On my last day in Moldova, I could not resist the temptation to pay a visit to Tiraspol. Ever since reading about its history, its curious place within Moldova and, indeed, Europe, and its apparently totally different way of life, made it impossible not to become curious. According to my information, entering the Republic of Transdniestr (also called Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublika or PMR) should be considered like entering a separate country; moreover, the officials at the border would not be too happy with foreign visitors, and crossing the border seemed impossible without bribes. Even though I detest bribes, I made sure to board the maxitaxi from Chisinau with some small Euro notes - Moldovan money is useless in the Republic. We got an official form to fill out, and as we drove towards the "border", I got more and more excited. The information I had, was that people could be detained for speaking English, that photography was frowned upon, that people in Transdniestr were evasive - especially of foreigners, and that it was all still very much like the good old Soviet Union. Also, I realized this is what travel should be about: board a bus, and not really know what to expect. Adventure was looming around the corner!
Officially part of the country, the small Moldovan region east of the Dniestr river has a history and ethnicity that is different from the rest of the country. It claimed independence soon after Moldova broke loose from the Soviet Union in 1990, and declared independence after the Soviet Union dissolved. This independence was not recognized by any country. Several factions in this de facto country fought against Moldovan troops, helped by Russians and Ukrainians. The War of Transnistria started in November 1990, and intensified in spring of 1992 when several hundred people were killed. Ever since, a ceasefire has been respected by both sides. I must admit that I did not remember about this war, as at the time there were other, bigger and more shocking wars being fought on the continent. Still now, though, the issue is still very much a practical thing, and the already small country of Moldova counts with a region of some 4.000 sq km. that wanted to break away from the motherland. Our van was speeding over a pretty good road to the southeast, and quite soon, I saw a checkpoint ahead. My heart started to beat a bit faster: what was up next? I was dreading any hints of bribing officials, and it was obvious that I was the only foreigner on our maxitaxi. When the driver finally collected our passports and walked away, I could only wait. After a while, we drove a little further, to the main office building, where a female PMR official looked at my passport again and told me in quite good English to go inside - telling me the procedure would only take a minute. To my surprise, this actually proved to be true: a girl behind a window looked at my passport, took the arrival card and stamped it, and gave me back my passport and departure card, and told me in English that I was set to go. This was almost too easy to be true and even a little disappointing - especially because I did not get a stamp for entering the Republic of Transdniestr. Not the slightest hint at bribing, searching luggage, or any other trouble one might imagine. We were off to Bendery, which we reached very soon, and then Tiraspol was a mere 15 minutes away. I got off at the very last stop - next to the railway station where, to my surprise, I could change Moldovan money into Transnistrian rubles.
But I would be in for more surprises. I was expecting a poor, paranoid population, harsh circumstances, a proud people preferring to live life the hard way instead of allowing itself some 21st century luxuries. When I took my camera out of my bag, I was expecting trouble, or at the very least, comments from passers-by. But nothing happened, and I soon decided to try to just walk around with my camera over my shoulder. I headed to Kirov Park, named after the Soviet official who was killed in 1934, sparking off purges in the Communist Party. However, after cruising the park and looking really hard, even asking - in Russian - where I could find the statue, I had to conclude that it has disappeared. A little disappointed, I continued walking, past the Kvint factory that produces the famous brandy, and crossed streets with names like Karl Marx Street, Friedrich Engels Street, and Liebknechtna before I reached the main street of Tiraspol: the 25 October street. Here, I walked to the Dom Sovietov or Soviet House, where a bad-humoured Lenin prominently examines passers-by, and saw a photo gallery of what I imagined were local heroes. Here, a well-dressed woman walking by actually asked me - in English - why I was taking pictures, but was satisfied with my answer that they were for personal use. I walked along the street, passing the inevitable grey apartment blocks, and more signs of Communist influence in flags, symbols, and street signs. At the same time, though, I was surprised at how modern this city looked here, how well the people looked - even many buildings looked quite well maintained. The uneasy image that I had read about, was crumbling before my eyes. Passing policemen hardly noticed me, others were just doing their daily stuff. When I reached the main Constitution square, a spacious area with a statue of Alexander Suvorov, the founder of the city (even though a colony was established here as early as the 6th century BCE). On the other side, I spotted the Russian tank I had been looking for, and since I was still in stealth mode, I took a picture of it with my strongest zoom lens. After crossing the street, two policemen approached me and I expected trouble about the picture I had just taken. But they were only trying to tell me to only use the official crossings on the street. When I then continued to explore the Heroes Cemetery, in name not only of the war heroes of the 1990-2 Transniestran War but also the Afghanistan war, I could just walk free, as I could have an undisturbed look at the parliament building with a more convincing statue of Lenin with cape right in front of it. While waiting for an old trolleybus to take me to Bendery, I had mixed feelings. I had not found the exotic, weird, and difficult city I had imagined based on information that was clearly outdated. Instead, I had found a quite pleasant city with apparently easy going people. Unfortunately, I had no more time to stay, as this was the last day of my visit to Moldova and, well, the PMR.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Tiraspol (Moldova). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Tiraspol. Read more about this site.