Trans-Dniester is a breakaway region from the post-Soviet republic of Moldova. It is a thin strip along the north-east bank of the River Dniester, and is predominantly Russian-speaking, whereas Moldova is mainly Romanian-speaking.

Historically it was a Russian territory used as a stalking-horse for their ambitions on Romania. After the formation of the Soviet Union, a small republic of Moldavia was formed within Ukraine, by its border with Romania, in 1924. This is essentially the Trans-Dniester republic of today.

Romania is based on two old principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia. The first Soviet republic of Moldavia was not part of historic Romanian Moldavia, and did not have a Romanian-speaking majority. These principalities had long been vassals of the Ottoman Empire, but in 1812 Russia acquired half of Moldavia, the region called Bessarabia.

Later in the nineteenth century Romania broke free of the Ottomans. With the fall of Tsarist Russia, Bessarabia was ceded to Romania in 1918.

In 1940 the Soviet Union advanced on Romania and annexed Bessarabia once more, and attached it to their own previously artificial Moldavia. (Romania, a Nazi ally, retook it in 1941 but was again displaced in 1944 as the Axis was driven back.) The resultant Moldavian S.S.R. was now a majority Romanian-speaking territory within the Soviet Union. It was this that gained independence as the Republic of Moldova on independence in 1991. (Moldova is the Romanian form of the name, traditionally Moldavia in English.)

The Russian inhabitants, now a minority within a republic that at first seemed bent on reunification with Romania, got shirty and declared their own republic. Violence followed and Russian troops are keeping the peace there. There is some nominal adherence in some quarters to the idea of autonomy within Moldova, now that Moldova has renounced all ambition to unite with Romania, but the region is effectively independent. There is another ethnic minority region in Moldova, that of the Turkish-speaking Gagauz; they now have a comfortable autonomy.

The river it's across is called the Dniestr in Russian, the Nistru in Romanian. In English, either Dniester or Dniestr. The region is called Pridnestrov'e in Russian, Transnistria in Romanian. In English you see Transdniestr, Transdniestria, Dniestr, and such like. The official English-language designation of the secessionist state is the Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic.

Independent Moldova introduced a flag based on Romania's, with a coat of arms for differentiation. Trans-Dniester continued to use the Soviet Moldavian flag at first, a quarter-width green horizontal stripe on red, with the gold hammer and sickle; but they later changed to simple red-green-red. However on 25 January 2000 the hammer and sickle was once more officially placed on the state flag.

The capital of Trans-Dniester is Tiraspol. The current president is Igor Smirnov. They have their own currency, the Trans-Dniester rouble.

The Republic of Transnistria is a breakaway dictatorship of the Republic of Moldova one the former Soviet Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union. I'm not sure of its size, length or exact borders, mainly because there aren't any firm borders - just blockades in the road where a bunch of soldiers set up a border checkpoint and demand to see your passport, then decide whether or not you are going to get a visa for no good reason. The first time I came across the Republic, I was actually heading for a shoe factory which had, the night before, somehow changed countries.

The Republic owes its existence to the now deceased General Alexander Lebed, who, once the Soviet Union fell apart, refused to disband the Russian Fourth Army but rather hunkered down and made a deal with the local Russian nationalists to declare the space between two rivers a country. It has its own currency, with a picture of some local hero on it, and is probably the last place on earth to fly the Hammer and Sickle Flag and have statues of Lenin everywhere which are not meant ironically.

I wish I could tell you more about the place, but when I arrived there some little satrap decided that I wasn't serious looking enough for him and gave me only a three hour visa. I traveled to the city we were looking for, Tighina, which is the second largest city of the Republic, (I never did see the capital Tiraspol which is supposed to be festooned in the kind of Soviet Propaganda I thought you could now only buy in Greenwich village.) There were three types of people in Tighina - prostitutes, old women, and Russian soldiers. Actually, there were also black marketeers, but these seemed to generally fall into one of the category aboved. We never made it to the shoe factory as we were chased back into our car by a gang of Russian skinheads the minute we got outside it, and they followed us in some Communist era pickup truck until we reached the border, cursing us and hollering at us in Russian.

Oddly enough, I believe I have dreamed about the place, when I was a five year old child. I distinctly remember, in one of my youngest dreams, trying to drive into Russia, but never making it past the Southwest corner, and then waking up filled with frustration and sadness. As I was diving through street after street of apartment blocks where 80% of the apartments were abandoned, and evading the gaze of people who clearly hated us, hated us because our Romanian license plates marked us as citizens of the free (if poor) world, and hated us because of everything they had and we didn't I recongized exactly what I remembered dreaming about - the only supernatural experience I will ever own up to having, and I am more than ready to believe that my memories of my dreams altered to fit this new reality to give me the deja vu sensation.

Other than the shoe factory, the Republic has a factory for concrete steel bar in a city called Ribnita, and a couple of weapons factories left over from the Soviet Union. In order to drive from Odessa to Western Europe you really need to go through it, so it's filled with a bunch of mobster types paying bribes at both ends to get through without a hitch. I hope I never see a place like that again, chilly, without hope, even without any culture other than those Soviet flags flying everywhere - all I could think about when I saw them was the saying of some philosopher whose name I don't remember - Those who live in the past are condemned to share in its dead coldness

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