Transnistria – the workers’ paradise you’ve been waiting for!
It sounds like a fairy tale land, and when I first heard of it, I was skeptical of its existence. I stumbled upon its Lonely Planet travel advisory, and from that point on, I knew I had to see it.
What is Transnistria? It’s a commitment – a steadfast dream. It’s the sound of children splashing in a dirty concrete riverbank. It’s the taste of stale yet refreshing non-alcoholic barley brewed pseudo-beer sold on a street corner. It’s the memory of eternal socialist glory kept alive in a strip of land 15 miles across.
More explicitly, it’s a de facto independent breakaway republic recognized by no one that is officially part of Moldova but is oh so separate. They have their own border patrol, currency, and head of state. And, like any good former Soviet Socialist Republic clinging to the past, they even have their own revisionist history.
However, because the USA doesn’t recognize them, it’s impossible to get consular support if you somehow get into trouble. Say you lose your passport on an excursion; you wouldn’t have much choice but to swim across a highly patrolled river to Moldova and hope not to get shot at.
If you plan on visiting Transnistria anytime soon, be sure to keep your hands not on your wallet, but rather, on your kidneys. The region is well known for organ stealing (as well as sex-trafficking). This is especially important to keep in mind because, in addition to the daily bus route between Chisinau (the capital of Moldova) and Tiraspol (the capital of Transnistria), there are dozens of people named Sergei stalking you outside the bus station just waiting to give you discount fares in their private cars and minivans. And while their starting price may be around 40 US dollars for an hour’s ride (about 20 times the price of taking the bus), they’ll eventually compromise down to about 2 US dollars. But seriously, for the love of God, don’t fall asleep during the trip.
But really, it was a delightful country… I mean… breakaway republic. While I was expecting the stereotypical Soviet-style misanthropy, I was pleasantly surprised by a nation of people who seemed eager to prove themselves to international eyes. One man, upon hearing my English, approached me and shook my hand while saying, “Welcome, my dear American, to Transnistria, my country.” And then he left, asking for nothing but my appreciation of their land. Shortly thereafter two young boys bought us kvas and showed us around town. They did not seem downtrodden from oppression, rather they seemed to be living the dream of upstart nationalism and a desire to show the world that we, too, can build unnecessarily large monuments to Lenin.
So if you end up going to Transnistria, here are a couple words of advice:
1. Take the bus. The actual bus. Not some guy’s minivan.
2. Make sure you change all your Transnistrian currency back before leaving.
3. It’s illegal to take pictures of the government building. I don’t know why I wasn’t arrested.
4. Don’t spend the night there. Just… don’t.
Seriously though, it’s better than Moldova.
In Soviet Transnistria, organs steal you!