Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

It may be small, but Transdniestr has all the trappings of statehood. Car licence plates, postage stamps, banknotes. Karlos Zurutuza reports on life in the would-be state that is unrecognised by the wider international community.

article summary —

In the last issue of hidden europe, we took a look at Moldova and briefly visited the little strip of land, variously known as Pridnestrovie, Transnistria or Transdniestr, which proclaims its right to be independent from Moldova. Karlos Zurutuza has previously reported for us from Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh - all three are, like Transdniestr, territories that live in the political shadows, not recognised as bona fide entities by the wider international community. Folk in these would-be states are all eagerly watching how the European Union reacts to Kosovo in its bid to assert independence from Serbia. Now Karlos gives an account of life in Transdniestr, which he visited earlier this year.

The men and women in the minibus call themselves Pridnestrovians - inhabitants of a thin sliver of land in eastern Moldova. It is a tiddler of a territory. Yet its older citizens like to remind visitors that they were born in the biggest country in the world. For from 1924 right through to the independence of Moldova in 1991, the territory of Transdniestr was part of the Soviet Union.

The minibus is on its way back from Chisinau, capital of Moldova. The Chisinau authorities are naturally not amused at having an upstart state within their own borders. They claim that Transdniestr is an integral part of Moldova, and are decidedly unhappy at having a part of their country style itself as Pridnestrovskaya Moldavskaya Respublica.

The vehicle is pale blue and sports a licence plate from Transdniestr embellished with the green and red flag of the breakaway territory. The passengers wait patiently inside the vehicle, chatting quietly with each other in Russian. Just ahead are the sheds used by the officials of Transdniestr who maintain the fragile border of their would-be independent state. The Pridnestrovian authorities make a point of checking passports. It is a symbol of their selfstyled independence. And a special vigilance is reserved for inspecting passports from western Europe.

This is just an excerpt. If you are a subscriber to hidden europe magazine, you can log in to read the full text online. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 22.


Not content with the conventional maps of Europe and the Middle East, Karlos decided to hit the road and produce his own! He maps the contours of cultural life: Aromanians from Albania, Yezidies in northern Iraq, Armenian villages in Abkhazia and the Georgians in South Ossetia. These and a myriad of other isolated communities are the ‘pixels’ that Karlos plots on his ‘hi-res’ maps. Were it not for the magnetic effect that the mountains of Kurdistan have on him, he would gladly spend his entire life circumnavigating the Black Sea. He travels light, yet there is always space in his small backpack for two favourite books: Neil Ascherson’s The Black Sea and Jules Verne’s Keraban the Terrible. Karlos writes in Basque, Spanish and English. His work has been published in several newspapers and magazines. He can be contacted at kzurutuza@gmail.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 22.