by Transnistria.
Because the republic remains in Rusian influence area, everyone and especially people with western point of view, see this place as nothing more than one big relict of communism. As a country that in fact does not have any relationships with others besides Russia, Transnistria indeed is in a kind of isolation form the rest of the world. But we have to admitt that the level of socio – economic development is not lower than neighbouring Moldova’s. We would even dare say that it is better. Because we had a chance to visit Transnistria for the first time already couple years ago, in the times when we did not have Ola yet, we are able to tell you how republic had changed, developed over the years and how it looks in comparison to Moldova. Right after crossing the boarder we noticed some differences. That was the roads. They became wider, more even and without those hundreds of holes that we had to struggle with in Moldova.
Car rental company did not allow us take their car to Transnistria so we had to leave it at the boarder, cross the boarder on foot and look around for the taxi. Boarder crossing went smoothly this way just like the other time but we kept on remembering our negotiations with officers on our way back. Our main thought was how not leave the boarder as soon as possible without paying extra for it. Taxi driver we caught happened to be Moldovan, probably just visitin Transnistria, but as a taxi driver could not deny himself making some money on tourists and took us to Tiraspol for some crazy money.
150-thousand-city of Tiraspol for the tourists comes down to the main street and maybe couple of other points around. Main artery is wide, sometimes very wide reminding a square or an airport belt. Road is almost even, no holes and curbs high, indeed of this socialist style – white painted. The walk through the main street took us this time a little longer than before as Ola’s little feets were not able to walk fast in this burning sun. How it was going you can see here:
Thankfully on the streets of the city there are many booths selling kvas – refreshing, cool beverage sold from draught. Having a glass of it is a perfect way to cool yourself. Although its prices are rather advantageous it is not that easy to get it. You will not receive it for your euro or dollars, nor for Russian rubels or Moldovan leis. Every very welcomed tourist has to present local currency – Transnistria rubels and use them to do any transaction in the country. There are money exchange on every corner so after a while we could enjoy a glass of cool kvas. Even Ola, encouraged by the seller, has tried it and at our suprise liked it a lot. The walk down 25th October street we started from the building of Drama Theatre, located right next to Victory Park, and headed west.
Right at the beginning of the alley it is worth to already step off and visit the factory of the most famous Transnistrian brand Kvint. They produce decent quality cognac and wine, which in most cases goe straight to Russia. Factory tour is possible only on weekdays but souvenir shopping – everyday. But only to visit the souvenir shop you don’t have to go to factory because Kvint has its store on the main street, where in advantageous prices you can get all their products, such as wine straight from the barrel and other alcohols.
PECUNIA NON OLET, OR WHO WILL PRINT THE MONEY OF THE COUNTRY THAT DOES NOT EXIST?
Passing by the first in the country ATM we are slowly getting to the central bank of the republic. We found out that our country had a chance to take part in their history couple years ago as their currency producer. That was one time cooperation as printing the currency of the country that doesn’t exist almost ended up with the diplomatic scandal. As we are already at financial matters it is worth to say that going to Transnistria you should be well equipped in cash. Currency as you wish. There is a lot of exchange points but the ATMs are of Russian banking system and the only money you will get there are Russian rubels, which you will have to change to Transnistrian anyway.
Finally we reach the central areas of the city where we find more bars, restaurants and shops. The most popular restaurant seems to be Moldovan Andy’s Pizza offering mainly western cuisine, maybe with few local positions on the menu. American way styled place offers kids corner, menu for the little ones and maybe even high chairs. Prices are preferential but remember about having cash. This time looking for something more local we sat down in some other restaurant nerby, but because very poor non-meet options we dont’t even have anything to tell you about.
Ola couldn’t wait until we sit down in a restaurant and had hear dinner from the jar in located accross the street park by the cinema building. Behind the cinema there is a beautiful view over The Cathedral of Nativity. Snow-white walls carry green roofs and gold domes above the tree line. Central point of the park is the monument of Alexander Suvorov on his horse.
Crossing the street we are coming closer to Dniester. The river in this area is quite wide and winding. For those longing refreshment there is a sandy beach on the opposite bank of the river. In hot Sunday afternoon we found quite a lof of people enjoying sun and water there.
Just over a steep bank of the river, Tiraspol authorities arranged memorial complex for soldiers killed in 1990-1992 war, World War II and the war in Afghanistan. An eternal flame burns in honor of those who sacrificed their lives defending and liberating the city. The square is dominated by a tiny tower-shaped Orthodox church of St. George.
The memorial must play a significant role in shaping patriotic attitudes as even the groups of the youngest children have this place in their trips program. Seeing so many children Ola got extremely happy and was of course ready in a minute to run towards them and ruin their souvenir photo by T34 tank commemorating Soviet victory in World War II. Luckily we managed to stop her and save the souvenir photo of whole group.
Last stop on our walk down the street was I think the most famous point of the city – the monument of Vladimir Lenin, the monument thanks to which the whole Transnistria is seen as live museum of communism. It shows the leader of the revolution in long cloak fluttering on the wind. Made of coopery red stone monument nicely composes with standing behind his back some military edifice. Be careful, no pictures of the building are allowed. You can take the photo of Lenin with the building in the back but not of the building itself. That rule reminds us the one in Minsk that says that taking pictures at the square by the Palace of the Republic with a tripod is not allowed.
When it comes to monuments and other tourist attractions, that’s probably all. Now you can return to the areas of Suvorov’s monument, eat something in one of the restaurants, go shopping on the main street or to the shopping center located a bit further, take a stroll along promenade by Dnieper River or sit on the beach and drink wine that you bought in Kvint straight from the plastic bottle.
Our impressions about the city were very positive, we only wondered what local people can do there for living. There are few main options: work in Kvint, in textile company Tirotex or look for the job at Sheriff’s. Sheriff is, using western language, a corporation dominating all most important sectors of Transnistrian economy. Basically it is enough to look around to find the Sheriff’s starr everywhere. Gas station? Of course – Sheriff. Football team and city stadium as well. They are monopolist in most of profitable braches of business: shopping centers, construction, advertisement plus what is also the most important – media. Company owners are of course active also in local political life. It is obvious that without such activity building that big company would not be possible. Today political relations are not that much of Sheriff’s favor but the empire is still in working. So many businesses in one hand, political activity plus media – doesn’t that remind you Berlusconi’s empire a little?
TOURISTS IN TRANSNISTRIA
Tiraspol is a very calm city, life goes here a little slower than in other capitals in Europe or Asia but you can tell that the city develops, new buildings are being built. For example in the very center of the city huge apartment building is growing. Traffic is much slower than for example in Chisinau but besides standard in this area marshrutkas, passengers enjoy new trolleybuses. Streets are clean, wide, city architecture spacious; the city looks like a pleasant place to live. Comparing to our last visit we noticed increase of the number of tourists walking streets of the city. By that increase we mean that apart from the three of us cheerfuly wandering Tiraspol we saw at least one tourist with the camera hanging on his neck.
The number of tourists must be growing as tourist agencies start to show up. We came acros a modern one run by young people selling different forms of tourist activities. Taking in consideration local conditions we have to say that their prices are rather high but should admit that they have some interesting options in their offer. Transnistria Tour offers among others tours following German or Jewish footsteps in Tiraspol, an excursion to the bottle museum somwehere out of town or a trip to shoe factory that includes plant tour and a 10% discount for transnistrian just made, brand new shoes! You see that there are many different ideas for Transnistria, all it takes is to dicover those curiosities in the city space or even in the area of whole country. Transnistria can offer more than just a walk down the main street of the capital.
Progress in republic’s development, besides the main street, is visible also on the boarder. This time when we were leaving the country the issues of any “bakshish” never came up. We even had a pleasure to discuss with officials, working in brand new booths, the political situation in our country. The presidential election was at that time a hot topic.
Oh, and on the way back we recommend to stop in one more place – 16th-century Bendery Frotress and look down ot the valley of winding Dniester.