Transnistria, The Invisible Country

In terms of borders, the 20th century was convoluted and messy. The wars and falling empires brought arbitrary line-drawing on the world’s map and acted as a genesis for many of today’s geopolitical problems. One major event that shuffled Europe’s frontiers was the fall of the Soviet Union. Upon its dissolution, countries were left fighting for their dismembered enclaves after being split apart into illogical nationalities.  However, in the case of Transnistria, a small plot of land between Moldova and Ukraine, the empire’s fall caused it to be completely invisible to the world.

It bares its own flag, the people have their own passports, their own military, they deal in their own money, and they elect their own president. Yet, Transnistria is invisible on most maps. With almost 500 000 Transnistrians defending their identity, why are they non-existent to the international community? The story here is tense with a bloodied past because the Transnistrians fought to have the minimal liberties they do now by taking a stance against Moldova in the 1990s.

At the time, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was fighting an internal war since many Soviet countries were trying to gain independence, including Moldova. He gave the Moldovans the right to write in the Latin alphabet, returning to their Romanian-based ancestry. This started a domino effect that led to the independence of Moldova. During that time, Romania became a very close ally because both countries share a deep cultural and linguistic bond that was squandered by the Soviet Union. However, one-third of Moldova’s population consider themselves to be of Russian descent, keeping the country’s ties with Russia ever-so-slightly. Meaning that the country was divided between nationalists and pro-Soviet partisans.

This is where Transnistria comes into play. When Romania and Moldova became close allies, fear began to grow within the Russian diasporas. A fear that the Soviet Union may fall, or that Romania might unify with Moldova. This prompted them to seek their own territory. So, the pro-Soviets delineated the Dniester River as their internal border, and the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (Transnistria) was born.

However, the separatist movement did not go unnoticed. A divide grew between Russians and Romanian-Moldovans, polarising the two until discrimination turned into violence. This led to a war between the Moldovan Nationalists and the Transnistrian pro-Soviets. Russia got involved and provided military support for the Transnistrians. This extra help killed 700 Moldovan nationalists and led to a ceasefire. Moldova never tried to impede on Transnistria’s independence again, and to this day, that non-written agreement still holds.

Nowadays, the invisible country lives in the shadow of its past empire, like many ex-Soviet nations. The buildings are somewhat maintained in the capital, Tiraspol, but have the aged look of the Soviet Union. Further out, the villages are derelict and unmaintained. On paper, Transnistria’s economy is based on textile, steel, and electricity. But, according to the Moldovan government, there is a deep underbelly of illegal gun contraband. Allegedly making Transnistria the “residence of the international mafia.” This has put Transnistria in an unfortunate position because they are unable to make viable independent economic ties with anyone apart from neighbouring countries.

The invisible nation lives in an international blind spot where many of the mismatched stranded Soviet states are. Transnistria along with Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions with the Republic of Artsakh in Azerbaijan all form a tight-knit group that supports each other. But no members of the United Nations recognize them as countries. They remain stuck in a limbo of frozen conflicts, never able to reach a lasting conclusion for their national issues. Without international acknowledgment, Transnistria will remain in the shadows, unable to defend its cultural identity on the world’s stage. Their economy will remain at a standstill with little-to-no leeway for opportunities. Without acknowledgment, Transnistria will remain invisible.

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