A Toddling Town in Transnistria


Except for a few, scattered blog posts from tourists, no one has EVER written anything positive in English about the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic. But it’s now the place I call home.

If you’ve only ever read negative things about this place, be prepared to disbelieve every word that follows, although I assure you that every word is entirely true.

As strange as this be to hear for people who know me, I absolutely must say that Tiraspol is the nicest city I’ve ever lived in.

From the very first moment that I visited right up until today, the people of Tiraspol have been nothing but courteous, friendly, and generous with me.

I’ve heard – and spoken a few fragments of – six different languages here with locals who adhere to three different major world religions. I’ve met and spoken to children and adults of all ages.

My wife and I have interacted with police, border guards, wait staff, and government officials, and we’ve never once received any discourtesy, much less hostility or ill-treatment.

When my Russian is bad, I’m always treated with patience and kind understanding. Occasionally, English comes in useful. But more often, speaking Romanian does just fine.

Some of the finest sellers of vegetables and fruit in the Tiraspol market are Moldovans, and every day here, my wife and I (and our cats and dog) eat like kings.

Happy World

On the main street in town, there is a huge complex literally called “Happy World” (счастливые мир) dedicated to all things that children love and need. It’s a pretty good symbol for the entire city because I’ve never seen a place with so many vivacious, active, and happy children.

First of all, whoever is doing business selling baby carriages and strollers (UK: prams and pushchairs) here in Tiraspol is making some serious money. And if I look out from my balcony in the morning, there are swarms of older children heading off to school.

And these kids are happy. It’s not just that they’re feted – which they are – but that they know just how welcomed they are here. Every time there’s an event or festival or holiday, there’s always some special attractions and activities for the children.

Just last Sunday, at the market, they had a mini “zoo” of farmyard animals for the children to look at (and touch, in a few cases), including for some reason, several beavers as well as a bouncy house, some other kind of ride, and a “guided clown experience” where silly music plays and the kids play games. Plus some face painting and other stuff that I forget.

There’s also a whole amusement park here in town (in Victory Park), including a rollercoaster, “flying teacups”, and a bumper car arena. My wife and I visited it, and we had a blast on the rides that could accommodate adults, but we definitely couldn’t compete with all the fun that the kids were having.

More Than Candy

But the happiness of the kids here isn’t solely because they’re being coddled, amused, and spoiled (although many of them most definitely are). It’s also because this country has a very strong focus on being healthy.

The amusement park in Tiraspol with the rollercoaster also has several physically challenging activities, including a whole complex of rope climbs. And if you walk past a school on Saturday morning, it’s very common to see large groups of children participating in an organized activities like running laps or doing jumping jacks.

I’ve also seen kids in Victory Park doing some kind of “boot camp” style physical activity where a “drill sergeant” (fellow kid) barks at them to start jogging or doing squats or whatever it is.

An upcoming “off-road” foot race

Simply put, health is baked into the culture here. Victory Park’s full name is actually “Victory Healthy Activity and Cultural Park”.

And I’ve long since lost count of all the boys and girls that I’ve seen on skateboards (there’s a skate park here too, btw), rollerblades, electric and non-electric scooters, “hoverboards,” and those weird “mini Segway” two-wheeled things that you clench between your legs.

Oh, and I already forgot about the marathon they hold every year as well as an innumerable number of sporting competitions, including river kayaking.

Sports are no joke in this country, yo

Let’s put it this way – I’m pretty sure I’m the laziest person in Tiraspol ;)

Teen Scene Drama Queen

But let’s not forget about the older kids. There are several thousand young people in either high school or university here in Tiraspol. That’s why I laughed like a loon when I read once that there is no “youth culture” here.

Again, it’s slightly surreal, but I honestly have to say the best way to describe the “scene” here in Tiraspol is the movie American Graffiti. If you’ve never seen it, it was made in 1973 but depicts a somewhat idealized 1950s of the director’s youth.

Just as in the movie, there’s plenty of “cruising” going on in Tiraspol. For the uninitiated, “cruising” is where you drive around your car just to drive around – to be seen. Maybe you might run into your friends. Or maybe you might “cruise” by a cute girl (or boy).

There are at least three guys in Tiraspol with motorcycles who love nothing more than to buzz down Main Street and “pop a wheelie” and drive just on their back tire for a while. It’s an incredibly dangerous stunt, and one guy even does it without wearing a shirt.

And, on occasion, there’s even some drag racing where guys race each other down the street.

But there’s plenty of “cruising” being done by people on foot, strolling down Main Street on the spacious, flower-festooned sidewalks. Wheels or not, people like to be seen, and it seems to be virtually mandatory in Tiraspol for young couples to hold hands.

In fact, one of my favorite games is to look at a strolling couple and try to assess whether or not they’re a good match :P

And, keeping with the American Graffiti theme, there are even a few “hang out joints” where young people can take a break from all the “cruising” and grab a burger or a cup of coffee.

Escape

But… if you remember the movie, then you know that the underlying reason why most of the teens did what they did came from a sense of boredom or suffocation, essentially, feeling like there’s “not much to do” in their town.

I’d say that tracks fairly well in Tiraspol as well. All of the young adults that I’ve talked to are itching to get out of here and go explore the world a little. Which I think is perfectly fine.

And “getting out there” is, apparently, what a lot of people have done in this country, even if the numbers are wildly overinflated by the ridiculous IOM office in Chisinau (seriously, they claim 500 thousand people have emigrated from here since 1990 and some 450k remain when the population was barely 600k in 1990 – WTF, guys?).

I say this because I’ve also met plenty of people in their late 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s who have returned to Tiraspol after working and studying overseas (the United States, Italy, Germany, Russia, and Israel seem to be the most popular destinations) and chose to come back here because…

Well, you know why. Because life really is better here.

As such, I responded to every young person who told me that “salaries suck” in Tiraspol or that “there’s nothing to do here,” by encouraging them to get out there and spread their wings.

I truly believe that you have to leave a small town and travel this big old world for a while before you can truly appreciate where you came from, no matter where that is.

There is nothing wrong with your television. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

I’ve already gotten messages from people asking me whether my moving to Tiraspol was just “metaphorical” or actually real, and I already know that a lot of folks will think that everything I’m saying here today is propaganda, a misunderstanding, or just a flat-out lie.

Let’s go, Tiraspol!

In a sense, I understand. It’s a bit like me telling you that I moved to North Korea and, oh, surprise, it’s actually a multi-party democracy and there’s a big ol’ Disneyworld in Pyongyang.

Tiraspol’s reputation is just one step above North Korea’s, and how could it be otherwise when there are 30+ US/EU-funded media outlets being paid to badmouth and insult this country on a daily basis?

Tiraspol is regularly touted as being an “outlaw” or “rebel” place something akin to Mad Max where gun smugglers and criminals roam the street. There are also supposed to be heavily armed soldiers/cops on every block and a complete lack of democracy and freedom here.

This is Chisinau, not Tiraspol

Quite frankly – and even my wife rarely wants to admit this – pretty much all of the negative things you have ever heard about “Transnistria” actually are more applicable to the Republic of Moldova, including:

Mind you, I’m not saying that Pridnestrovie doesn’t have its faults. But all of them pale in comparison to what’s going on in the Republic of Moldova (as well as in Romania).

And because this isn’t how it was or is “supposed to be,” it leaves a lot of people confused.

The way it was “supposed” to turn out is that Romania would join the EU (and NATO) and get “rich” instead of a country that everyone is leaving as fast as they fucking can. And the Republic of Moldova was “supposed” to either be annexed by Romania or else join the EU (and NATO) as Romania’s junior partner, and everyone would be enjoying the good life right now, shopping for name-brand jeans at the mall or flipping through Instagram on their iPhone.

That’s why it feels fundamentally “unfair” to a lot of people that this tiny country which “illegally” seceded from the Soviet Union in 1990 is so happy, calm, prosperous, and thriving while Romania and Moldova are falling to pieces. PMR is supposed to be a crime-infested satrapy of the evil Russian Empire where the people live in fear, misery, and poverty while freedom and democracy shine in Moldova and Romania.

But, at the end of the day, all I can say is that there aren’t any children here in Tiraspol drowning to death in (literal) shit because their homes and schools have no fucking toilets, so you do the math.

Oh, Let’s Not Forget the Racism

I also know that there are some extremely persistent beliefs that Romanian-speakers are heavily persecuted here, including being beaten up, burglarized, harassed, robbed, and even jailed by the government.

I’ll address this in much more detail in another post, but the short version is: hell no.

It’s mostly a bunch of crap peddled by the likes of mouth-breathing morons such as Eugen Tomac (who I now see is angling to become Romania’s “official expert” on this country – what a sick joke) and three deeply damaged individuals, including a vicious anti-Semite who longs for the days when her grandfather was Antonescu’s executive overseer of The Holocaust in Tiraspol.

Ugh…

Don’t believe the hype, folks. If you want to visit Tiraspol, I promise you’ll have a great time no matter what language you speak or who you are. And yes, your kids will love it, too.

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