Transnistria: it’s the smallest country in the world.
There are cattle stations in Australia that are bigger than Transnistria.
Area wise, 4000 square kilometers or, 12 percent of what is probably the second smallest nation in the world: Moldova (34,000 square kilometers). Two improbable nations, one of them tiny and the other microscopic and – absurdity writ large – locked in a state of permanent hostility. What is unique about Europe is the diversity of its cultures and peoples. The dark side of this cultural extravagance is the inherent capacity for mindless xenophobia.
There is no better example of this – than that tiniest of ‘independent nations’, Transnistria.
Transnistria is a slither of land between the Dniester river and the Ukrainian border. During the 45 years of communist rule, it was a province of Moldova; it was populated by a large number of ethnic Russians and Ukrainians; the Russian language was spoken and the Cyrillic script was used. Outside of Transnistria however, the Moldovan language was used; closely related to Romanian it used the Roman alphabet. The division lines were then primarily based on language rather than ethnicity.
In 1989, when the Russian dominated Soviet Communist system collapsed, ethnic and linguistic tensions erupted – as they did in other parts of Europe, especially in the former Yugoslavia. In Moldova, there was a push to join Romania (and the E.U.). The Russian language population of Transnistria became increasingly alarmed. A 1989 law which made Moldovan the official language led to war. In 1990, Transnistria proclaimed its independence from Moldova and turned to Russia for support. A short war ensued; Moldova was unable to defeat tiny Transnistria. A ceasefire was signed in 1992 and the world’s smallest nation was born: complete with its currency, constitution, parliament, flag and anthem.
A short guide to finding the world’s smallest nation –
In the communist era, Transnistria was Moldova’s industrial and technological powerhouse.
Today, it’s a pale shadow of what it once was. It is not recognised by the E.U. and never will be. It cannot trade with other countries. The tiny republic is marooned. It is mired in corruption. It lives on its ‘pride’ as an oasis of Russian culture. Transnistria would collapse without the support of Putin’s Russia. Russian troops man the borders (from the hugely unlikely chance of someone wanting to invade it).
The border between tiny Moldova and miniscule Transnistria
Our driver (on the right) became rather angry when he saw I was taking a photo of the Transnistrian border control. As a Moldovan he felt nervous about entering a Russian province – he didn’t feel so nervous about driving so recklessly as to endanger the lives of his passengers!
The local supermarket near the hotel where we were staying in the ‘capital’ of Transnistria, Tiraspol. The city is conspicuously clean and tidy after Moldova. In this, it is unmistakably Russian. I’d seen this before in Belarus: no advertisements, no hype, no papers or rubbish lying around, no dog shit. The local people wearing clothes reminiscent of the 1950’s in western Europe. All a far cry from our apartment block in South Rotterdam.
The immortalised architect of revolution – and tyranny – Lenin.
Everywhere you look, heroes looking down at you, the heroes from the party, the heroes of the war, the heroes with their stern and humourless faces peering down at the mortals on the pavements.
The driving ambition of the young people: to leave, migrate, find a life somewhere else. The great majority of people in Transnistria are elderly, their meagre pensions paid for by Moscow.
Transnistria’s parliament house, where the ‘people’s representatives’ gather – and compete for bribes and kick backs from the black market currency market, the illegal trade in cigarettes and alcohol, and the state controlled supermarkets, petrol stations and so on.
For the ordinary Transnistrians, life is far from a bed of roses.
Moldova and Transnistria: both countries poor, corrupt and headed nowhere.
Two tiny dead-end nations locked into permanent hostility and pride.
There are no winners here, and no prospect yet of common sense prevailing.