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Tiraspol: Back in the U.S.S.R.

Published: April 12, 2014 (Issue # 1805)



  • Founded by Russian General Alexander Suvorov, above, in 1792, Transdnestr has become a rebel region, functioning as aseparate state with its own government, currency, passports, police andarmy.
    Photo: Pedro Vizcaino Pina / flickr

  • The region continues to survive thanks to financial assistance from Russia.
    Photo: Pedro Vizcaino Pina / flickr

  • Pushkin one of the many Russian references found throughout the city.
    Photo: wikimedia commons

  • Built in the 1830s and then bombed during World War II, Chisinaus main Orthodox church, Nativity Cathedral, re-opened again in 2000.
    Photo: Dieter Zirnig / flickr

TIRASPOL Thestuffy minibus carrying passengers fromthe Moldovan capital, Chisinau, cranks toa halt atthe border with theself-proclaimed Transdnestr republic. Athrong ofRussians, Moldovans andUkrainians jostle forposition inthe passport control queue inside asmall hut just beyond thedemilitarized buffer zone.

Onthe other side ofthe window sits acurvaceous woman with long bleach-blond hair wearing akhaki military uniform. Her face is expressionless except forthe blood-red lipstick but she suddenly comes tolife onseeing aBritish passport, warning, You need toleave by9 p.m.

Visiting Transdnestr, also known as thePridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, or simply thePMR, conjures thoughts ofJames Bond movies, heavy weaponry andone ofthe worlds most secretive states.

Inreality, Tiraspol is thecapital ofa rebel region whose independence is only recognized bytwo other only partially recognized states, Georgias breakaway regions ofSouth Ossetia andAbkhazia. But despite thelack offormal recognition, Transdnestr has its own government, currency, passports, police andarmy, andfor all intents andpurposes it functions as aseparate state.

Transdnestr occupies anarrow sliver ofland between Moldova tothe west andUkraine tothe east. Its population ofabout 550,000 is evenly split between Moldovans (32 percent), Russians (30 percent) andUkrainians (29 percent). Thetwo main cities worth visiting are Tiraspol, theSoviet-inspired capital, andneighboring Bender, which has amore cultured, laid-back feel toit.

After crossing theunofficial border, patrolled byMoldovan andTransdnestr soldiers, as well as Russian peacekeepers, theold minibus shuttles its resilient passengers onward toward Tiraspol.

Through thewindow thelandscape reveals clapped-out Ladas, propaganda posters proclaiming therepublics independence, andmakeshift markets selling everything fromclothes tospare car parts. It is otherwise gray andnondescript. But there is acertain thrill atarriving ina place you feel you should not be, where rumors abound ofthe mafia, weapons smuggling andthe KGB.

Recent history has generated this myth, which inturn is making Transdnestr anincreasingly popular place tovisit because ofits very uniqueness, particularly forthose fascinated bydisputed territories andpolitical black holes.

As theSoviet Union fell apart andMoldova swiftly promoted its own non-Soviet national identity andlanguage, themainly Russian-speaking diaspora tothe east ofthe Dniester River, forming Transdnestr, feared alienation anddeclared theregions secession fromMoldova inSeptember 1990.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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