After my interesting adventure in Transnistria, I realized that basically, no one knows anything about this country.
Excuse me, no one outside the Russian-speaking world.
Therefore, I present to you the world’s very first FAQ page for Transnistria, the country that doesn’t exist, except, of course, that it does.
Isn’t Transnistria a breakaway republic?
Kinda yes and kinda no.
Here’s the timeline:
- 1924 – Transnistria joins the Soviet Union.
- 1940 – A slice of Moldova called Bessarabia joins the Soviet Union.
- 1940 – A slice of Moldova called Northern Bucovina joins the Soviet Union.
- 1940 – Northern Bucovina is assigned to Ukrainian SSR.
- 1940 – Bessarabia merges with Transnistria to become Moldovan SSR.
- 1990 – Transnistrian portion of Moldovan SSR petitions Soviet Union for independence. The petition is denied.
- 1992 – Bessarabian portion of Moldovan SSR petitions Soviet Union for independence. The petition is granted.
- 1992 – Moldovan SSR becomes The Republic of Moldova (RM).
- 1992 – Transnistria declares independence from RM.
I’ll let you decide who broke away from whom.
Is the name of the country Transnistria or Trans-Dniester in English?
Neither. “Transnistria” is literally an insult made up by Romanians.
Originally, the Americans were using “Trans-Dniester”, but thanks to their geopolitical aims with RM, they’ve now largely adopted the Romanian spelling – Transnistria.
Uh, then what IS the name of the country?
In Russian, it’s much easier because it’s Приднестровская Молдавская Республика, but you’re not here for the Russian, are you?
In Romanian, the country’s name is the Republica Moldovenească Nistreană, and the reason I know that is because it’s written right on the money itself:
The government hasn’t ever made an official filing declaring its name in English, but it’s pretty obvious that Republica Moldovenească Nistreană would translate to The Moldovan Nistrian Republic.
In Russian, they call their country PMR for short, making the Romanian short form RMN. In English, it would be MNR.
Therefore, the real name of the country (in English) is either the Moldovan Nistrean Republic or “Nistria” for short. There’s no “trans” because trans means “across,” and you can’t live across the Dniester River from yourself.
PS – In Russian, the translation means “By the Dniester River”.
Now you know!
Isn’t it true that Transnistria is a Soviet Disneyland?
Bro, I just told you to call the country “Nistria” from now on.
Oops, sorry. Yeah, so like, do them Nistrian guys love the Soviet Union or what?
Essentially what happened in 1994 after Nistria settled its hash with RM was that they kept everything Soviet in place. That includes their flag, which is the original Moldovan SSR flag.
As you can see, it has a tiny Soviet symbol in the corner:
But since then, exactly how Soviet they want to be has gone up and down based on certain fashion trends. For instance, three years ago, they were all about sticking Soviet symbols everywhere in public.
But that was 2014. These days, Soviet is “old school” and not cool anymore. It doesn’t mean they’re going to start changing the names of the streets (including some named after women) soon, but you won’t see nary a sickle or hammer these days.
Nistria has also moved towards using a plain red and green flag except for in only the most official circumstances. Even their car’s license plates don’t use the hammer and sickle.
What’s “hot” right now in Nistria are the red, white, and blue colors of the Russian flag.
But Russia is practically the same as the Soviet Union!
No, it isn’t. You’re spending too much time on Facebook.
Come on, Sam, they have a statue of Lenin in their capital! They’re Soviet lovers, bud.
For your information, there is also a statue of Lenin very much still standing right here in good old Chisinau.
I heard that the border guards hustle foreigners for bribes.
Approximately 10 years ago, a single foreigner got pressured into giving a bribe. That set off a wave of incredibly bad publicity, and Nistria has been extremely sensitive to those kinds of allegations ever since.
Trust me, they are incredible sticklers about preventing their people from asking for bribes from foreigners at the border posts. There’s a hotline you can call if you do get pressured. And everything at the border is done by computer and recorded. And unlike Romania or RM, they prosecute corruption hard in the MNR.
There is no fee to enter Nistria, nor one to exit. Nobody will ask you for a bribe, even if you’re a “rich” foreigner.
The only time you ever have to pay is if you enter with your own personal car. If you’re not carrying Nistrian plates, you have to fill out some paperwork and pay a road tax.
They’re all just Russians in Transnistria.
As for the part about Russians, it just isn’t true. The population is almost literally one-third Russian, one-third Ukrainian, and one-third Moldovan/Romanian.
The ethnic ratios change depending on where you are in Nistria, which is extremely skinny east-west but quite long north-south.
But Russian is the official language!
Wrong again. But I don’t blame you for thinking that because that was what I thought too.
No, the Nistrian constitution, which you can read here in English, clearly states in article 12 that there are three official languages. Russian is only one of them.
Everyone knows Transnistria hates Romanians and the Romanian language.
Well, those are two separate things, bro, and I see what you’re doing there by insisting on calling the country Transnistria.
But Nistria doesn’t hate the Romanian language. It’s one of their three official languages.
But they call it Moldovan!
Yeah, sometimes, they do. So do a lot of people who live in the Republic of Moldova. But sometimes, the Nistrian government calls it Romanian too.
Oh, don’t believe me? Here’s a press release from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs referring to a recent OSCE visit to a Nistrian school where they teach the Romanian language.
Sam, you’ve got amnesia. Don’t you remember when they closed down those Romanian schools a few years ago?
My memory is working just fine, thank you.
Two of Nistria’s three languages can only be written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Traditionally, Romanian was written in Cyrillic too, so that’s the way they still teach it throughout the country.
But the Republic of Moldova signed an agreement to finance a few schools inside Nistria, only they’d be using the Latin alphabet that 99% of Romanian speakers use today. And yes, a few years ago, MNR and RM went through a period of diplomatic tension for a variety of reasons and the schools were briefly closed.
Today, those schools are open and still teaching Romanian using the Latin alphabet.
Meanwhile, the MNR government is still teaching all of their citizens Romanian (using the Cyrillic alphabet).
Using the Cyrillic alphabet is an insult to the Romanian language!
Let’s review our history, shall we?
The earliest document that we know about which was written in the Romanian language dates from around 1400. From 1400 to around 1860 at the earliest (and then only amongst a select group of intellectuals), Romanian was always written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
And since teaching kids to read didn’t become a “thing” in Romania until 1923, this whole concept of using the Latin alphabet is pretty much a recent fad.
Objectively, Romanian was written in Cyrillic for 90% of its history.
Look, I realize that’s a difficult concept to get your head around. I like the Latin alphabet too because it’s the one I’m using right now to write in English. But Cyrillic isn’t evil. It’s just another alphabet.
Greek has its own alphabet, as do lots of other European languages including Armenian and Georgian.
You have to admit, if you’re living alongside two cultures that both use Cyrillic, doesn’t it make sense to do the same?
PS – You can still find Romanian written in Cyrillic all over the place if you know where to look, including in good old Cluj-Napoca!
Isn’t the country a haven for gun smugglers and drugs?
Drugs? No. In this part of the world, the big problem is alcohol. And no pharmaceuticals are made in Nistria.
As for guns and smuggling weapons, that’s more of a Ukraine kinda thing.
Why are Russian soldiers in Nistria?
After the MNR-RM war ended in 1994, the two parties signed a treaty with Russia to jointly monitor the peace.
Legally, this means that all three can serve as peacekeepers, but RM has refused to do so, so it ended up turning into a joint Russia-MNR thing. But RM still sends observers and monitors to verify that the terms of the treaty are being kept, which includes a cap on the total number of Russians allowed (roughly 1,000).
Doesn’t the KGB still exist in MNR?
Yes, it does. Are you scared now?
Look, KGB the movie villain agency and KGB the acronym are two totally different things. The KGB just means “Department of Homeland Security” in Russian.
I told you, the country was really hesitant to change anything from the Soviet era, so yeah, MNR has a KGB.
But the 2017 Nistrian KGB isn’t torturing dissidents in the basement or arresting people for speaking against the government.
Therefore, the answer to your question is yes, Nistria has a KGB, but they’re not going to plant a bug in your room. I don’t think!
They still love Communism there, Sam! You’re blind!
No, they don’t. They banned the Communist Party for a few years. It’s now a legal party again, but it’s not very popular.
Nistria is a multi-party democracy with a prime minister and a parliament. The Communist Party is just one among many.
Why Is Transnistria so Misunderstood?
Honestly, it’s because of two things. One, Romania hates their guts, so that sets the tone for all the Romanian-language dialogue on the subject.
Two, practically nobody in the Moldovan Nistrian Republic speaks English. They focus all of their PR efforts on the Russian-speaking market, so the American government and a few dumbass “experts” dominate all the English-language talk about the country.
Isn’t it super dangerous to visit Transnistria?
No, it really isn’t.
That’s why you can make a lot of easy money writing scary bullshit about the place.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!