We believe Young Pioneer Tours is the only western tour company to offer trips to the unrecognized county/breakaway republic of Transnistria, highlight of our annual month long Eurasian Adventure Tour, and a destination I just led 16 tourists to.
Building propaganda art in Tiraspol, Transnistria.
Transnistria occupies a vertical sliver of land between Moldova and the Ukraine. With its past soviet heritage still proudly on display a visit there is like stepping back in time.
Before getting to all my photos from the visit I’m going to share Gareth Johnson’s (YPT founder and three time Transnistria visitor) impressions on the self declared state.
After waking up after the hectic first night in Tiraspol it was time for actually doing some real touristy stuff, which for us this day was to consist of city tour of Tiraspol, including monuments, more monuments, and propaganda posters like you would not believe.
To give some basic back story to the country, it is not only a place that “does” not exist, it is also a place that has essentially never existed. The quasi-country happened through ethnic Russians opposing the break up of the Soviet Union, not wishing to join Moldova, and well having the balls, guns, and a big friendly neighbour to back them up. Also having a strong leader, a Mr Smirnov, clearly did not hurt with things, and since the fateful war, he is the man, or rather his family are the people that control pretty much everything. Big Smirnov is the President, little Smirnov is the owner of the one super-corporation (Sheriff) that control everything from petrol, supermarkets to even a football team, that just so happen to be the best in the country.
Therefore the city is littered with his image, his companies, his re-election posters, and from a business side “his brand” be it political, or business is all encompassing.
Bendery the second city was much the same, although with a much more independence war feel, inclusive of bullet ridden buildings.
I have heard Transnistria called many things, “Europe’s last Soviet State”, “Europe’s North Korea”, and even “The Last Outpost of the Cold War in Europe.
The fact of the matter is that it truly is none of the above, at all. Firstly it’s a very relaxed, free place, corrupt, of course, but so are some countries, even in the EU (just visit Romania, or Bulgaria), and as for the cold war stuff, whilst it is pretty tense regarding Moldova, this conflict, or wish for independence is bore solely over ethnic, linguistic, historical, and patriotic lines. To ask the question of why Kosovo deserves independence and Transnistria does not can only lead us to one answer, the same reason Iraq and Libya got military action, and Rwanda, and Syria did not. A question that quite frankly is pointless to answer, we already know.
In fact more than anything the place reminded of China, or the other “socialist states” of Asia, big wild west style ultra-capitalism, controlled by a big man from a big party, with lots of soviet/communist nostalgia, the modern heirs of the communist party doing things their way. Socialism with Transnistrian characteristics. In my mind the one thing Soviet about it was that the place reminded me of what might have actually happened had glasnost and perestroika actually worked, and the Union had been preserved, perhaps this might be what things would look like. In fact some Russian politicians even believe that Transnitria could even be the trigger and starting place of a new Soviet Union.
Whenever I have traveled it has always been fascinating to see what places really look like, to separate the myth from the fact, this place had smashed the myth to pieces, and whilst I had found it far different, and much less terrifying that people had led me to believe, I still left a massive chunk of my heart here.
Photos from Transnistria:
The journey there will be an epic two week adventure from Beijing to Moscow on the Trans Siberian Express, touring through Belarus and Chernobyl in the Ukraine, and finally spending a few days in Moldova, the only ex-Soviet republic to vote the communists back in!
Phil Le Gal visited Transnistria on one of Young Pioneer Tour’s Eurasian Adventure Tours. He has graciously allowed me to share his photos and comments on the experience:
Only a couple of hours away from Europe’s biggest cities exist countries we know very little about. Sitting between western and eastern Europe is Transnistria, the “Prydnistrovska Moldavska Respublika” (also called Trans-Dniestr or Transdniestria). Tucked between Moldova and neighboring Ukraine, Transinistria is an unknown and officially non-existent territory.
After the fall of the USSR Transnistria found itself integrated to Moldova. Transnistria proclaimed its independence in 1990 which led to the 1990-1992 independence war between the breakaway republic of Transnistria, backed by the Russia and the republic of Moldova. Although the ceasefire has held, the territory’s political status remains unresolved. The outcome of the war was the birth of the republic of Transnistria.
Transnistria is currently only recognized by three UN non-members: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, themselves part of the list of states with limited recognition and not recognized by the international community. Transnistria has its own constitution, parliament, central bank and money (the transnistrian rubble), army, flag, national anthem, passports and even stamps. Still it is officially considered as being part of the Moldovan territory.
The border between Moldova and Transnistria, although not recognized, is very real with several checkpoints from both Transinistrian and Moldavian guards. The Prydnistrovska Moldavska Respublika boast many of the USSR relics, war memorials and soviet era style architecture.
Welcome to Transnistria, Europe’s forgotten country:
A young Moldovan army recruit proudly guards the eternal flame at the war memorial Eternity.
It is dedicated to the soldiers who fell in World War II and the military conflict in Transnistria.
The biggest statue of Vladimir Lenin outside Russia is displayed in front of the Transnistrian parliament. According to the 2006 referendum 97.2% of the population voted in favor of “independence from Moldova and free association with Russia”. EU and several other countries didn’t acknowledge these results.
A man is wearing a traditional costume.
Tiraspol – Transnistria (Moldova). Entrance of Tiraspol’s central Pobedi Park (or “Victory” park) containing a 50’s style amusement park.
Remains from the war, like this Russian MIG plane are left outside rusting.
All photos by Phil Le Gal.
Phil Le Gal is a French documentary photographer based in London UK specializing in photo documentary, reportage and portraiture. He is passionate about stories, travels, revealing how others live, the contradictions and oddities of this world. He is currently undertaking a Master in Photojournalism and Documentary photography at the London college of Communication.
Interested in joining me for the 2013 Eurasian Adventure Tour? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set you up with a 5% trip discount!