Transdniestr – The first non-existent country
I’ve mentioned my bucket list before. With challenges as diverse as learning a language and opening a Korean restaurant, it is certainly a lot of eclectic desires that will take me most of my life to accomplish. But today I can proudly say I ticked one item off my list. I went to a country that doesn’t officially exist.
This desire stems from a meeting with a fascinating guy called Henning who I shared a lassi with in Jodhpur, in northern India. He had been travelling around for a while and was showing me his passport, when I came across a visa for a place that I had no idea about. He explained to me that it was a ‘country’ called Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a breakaway region of Azerbaijan. It is not recognised by most of the world, but you needed a visa to enter it. It sounded amazing, and I decided at that moment that visiting a country not recognised by the U.N. was something I must also achieve.
There are a few of these in the world. Wales is not one. Examples include Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway provinces from Georgia, and North Cyprus. Another one is a breakaway republic from Moldova called Transdniestr. It is recognised by approximately zero countries in the whole world…and this is where we went.
The region declared itself independent in 1990, with a civil war breaking out because of it. A truce is currently in operation, though it can be a nervy one. Transdniestr had backing from Russia during that time, and the Russian influence is striking. As soon as you cross into this strip of land in the east of Moldova, you are in a part of little Russia. Moldova uses the Latin script similar to that of Romania; crossing that border ends that. Cyrillic script rules supreme.
They have different flags…
…different police forces…
…and different money. The Transdniestr ruble is not recognised, and consequently cannot be used and exchanged, in any other country in the world.
So it has all the hallmarks of being its own country. Until recently, entering Transdniestr was a bit of a bother for backpackers. Bribes were often required. This is now emphatically not the case if, like us, you visit on a day trip from Chisinau. We boarded one of the many buses bound for its capital, Tiraspol, and were provided a piece of paper which doubles as your immigration entry and exit cards. You fill them out and give one with your passport when you enter, and give the other when you leave. No hassle, and no suggestion of any baksheesh required.
So what to make of this country-that’s-not-really-a-country? Well, it can look stereotypically Soviet, especially when it is raining. This is due to the drab and dilapidated nature of many buildings in conjunction with the various memorials. The giant Lenin statue certainly harks back to an earlier era of Red rule.
It is not a place of attractions; more, a place of mystery and intrigue. Do they learn Moldovan in schools? Do they have a passport, and what real country would supply it – Moldova or Russia? Do they have relations with any other country? How does trade work? It is a place to ponder the workings of a breakaway state as you stroll along past memorials and tanks that remind you of the recent trauma that afflicted this region.
It possibly didn’t have the same effect on me as it would have done when I backpacked around Europe four years ago, mainly due to the fact that I can read the alphabet and had seen this architecture when travelling around Kazakhstan and Ukraine. It is bizarre how this little enclave lives within itself, and how they are undoubtedly proud of something that other people don’t recognise or care about, but ultimately it is worth visiting. If nothing else, it helped me tick off one item on my bucket list…
Love you all