Emile Ducke photographed Transnistria, a breakaway state in which Soviet structures persist, in a time of political disaccord. We glimpse into the multiethnic region between the borders.
The separatist region in eastern Moldova on the border to the Ukraine has known unrest since the collapse of the USSR and is subject to the influence of different interest groups. The population is 31.9% Moldovan, 30.3% Russian, and 28.9% Ukrainian. Legally, Transnistria is part of the Republic of Moldova. Although Transnistria is not acknowledged as a sovereign state by any other nation, it has its own government, currency, administration and military.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and each of its parts strove to become their own nations, the Moldovan government in Chișinău established Moldovan as the country’s only official language. Russia attempted to preserve the unity of the Soviet Republic and supported the economically successful portion of Moldova, Transnistria. The largely Russian-speaking population of Transnistria feared the loss of their rights and an increase in Moldovan nationalism. They created a de facto Transnistrian regime (which claimed the title Pridnestrovie). Finally, they declared themselves independent from the Republic of Moldova and established the Dniester River as their territorial border.
In 1992, the conflict surrounding Transnistria escalated. Moldovan troops attempted to bring the separatist region under Moldovan control. It wasn’t until Russian forces intervened that a ceasefire could be negotiated. Since that time, the conflict has been halted, but not resolved. To this day, around 1.400 Russian soldiers remain stationed in Transnistria.
Transnistria had been the industrial backbone of the Soviet Moldovan Republic due to its steel and electricity plants. After the conflict, these resources came under Transnistrian control. To this day, Moldova is up to 85% dependent on Transnistrian electricity. Nevertheless, Transnistria’s economy can only function thanks to financial support from Russia. Up to 27 million dollars per year flow from Moscow to Transnistria. The latent conflict is a heavy burden for the region; Transnistria is economically weak and financially dependent, while the Republic of Moldova has lost its industrial center. Many structures from the Soviet period have remained intact in Transnistria. To this day, the secret service is called the KGB and, together with the militia and army, serves as the foundation of the Transnistrian government. The hammer and sickle appear on the state seal. Soviet holidays like ›Defender of the Fatherland Day‹ have been reinterpreted for Transnistrian history and play an important role in the lives of civilians.
After the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, the Transnistrian Parliament addressed Moscow once again in pursuit of Russian incorporation. During a referendum in 2006, 97.1% of Transnistrians were in support of joining the Russian Federation. For the time being, the status quo of the small republic remains unchanged and the application for admission into the Federation is as yet unanswered. This supports the theory that Moscow’s strategy does not place emphasis on Transnistria’s integration, but rather seeks to use the region as an influential factor in the context of the whole Moldovan Soviet Republic. Transnistria is hardly in control of its own survival as a state and is used as a pawn by Russia.
The Transnistrian conflict shows what may await Eastern Ukraine. The roots of the conflict are similar, both are enmeshed in the collapse of the Soviet Union, both regions are dependent on Russia, and the borders of both have yet to be officially established.