It´s not easy to describe Transnistria. For me it was more about the experience of visiting the last standing republic of the Sovjet union, a country that doesn´t even exist anymore. Transnistria is illegal territory but somehow it seems to work. To what extent is another question.
Judging from the cars people are driving here, people have money. The stores have everything one can need, but I don´t know how expensive – relatively speaking – it is. Furthermore, Transnistria seems to be a very safe place. There doesn´t seem to be any crime; doors are left unlocked and I´ve seen wallets left on tables while that person went to the bathroom. A waitress looked offended when I asked her if it was safe to leave my jacket on the chair while I went to the bathroom. Along those lines, no one jaywalks. No one. Except me. Once.
But even if it is safe and poverty not as wide-spread as I might have thought, the government doesn´t seem to have enough of it to take of the streets. Sidewalks are a mess if you leave the main street. And only one traffic light in Tiraspol city center is on at night. There are other things that made me a bit skeptical about the future of this place.
- They use chips as money. They have 3- and 5-rubel chips. In plastic. Very useful and will probably last longer than a rubel note that get tossed around as change before falling to pieces. But money is built on credibility. And that plastic chip is in my world stretching that credability a bit far (or it just shows that I need to start thinking outside the box).
- They have one ATM (at least what I´ve seen) that can be used with international cards. But there was a problem when I was there. The ATM doesn´t have any money. “We´re all out”, as the bank teller told me.
- It is cheap here. Restaurants and cafés are very cheap by western European standards. But you don´t see many people in these places at any time of the day or night. I assume it´s because people here just can´t afford it more than on odd occasions.
- I don´t see many people begging in the streets, which is a good sign of course. But of the ones that do, many are elderly and most of them are women. The system doesn´t seem apt for taking care of them (a situation shared with several of the countries in Eastern Europe).
I stayed here for three days. You can see Tiraspol in less than one. But considering the fact that Sweden was run from Bender in the beginning of the 18th century (which is a city about 10 km from Tiraspol), I had to go there as well. (The King – Charles XII – had just lost a battle in Poltava in what is today the Ukraine. He took refuge with the Turks in today´s Moldova.) This story is well known here. When I said I was Swedish, several people asked me if I was going to Bender to follow in the footsteps of Charles XII. In fact, the picture below of the King is taken on the main square in Bender, where he stands statue.
All in all, these were surprisingly good days in a place I´ve been wanting to visit for many years. I´m not saying I´m coming back, but I will remember the experience for a long time. It was different.