As long-time readers know, my life has taken a lot of strange twists and turns. But the one thing I never ever thought I’d be saying about myself is that I am the world’s greatest expert on Transnistria.
Yes, I know. I realize that the topic is boring or irrelevant to 99% of my readers. I also realize that I’ve been absent from this blog for weeks, and now an alert just went out that I’ve posted a new article, and a lot of people are going to be disappointed.
But still… I simply have to write this article.
Why? For several reasons, chief of which is that I have never, in my entire life, seen so many people be so misinformed.
It is no exaggeration that everything you have ever read in your life about Transnistria has been wrong.
Nothing, no matter how insignificant it may seem, is meaningless. And Transnistria is a real place, playing a very important (albeit reluctant) role in Romania’s future, (Republic of) Moldova’s future, Russia’s future, America’s future, Sweden’s future, and, of course, the future of the people of Transnistria, including the 150,000 citizens who speak Romanian (Moldovan) as their first language.
I have visited Transnistria exactly once. My Russian language skills are quite poor.
So, how in the world can I consider myself the world’s greatest expert on this country?
I’ve been writing about propaganda for a long, long time. Propaganda, as we know it, was more or less invented in Austria, improved in Britain, and perfected in the United States. Later, other powers like the Soviet Union developed their own styles.
Today, it seems like half the websites on the internet are using tactical marketing techniques in order to con you, swindle you, motivate you, or sucker you into handing over money.
But just because most people now have a minimal grasp on marketing and persuasion techniques doesn’t mean that everybody does. And if there’s one place in the world which sucks at propaganda, it’s Transnistria.
I know, I know, it’s not “supposed” to be that way. Russia controls Transnistria, and the KGB still exists in that country, so they’re supposed to be masters at “information warfare,” marketing, advertising, and propaganda.
But in reality, Transnistria sucks at marketing.
Don’t believe me? Then consider this: in your entire life, have you ever read an article in a Transnistrian publication, seen a Transnistrian video clip, watched a Transnistrian movie, or seen an online online from Transnistria? No, you haven’t.
Everything you know about Transnistria is wrong, including the name of the country.
Most Royal Imp of Fame
Here’s who does speak for Transnistria:
- The Romanian government and press
- The Moldovan government
- Moldovan tour guides/fixers and “mainstream” Western publications
- The Swedish government
- The American government
- Travel bloggers
You might notice a couple of weird entries on that list. Let’s review.
1) Romania is, and always has been, the arch-enemy of Transnistria. Romania is where the name “Transnistria” came from, which is completely wrong as it means “Across the Dniester River.” In reality, the country is right next to the river and is only “across” it from Romania’s perspective.
Furthermore, fascist Romanian forces rampaged through Transnistria and southwestern Ukraine in 1941, killing tens of thousands of people, blowing up buildings, and exterminating any non-Romanian speaker that they could get their hands on. It’s a grisly piece of history that I’ve written about before. People in Romania might have forgotten about it, but Transnistrians sure haven’t.
2) The Moldovan government, aka the one based in Chisinau (known as “Bessarabia” in some parts), lost a war against Transnistria in 1992. Despite the propaganda that you’ll hear to the contrary, it’s indisputable that Moldova started that war when OMON shock troops launched a devastating attack on Bender/Tighina.
Moldova lost that war and lost it badly. Today, Moldova is still far poorer than Transnistria despite a) being a far larger country and b) its status as a “legitimate” country with full participation in international bodies (United Nations, SWIFT banking network, et al).
3) Bigger publications (Playboy, Vice, National Geographic, France24, et al) always hire a fixer/tour guide before going to Transnistria, and that fixer is always a Moldovan who is based in Chisinau and anti-Transnistrian.
4) I’m still not quite sure why, but the government of Sweden is heavily involved in controlling, financing, and manipulating the government of Moldova. They also fund a lot of the think tanks, NGOs, and “independent journalism” publications that, of course, are very prejudiced against Transnistria.
5) America, of course, is involved in a “Cold War” with Russia and considers Moldova its cat’s paw in its never-ending stupid game to dominate the world.
6) Travel bloggers, although more open-minded, show up in Transnistria without speaking any Russian or knowing anything about the country. They pop into Tiraspol (or Bender), drink some Kvint, and head out of town before the sun sets.
Meanwhile, the Moldovan press never discusses Transnistria (except to cover official bilateral meetings), and practically no Moldovans ever go to Transnistria.
Not a single one of my in-laws, for instance, has ever been there despite the fact that it’s very close by.
Every Idiot Is an Expert
I’ve long since grown accustomed to travel bloggers and publications like Playboy making preposterous claims such as “Visiting Transnistria is akin to surviving North Korea.”
But aren’t there any grown-ups who ever talk about Transnistria? Sure, of course. And they’re all wrong.
Here’s Thomas de Waal, who used to work in Russia, speaks Russian (at least a little), has written several books on Eastern Europe, and is a self-described expert on Transnistria.
Take a look:
There was a literal deep freeze last week on both sides of the Dniester River, in both official government-controlled “right-bank Moldova” and Transdniestria, the slither of breakaway territory that is patronized by Moscow. Even the statue of Lenin outside the government building in the Transdniestrian capital Tiraspol seemed to shiver in icy subzero temperatures.
First of all, “slither” is a verb, not a noun, and refers to how snakes move. The right word would’ve been “sliver”. Either his editor didn’t notice or they’re trying to insult Transnistria.
Secondly, notice how he simply HAD to mention the statue of Lenin?
The Transdniestria conflict dates back to 1992, when the industrialized, generally Russian-speaking left-bank territory broke away from newly independent Moldova by force, with the support of Soviet troops.
Literally, every fact except the date of 1992 is wrong.
- If Transnistria is “generally Russian-speaking” then so is Moldova. Approximately 70% of Moldova uses Russian to communicate while just 40% of Transnistria is composed of native Russian speakers.
- Moldova attacked Transnistria, not the other way around.
- Soviet troops (actually Russian troops) supported BOTH sides in the war.
I could go on, but there’s little point, including his assessment that Michael Scanlan played any role whatsoever in what’s currently going on with Transnistria (and his replacement Franco Frattini only cares about cute animal videos – no joke).
All you really need to know about Thomas de Waal is that he’s (partly) paid by the government of Sweden to publish this dribble.
What Makes Me Different?
Two things, really. One, my eyes work and two, I know how to read. That’s really all it takes to become the world’s greatest expert on Transnistria.
My Eyes Work
Here, I’ll show you.
What is going on in this picture?
Is it Lenin, watching over the Transnistrian “government building” (known to regular people as the Parliament)? No, of course not. It is Lenin watching over the parliament in Comrat, which is in (the Republic of) Moldova.
Here’s another picture of Lenin:
Oh snap, that’s from the Republic of Moldova too!
But surely, this picture of Lenin is from Transnistria though:
Oh wait, that’s in Chisinau, the capital of (the Republic of) Moldova! In fact, there are more Lenin statutes in Moldova than in Transnistria. Shocking, I know.
Transnistria is supposed to be “Soviet Disneyland” or the “Soviet Museum” country “clinging on to the Iron Curtain for dear life”, yet there are far more Soviet buildings, symbols, and statues in Moldova than in Transnistria.
Oh wait, here’s more bullshit:
It doesn’t take too long before we spot other monuments across the city [Tiraspol] dedicated to other famous Soviet figures.
Wrong again! I’ve walked all over Tiraspol, and literally the only “Soviet figure” you will see is Lenin. There are other statutes and monuments, of course, but they’re of people like Catherine the Great (born 400 years before the Soviet Union), Alexander Suvorov (born 200 years before the Soviet Union) and Francois Sainte de Wollant.
Furthermore, I also watch a lot of Transnistrian television. I don’t need special satellite dishes and decoders to do it, only access to YouTube. Just like everything else in the country, it’s trilingual (Russian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan/Romanian).
It’s not the most exciting channel on YouTube, but it does show you what life is like there, including this interview with Ziguy Badibanga, a Belgian soccer/football player who now plays for Sheriff (Tiraspol’s team).
And last, but definitely not least, I live in this region, so I know what’s “normal” and what’s not. In both Chisinau and Odessa, there are armed police officers and Interior Ministry troops frigging everywhere. Both cities are heavily patrolled and any (unauthorized) protests or demonstrations of discontent are met with a swift response of overwhelming force.
Meanwhile, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cop, soldier, or any other armed government official in Transnistria once you cross the border. Tiraspol is one of the most peaceful cities that I’ve ever been to. Political rallies happen all the time without incident. And you’ll never see masked cops like you do in Romania.
I know how to read
It’s true. I read Transnistria’s newspaper Новости Приднестровья, which is in Russian. I read the press releases from Transnistria’s various government ministries, including the English-language stuff. I read the KGB website, which is how I know it’s actually called the MGB.
And I also read Adevarul Nistrean, the country’s sole Moldovan-language newspaper:
I have no idea how many English-speakers can read Romanian written in Cyrillic, but I find it quite interesting. The article above is entitled, “Omule, ce-ai se lași când ai se pleci?” or “Brother, what do you have to leave behind when you have to leave (home)?”.
Furthermore, I’ve also read thousands of pages of reporting on Transnistria, including the Helsinki Federation for Human Rights’s report on the 1992-1994 war (good luck finding it on Google).
I know exactly where the 300th Soviet Paratroop Division was located during the war (in Chisinau), and I know exactly what the Soviet 59th Army Guards Motor Rifle Division in Tiraspol did as well (sold weapons to BOTH sides).
I also know the role that Ukraine played in the fighting and that there are 6 (Moldovan-speaking) guys rotting away in jail in Tiraspol who probably shouldn’t be there.
I also know what’s actually going on in Transnistria today, including what its problems are. That’s because Transnistria is a democracy (*shock*), and you can learn a lot from what politicians are promising in order to get elected.
That’s how I know that divorce rates are quite high in the country, that they’re having trouble getting enough young men to enlist in the military (despite the fact that’s it’s mandatory – just like in RM), that some Russian troops have been stealing, and that the country REALLY wants its lone university (Taras Shevchenko, named for Ukraine’s greatest poet) to become accredited.
But, of course, nobody cares, except for the people who live there.
I sincerely doubt that I’ll be writing any more about the Moldovan Nistrean Republic, otherwise known as “Transnistria”. But I just had to say, one final time, that it’s a real shame that the country is unknown, vilified, and so badly misunderstood.
If I could, I’d love to live there for six months to get to know it better. From photographs, I know that it has some of the loveliest bits of natural terrain in the region. Everyone I’ve ever met who is from there has been extremely nice and kind, and every single person whom I’ve talked to that has visited the country absolutely loved it.
In closing, please don’t believe what you hear/read about the country because it’s literally all “fake news.” And you can trust me on that because I am, surprisingly enough, the world’s greatest expert on Transnistria ;)