A few weeks ago, my family and I decamped from the open sewer that is Chisinau for the far more pleasant climes of Tiraspol.
Now, I know that a lot of people will be shocked (if not outright offended) by our choice, but I find myself in the truly unprecedented situation of not being able to find the words to describe why we moved here or what life is like here.
This is because there is some kind of magical barrier around this city that causes ordinary people to go batshit insane.
Stalin Under the Bed
Take Cnaan Lipshiz, a freelance journalist from The Netherlands who writes about Jewish issues in Europe. This week, he’s been busy with a series of crazy fantasies like this about Tiraspol:
Statues of Lenin and, more controversially, Stalin still decorate city squares.
Not only have I never seen a statue, bust, poster, or anything else depicting Stalin, but I asked a local historian if there have ever been any statues (or busts, etc) of Stalin in Tiraspol. And her answer was a firm “no.”
In Romania, on the other hand, they used to love Stalin quite a lot.
Furthermore, Tiraspol left all of the Soviet-era names for the streets unchanged after 1991, so there are plenty of addresses featuring Communist heroes like Lenin, Engels, Marx, Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, et al, but there is no Stalin Street.
Both Moldovans and Ukrainians have good reasons to dislike Stalin, which is probably why there aren’t (and never has been) any streets named after Stalin or statues/busts of him in Tiraspol.
Therefore, I have to ask – what in the world convinced Cnaan Lipshiz that he “saw” a statue of Stalin in Tiraspol?
We’ll never know.
Apparently, magical sightings of Stalin are depressingly common amongst foreign visitors:
In Stalinist Transnistria, an unofficial state carved out of the country, there is a police officer for every citizen.
Again, there is not a shred of Stalinism or anything Stalin-related here. And there damn sure isn’t “1 police officer for every 1 citizen,” because that would be absurd. Not even North Korea has that many goons on the payroll.
The Stalinist fever dreams continue:
Transnistria means “beyond the river Dniester” and the border is faithful to its name; guards in ill-matching uniforms and clutching machine guns lounge on plastic chairs by a rusted yellow barrier…
Due to treaty obligations, not a single border guard in this country is armed. They don’t even carry pocketknives, much less “machine guns.”
Furthermore, there are also no plastic chairs or barriers (rusted or otherwise), and the uniforms of the border guards look quite normal.
But why let reality get in the way?
Dozens of other busts and posters of Lenin, Stalin and that modern-day hero Vladimir Putin are dotted around town.
I haven’t ever seen any posters (much less a “bust”) of Putin around, but I suppose it’s possible that there may have been one at some point (it’s far more common to see posters of him in Chisinau).
Again, though, people are seeing Stalin in Tiraspol where he never existed.
I find a foreign-exchange shack on the main street. Moldovan lei are unacceptable, of course, but euros are taken, at a highway robbery rate.
Literally(!) every single bank in Tiraspol accepts Moldovan lei for changing into a half dozen currencies, including the local ruble. As for the euro exchange rate, it is published daily on the banks’ websites, and the exchange rate is always roughly the same as what you’d find in either Chisinau or Odessa.
I stuff the small notes decorated with Lenin I get in return into my pocket and, in no time, I am drinking flat Coca-Cola and eating a flaccid pizza in what appears to be Tiraspol’s only functioning cafe, enjoying the freedom of this tiny, final tiny bastion of communism in the whole of the once great Soviet Union – and wondering how many of my fellow diners are in the police force.
At this point, I have to wonder exactly what kind of drugs this guy was taking.
Lenin has never been on the money*, there are dozens of cafes (as well as restaurants, bars, discos, and everything else) in this town, and Coca-Cola is served the normal way as anywhere else with all its regular “fizz.”
As for his question about “how many diners are secret police in civilian clothes?” the answer is zero.
* – Featured on the money here is: Suvurov (Russian general), Catherine the Great (Russian empress), Taras Shevchenko (Ukrainian writer), and Dmitri Cantemir (Moldovan leader and humanist scholar). Some coins also feature François Sainte de Wollant, a Belgian architect. No Lenin, and definitely no Stalin.
But it’s not just travelers and hack journalists which see imaginary things in Tiraspol – it’s also Romanian politicians.
On September 16, 2019, MEP Eugen Tomac gave a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg about the “desperate” state of affairs for Romanians living in Pridnestrovie.
“The Russian Federation is waging a war against human rights. There [in Pridnestrovie], Romanians are subject to open harassment. I can say this because I’ve been there many times.
Well, all other things aside, I can assure you that Eugen Tomac has not been here “many times.” He’s been here a grand total of one time in his entire life – on August 31, 2016.
And what did he do during this visit? Well, he was too busy pissing his pants in fear to even get out of the car, so he took all of his photos while driving down the road.
He then made his way straight to the “Romanian” high school in Tiraspol, spoke to the neo-fascist principal, Ion Iovcev, and then drove as fast as possible back to Romania.
Keep in mind that Eugen Tomac is the only member of the European Parliament who speaks regularly about Pridnestrovie, and you’ll understand why it’s all so utterly depressing for anyone interested in the (boring) truth.
The Map Is not the Terrain
I once wrote that Pridnestrovie doesn’t officially exist, but I am amending my description to “a fictional Stalinist dreamland that only exists in people’s imaginations.”
From now on, let this serve as the official tourist map of Tiraspol :P
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