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Eager to find out more about this reclusive and marginalised would-be nation, I braved the heavily militarised Transnistrian border; arriving in the capital of Tiraspol just in time for Independence Day.
I told him I was planning to visit Transnistria, and his response was a cocktail of surprise and disgust.
Why do you want to go there? Two days later, in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, we sat chatting with a local student named Marin. Tensions between Moldova and its breakaway state erupted into conflict, but the problem was, Transnistria had served as a major labour pool for Soviet industry — and Leninesque President Igor Smirnov was sitting on one of the largest stockpiles of weaponry in Eastern Europe.
The conflict reached an uneasy ceasefire inwhich has remained in place since. Depending on who you speak to then, Transnistria could be described as the breakaway state of a breakaway state.
The next day we hit the road. Little more than an hour south of Chisinau, the first checkpoint was operated by Moldavian authorities.
A simple barrier crossed the road, where a uniformed guard pulled us over to take a nonchalant glance at our passports. Welcome to Tiraspol Bribery seems to be something of a national sport in Transnistria.
They wore guns at their sides, while behind them, poorly disguised beneath a camouflage net, a Soviet tank stood watch over the road. The soldiers waved us through, and we made it a few hundred metres before being flagged down at the next checkpoint.
The next set of guards signalled us to park beside the road, and we queued in line for visas at a small office unit; the temporary kind that you might see serving administrative duties on a construction site. While the visa was easy enough to acquire the usual stack of forms, signed in triplicatenext we were asked to pay road tax.
It took us half an hour of negotiations, stood across a desk from a middle-aged soldier who sat dead-eyed beneath the green and red flag of Transnistria. After an hour at the border we were back on the road, a road signed only in Russian, and by the time we reached the outskirts of the Transnistrian capital we were once again stopped.
This time it was a highway patrol. Given the alternative of a trip down to the police station, we paid them their dirty money and were back on our way. By the time we arrived in Tiraspol we felt cheated and abused, apprehensive of what the following days would bring.
After my experiences of touring North Koreaand from what I had already heard about Transnistria, I was anticipating the cowed gazes of oppressed masses trapped in an austere dictatorship.
The next 24 hours were a carnival of guns, drums and drunken Russian tourists. However, on this day of festivities the city was full to bursting; it seemed most visitors were here to reminisce the good old days. Even journalistic pieces by the BBC and others have denounced Transnistria as an uninteresting travel destination, notable only for its misguided politics.
The truth is very different. The capital itself is a simple city, with little on offer in the way of entertainment. However, the clean, wide streets with their neatly whitewashed curbs are lined with a good selection of bars, restaurants and even nightclubs, while the supposed curfew mentioned by some commentators is utter nonsense — late night drinking is not just permitted in Transnistria, it seems to be actively encouraged.WLDX Presents Guy Penrod, Christmas & More Tour!
By WLDX. Sunday, December 17th, , 3pm at the Earl McDonald Auditorium on the campus of Bevill State Community College, Fayette, AL.
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The unrecognised country of Transnistria is a post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zone, situated between Moldova and Ukraine in Eastern Europe.
Formally known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (or ‘PMR’), this breakaway state proudly celebrates its Soviet heritage – statues of Lenin line the streets, while the Transnistrian flag is the only flag in the .