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Pierre Marshall

Tiraspol - first impressions

4 min read

This area is what I'd describe as a self-governing city-state. It's got its own country calling code, its own currency, licence plates, school system, passports, army, football team.

In terms of infrastructure the territory has two power plants, both linked to the Dniester river. It's got an airport, used primarily for military resupply missions. Plus there are natural gas reserves in the north and the industrial complexes around Ribnita.

A brief survey of the supermarket near my apartment shows that a lot of food is produced locally. The raw essentials you'd expect: milk, vegetables, bread and so on, but they also go so far as to make their own fizzy drinks and sweets. Admittedly drinks are not that hard to produce, only here it's organised, it's import substitution.

Underlying all this is a lingering question: if the borders were closed tomorrow, how long would this place last? And behind that there's a deeper question: why are the borders still open?

I remember reading during my dissertation research that any modern conflict requires a degree of cooperation between opponents. For example: the Syrian government is currently at war with ISIS, and ISIS control strategic oil fields in Syria; the Syrian army cannot function without oil, and nobody will sell them oil due to sanctions, so they buy oil from ISIS. This is what it means to live in an interconnected, interdependent system.

Transnistria sits between Moldova and Ukraine, therefore a substantial portion of the trade between those two counties passes through it. It's in both of their best interests to keep goods flowing through the region. Similarly a small proportion of the peacekeepers in the territory are Moldovan and Ukrainian soldiers. Therefore both countries have an incentive not to attack, so as not to fire on their own soldiers. However, even if Moldova were to attack, I'm sure they would think twice before bombing the gas fields, so as not to damage their own supply.

Everything here seems to have aligned in such a way that nothing can be properly resolved. So this place exists, it exists even though it shouldn't. It could be seen as one big accident of history, a series of actions which over time caused huge irreconcilable differences between people either side of the river. Conflicts have a way of setting in over time, and this one was clearly brewing long before 1992. Actually it's too kind to call it an accident, because these areas were deliberately targeted by Catherine the Second to act as colonial enclaves of the Russian Empire. After almost two centuries of continued exposure to the Russian language and culture it's understandable that that they would be reluctant to let go of it. Culture can be dangerous sometimes, and that's just as true for the Moldovan side too.

For stuff I actually did today, I went to see the orthodox monastery in Kishkani. The priests and nuns were picking flowers out of the trees and tending to their crops; they brew their own coffee and their own kvass. I should have asked to try some. The churches were ornately decorated with gold and paintings, as orthodox churches always are. Besides the religious centre there's not much else in the village. It's got a definite rural character: old men riding dusty bicycles, a couple of people on horses. I don't often get to see people riding horses as an actual mode of transport.

I also went walking along the riverside to try and reach Ternovka. I turned off the path too soon, got stuck walking on a country lane. After a while I got too hot and tired to go further, so as soon as I rejoined the river I turned and went straight back. There's a rowing and canoe club on the river, they had their cars out with kayaks on top. Some of them looked fast, if a little old. Is kayaking popular in this country?