On my way from Chisinau to Odessa, I passed through Tiraspol, the capital of the strange territory of Transdniester (aka Transdniestr, or Transdnestr, or Transnistria, or Transdniestria). This is a narrow slice of Moldova with an ethnic Russian majority. Back when the USSR was dissolved, these good folk were alarmed to discover that Moldova was proposing to unite with Romania. They could reluctantly accept being Moldovan, but the prospect of becoming Romanian was too much for them to bear, and they seceded. A peace-keeping force was eventually dispatched, but, since no one seems particularly interested in resolving the dispute, the area remains one of Eastern Europe’s frozen conflicts.
Transdniester itself is now a wonderful throwback to the grand old days of the USSR, with a hammer-and-sickle on the flag and coinage, a commemorative WWII Red Army tank, and a dashing statue of Lenin outside the Presidential Palace. At the train station the young lady at the left luggage desk seemed resolutely convinced that if she only spoke Russian loudly enough then eventually I would understand her.
Transdniester’s economy is reputed to flourish on what can be most kindly called the “grey market” and its unelected government does not welcome outside interest. As a result, it seems to be content to remain unrecognized. Its de facto foreign policy seems to be to avoid being noticed. Life is profitable for the elite, and being unrecognized and unknown avoids many troublesome inquiries.
Entering Transdniester was easy, but it turned out (by accident or design) I had not received the right entry stamps on my forms. So when I came to exit, two cheerful immigration officers with very limited English took me into their office and explained that there was “problem” with my forms. I was told that I should “go back” to get this fixed. Yes, right. I politely declined.
So then we got to the crunch. It appeared a small gift would facilitate matters:
- Guard (meaningfully): “Present!”
- Me (politely): “No.”
- Guard (emphatically): “Present!”
- Me (politely but vigorously): “No!”
The guard then fidgeted with stuff on his desk. After a minute I realized he was fingering a pair of handcuffs in what I think was supposed to be an intimidating way. But alas, I’m afraid he wasn’t very convincing. After a further short pause, he realized I wasn’t buying it, reluctantly gave up on me as a bad job, handed back my passport and let me leave. (Sigh. These wicked foreigners just have no respect for local traditions!)
I admit that I was fortified by my reading of Transdniester’s foreign policy (to not be noticed). The border guards may hope for gifts, but I suspect they would be in deep trouble if they actually caused any significant incidents with foreign nationals.