So you may or may not have heard of Transnistria, a.k.a. Pridnestrovie. It’s the country that officially doesn’t exist – or at least it’s not officially recognized as an independent sovereign country by the international community.
Just before the dissolution of the former USSR a small area on the territory of the Moldavian SSR declared independence from Moldova and became known as Transnistria, Pridnestrovie or simply PMR (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic). 28 years after the region declared independence the Republic of Transnistria is still unrecognized by the UN and is stuck in a Soviet fraction of land inside Moldavian grounds.
What is Transnistria?
A landlocked country, Transnistria takes up a small piece of land near the River Dniester and the Ukrainian border. Even though the international community hasn’t granted them an autonomous status, the people of Transnistria have adopted customs and regulations of a typical republic. They have their own parliament and government, president, military force, police force, currency, postal system and even vehicle registration. Moreover, they also have their own constitution, national anthem, coat of arms, flag, as well as an education system.
Transnistria covers an area of just over 4,000 km2 and according to a 2015 census it has a population of less than 500,000 people. Most of them are Russians and Moldovans, but other Slavic people, such as Bulgarians and Ukrainians, are also residing on its territory. They speak Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian as official languages.
Moldova has granted the people of Transnistria a special legal status, which delineates the borders of the PMR as an autonomous territorial unit. The only countries, which have officially recognized Transnistria, have a similar issue – they aren’t recognized by the international community either, and are also former Soviet territories. All in all, Transnistria is a stuck in time country with little to no chance of prosperity as long as it remains unrecognized.
Why all the controversy?
If you have heard of the PMR before, then you probably already know that it’s the subject of notorious controversy among other Slavic countries, mainly Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. But why? For starters, it’s not officially recognized as a country in the first place, which causes severe controversy on its own, even though it’s structured and operates as an autonomous state (it does have its government, currency and authority among many other previously mentioned regulations).
One of the most significant aspects of the Transnistrian controversy is that for many years the country has been believed to have contributed to illegal weapon trafficking. On top of that, Transnistrians claim that other Slavic countries are disgracing and even terrorizing the country, while on the other hand foreigners can’t get over the secretive military bases spread across the PMR along with the heavy borderline control.
Furthermore, some reports claim that Transnistria is a “model for success” in comparison to other unrecognized countries, even though the residents of this post-Soviet territory are residing in poverty and need to rely mainly on imported goods. And yet another reason that makes Transnistria so controversial is the fact that while it’s not recognized, it kind of covers the four main criteria for receiving recognition – it has its defined territory, its permanent population, its own government and some capacity (albeit notably small) to engage in foreign relations with other countries.
Can you go in and out?
Regardless of the fact that going in and out of the country is a straightforward process, it’s still a bit of a fuss. The Transnistrian passport isn’t exactly eligible when it comes to traveling outside the country since the PMR isn’t officially recognized. As such, the PMR residents need a dual nationality and either a Russian, Moldavian or Ukrainian passport. What’s more, Transnistrian citizens also find it difficult to get out of the country on student exchange programs simply because most educational institutions don’t recognize a Transnistrian degree.
Getting inside the country for up to 10 hours is easy as long as you have the necessary documents for entering Moldova or Ukraine (passport or national ID card). However, if you need to spend more time inside the PMR, things get trickier. You’ll need to register in a hotel and then either at the immigration office at Tiraspol (the capital) or at the Ministry of Interior. Crossing the borders is a slow procedure, there’s heavy borderline control and if you don’t speak Russian, Moldavian or Ukrainian, you may experience complications and setbacks – either with your entry visa card or with other documents.
Even though Transnistria has been putting efforts in becoming an officially recognized sovereign state and part of the UN for 28 years and even though the flock of tourists is increasing, the chances of a prosperous future for locals are still slim.