The first time I visited Transnistria was in 2003 and even then, to Moldovan journalists, the region was a black hole, full of legends and horror stories. I usually worked incognito, because journalist accreditation has to go through the Ministry of Security and I had run a very thorough research on the situation in Transnistria a few years before. The accusations of organized crime, gunrunning and cigarette trafficking against the clan around president Smirnov’s family have never been fully investigated by international bodies which did order a thorough monitoring of the region, though they didn’t seem capable of carrying out an efficient research. Transnistrian Secret Services are constantly keeping critical press at bay, with countless journalists being retained in sensitive regions such as the vicinity of plants accused of producing ammunition subunits or that of the Cobasna ammunition depot.
There is no independent press in Transnistria. Two journalists are being held under arrest after having been charged with espionage, while human rights activists have been beaten or harassed by the police and politicians have been assassinated. The political stage is an ongoing masquerade where democracy and political diversity are constantly being mimed. Igor Smirnov has been president for twenty years now. The PMR is still active only because of the presence of pacifying Russian troops which were ‘christened’ by Mihai Ghimpu, Moldova’s acting president, as an ‘occupation army’ illegally stationing in the Republic of Moldova. No international treaty in effect has been able to remove the troops; as for the interest of the international community in this matter, it is right down non-existent.
About 800 combatants and civilians on the left side of the Dniester died in the war with Moldova. Of all the separatist republics around the Black Sea, Transnistria is the only one without any ethnic or historical motivation for creating an independent state. The leaders of the separatist movement were all born in various remote Russian regions; even president Smirnov popped into the world somewhere around Kamchatka.
Among other notorious individuals sent from Russia to take care of the Transnistria issue is General Alexander Lebed who distinguished himself in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. He organized the defence of Transnistrian troops at the command of the 14th Army, currently known as ‘the pacifying army’. Vladimir Antyufeyev, the one to have established the Transnistrian Secret Service (MGB), also reached Tiraspol in those tumultuous days. Antyufeyev was fleeing from an Interpol arrest warrant, after having attempted a coup d'état in Riga, Latvia, as head of the local OMON troops. Antyufeyev is still head of the Transnistrian Secret Service.
The Transnistrian territory seems deserted. Although there aren’t any plausible statistic numbers, about 500.000 of the population works in Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. During our tour about the country, the only live beings extremely present and active were the Militia who tried a number of times to ease us of our money under various pretexts.