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Transnistria: no man's land in Europe
On a non-existing Soviet Republic

Transnistria (Russian: ?????????????, Pridnestrovie) is a de-facto independent country mostly on the east banks of the Dniestr river to to the border of Ukraine. After the collapse of the Soviet-Union in 1990 the Russian ethnic minority in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova feared suppression of the Romanian majority and after a bloody war in 1992 that ended with a cease-fire, the status-quo remains that of a breakaway state. Because of the rise of heavy industries in the second half of the 20th century, many Russian labourers were sent to the Moldovan Socialist Republic. This was not an extraordinary act, since this diaspora was happened within the country of the Soviet Union. However, after the Soviet Union fell apart, the ethnic Russians were not in their home country anymore. This disagreement escalated into an armed conflict. Since a division of the Soviet army was still situated in this tiny strip of land, the Moldovans were not able to seize this territory.

Nowadays the situation is quite peaceful, although still camouflaged Russian tanks can be spotted throughout the whole country . Civilians are able to cross the border, trains run from Transnistria and to Moldova and Transnistrians are allowed to acquire a Moldovan passport in combination with their in any other country invalid Transnistrian passport. One should note however, that it is also common for Transnistrians to posses a Russian or a Ukranian passport.

This pretty much sums up the identity for Transnistrian: their culture is Russia orientated. They speak the Russian language, they have the Russian cuisine, mixed with some Moldovan influences, they watch Russian television and they celebrate Russian holidays. Moldova still does not recognise their independency, Transnistria does have the Moldovan telephone country code and the Moldovan internet country code “.md”.

The situation at the border is rather unusual. If one enters the country from Ukraine, there is nothing extraordinary. The Ukrainian customs provide an exit stamp of Ukraine, the Transnistrian customs control your passport again (for me, unfortunately no Transnistrian stamp, only a registration paper). However, entering or leaving the country from the Moldovan side, there is only a Transnistrian border patrol. This is because the Moldovan authorities do not acknowledge the Transnistrian-Moldovan border to be a country border (again, Moldova does not recognise the Transnistrian independence). If one enters the country via Ukraine and leaves via Moldova, one does not receive a Moldovan entry stamp, due to the lack of Moldovan border patrol. If Moldovan authorities catch you and see you are illegal in the country, this can result in a fine. One has 24 hours to get to the immigration office in Chisinau to obtain an entry stamp. Failing to do so can result in interrogation at the airport of Chisinau and possibly cause to miss your flight!

The capital of Transnistria is Tiraspol. If you have never been in the Soviet Union before, this place is famous for staying intact after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Hammer and sickles are in abundance, statues of Lenin and Stalin can be found throughout the city and speakers are attached to some light poles and broadcast classical music. Most possibly, these are also used to convey messages of the government to the public. The KGB is still called KGB, for two blocks one is not allowed to take any picture, because their headquarters is situated there (reports exists of travellers who did take picture and ended up being interrogated for hours and hours). On the city buses is written ‘in the future together with Russia’.

The official currency is the Transnistrian Ruble. Because the country is nowhere recognised, its currency is neither. Currency exchange offices are to be found throughout the city, and all the neighbouring currencies are accepted, as well as Euros, American dollars and Russian Rubles. The lowest spread is however to be found on American dollars. If one has not taken enough euros or other currency along, one can go to a bank, withdraw American dollars there and change them for Transnistrian Rubles after paying a small fee. Again, withdrawing them directly is not possible for tourists, since this currency officially does not exist for any bank in the world.

Another interesting fact is that all corporations seem to the label ‘Sheriff’. This company has a monopoly on supermarkets, gas stations, fitness clubs and swimming pools. This company also owns the three only car dealers in the country, as well as the Sheriff Football Stadium (home Stadium of FC Sheriff Tiraspol). Also other firms that do not carry the name Sheriff are property of Sheriff: the only national telephone provider, the promotion agency “Eklyusiv”, the most luxury hotel of Tiraspol, the national casinos and the cognac distillery “Kvint” (national pride of Transnistria and every traveller is recommended to take some cognac home).

That said, the country is a stable country. Poverty is not visible in the streets, criminality is low and public healthcare and education is available for everyone. Despite the lack of embassies of any country, this republic is save to visit for tourist without a lack of common sense. Little can happen if one obeys the rules and respects the authorities.