Transnistria (unrecognised state)
Transnistria, also commonly known as Transdniester, comprises a narrow sliver of territory on the east bank of the River Dniester comprising 4,163 square kilometres. It borders Moldova to the west, of which officially it is part, and Ukraine to the east. The official name of the unrecognised republic is the Pridnestrovie Moldavian Republic (PMR).
On 2 September 1990 the authorities in Tiraspol announced the creation of the Transdniester Moldovan Republic (PMR) based on the left bank of the Dniester river and the city of Bender, located on the right bank. In 1992 fighting between PMR and Moldovan forces erupted as a result of fears about the prospects for the Russian language in a Moldova that appeared to be moving towards unification with Romania. Language rather than ethnicity became the defining element in this struggle and Russian-speaking ethnic Moldovans found leading positions in the PMR government. Since 1992, the use of Romanian/ Moldovan has been severely curtailed in the PMR. The fighting ended with a ceasefire in August 1992 and the de facto secession of Transdniester from Moldova.
The Tiraspol authorities demanded that the PMR be granted the status of a state within a Moldovan confederation. In response, Chisinau proposed regional autonomy for the PMR with power distributed along similar lines to the Gagauz agreement. Tiraspol’s negotiating position was enhanced by the presence of the Russian Fourteenth Army in the region. The agreement to withdraw the army (signed October 1994) caused considerable alarm in the PMR. A referendum on the future of the army organized by the Tiraspol authorities (26 March 1995) found over 90 per cent of those who voted were against withdrawal.
Negotiations continued intermittently until stalled in 2003 because of an impasse represented by rival Russian and OSCE-sponsored conflict resolution proposals. While the Russian proposal envisaged the federalization of Moldova and the granting of wide self-government powers to Transdnister gained the support of Transdniester, the Moldovan government promoted a weaker autonomy model proposed by the OSCE. In July 2004, the Moldovan government suspended negotiations.
The de facto republic’s economy is based on several major – but technologically dated – industrial plants established during the Soviet period. These include a munitions factory in Bender, a steel factory in Rybnitsa and a distillery in Tiraspol. Official PMR statistics put unemployment at 16 per cent, although a further 20 per cent are reported as dependent on welfare, reflecting the aging profile of the PMR’s population.
According to a census carried out by the PMR authorities in 2004, the population of the PMR is 555,347, of which Moldavians comprise 31.9 per cent (177,000), Russians 30.4 per cent (168,000), Ukrainians 28.8 per cent (160,000) and others (mainly Bulgarians, Poles, Gagauz, Jews and Germans) 8.9 per cent. This represents a decrease of 170,000 people since the last census was conducted in 1989.
Official statistics claim that 91 per cent of the population adheres to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, 4 per cent to Roman Catholicism, 1 per cent to the Baptist creed and 2 per cent to other faiths. More than a third of the population lives in the capital, Tiraspol, and two-thirds of the population is claimed to be urban. Although ethnic Russians form only the second largest ethnic group in the PMR, a cross-ethnic Russian-speaking identity dominates the area and 41 per cent of Tiraspol’s population are ethnic Russians.
Since achieving de facto secession, internal politics in the PMR has been dominated by a pro-Russian orientation reflecting Russian support for Transdniestrian secessionism. This has been reflected in measures to reduce the public role played by the Moldovan/Romanian language and identity in the PMR. According to reports this trend has also included discrimination against ethnic Moldovans in the PMR, including expropriation of land, intimidation of Moldovan/Romanian language teachers, promotion of the Cyrillic rather than Latin script for the Moldovan language and the extension of Russian citizenship to residents of the PMR, although verification of numbers is difficult.
Officially Transdniester is a parliamentary republic with a unicameral 43-seat legislature, known as the Transnistrian Supreme Soviet, although internal politics is heavily dominated by the presidency. Igor Smirnov has been de facto president of the PMR since being elected in 1991; he won subsequent presidential elections in 1996 and 2001 by wide – according to many analysts, fraudulent – margins. Although elections in the PMR have not been monitored by any inter-governmental organization (with the exception of the Commonwealth of Independent States), they have been accompanied by numerous allegations of irregularities in favour of the incumbent president.
Civil society remains isolated and fragmented in Transdniester, and vulnerable to governmental pressure. In March 2006 a presidential decree banned all foreign funding of civil society groups and NGOs, a move affecting both Western-funded democratization groups and Moldovan-funded nationalist groups. Media remains under significant government pressure; broadcast media from Moldova allegedly cannot be received in the PMR. The PMR’s human rights record is highly contested as a result of Moldovan and other foreign states’ interest in portraying the de facto regime in the PMR as illegitimate and authoritarian. Exaggerations notwithstanding, however, there is little doubt that allegations of trafficking, restrictions on freedoms of association and expression, harsh prison conditions and discrimination against Romanian-speakers have some basis in fact.
The Russian Federation continues to maintain a military presence in Transdniester despite Moldovan objections and its own commitment in the 1999 Istanbul Agreement to military withdrawal from the region. Russian political parties, including the Communist party and ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party have established local branches in the PMR.
Shifts in external political alignments have an important impact on internal politics in Transdniester and in its relations with Moldova. The emergence of the pro-Western Yushchenko administration in Ukraine at first appeared to provide a new impetus to the negotiations process. Ukraine has multiple interests in the PMR. On the one hand the stockpiling of weapons at Russian bases and allegations of arms smuggling into Ukraine have been a source of controversy and a motivating factor for Ukraine to become involved in the negotiations process. Another Ukrainian interest lies in the 160,000 ethnic Ukrainians living in Transdniester. Following the Orange Revolution in Ukraine increased Ukrainian assertiveness in imposing a customs regime, and indirectly weakening Tiraspol and by implication Russia’s influence, subsequently contributed to renewed tension in relations between Tiraspol and Chisinau. Although reports of arms-smuggling across the Transdniestrian-Ukrainian border may be exaggerated, the porous nature of this border is undoubtedly a resource for the authorities in Tiraspol. In March 2006 Ukraine imposed a news customs regime on its border with Transnistria, requiring all goods to be processed by Moldovans customs officials. In response, President Smirnov withdrew from the negotiations process with Chisinau.
Minority based and advocacy organisations
Sources and further reading
Share this content:
- Europe’s most hated in pursuit of a better future in the UK
- Roma families displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine face a double bind of poverty and discrimination
- Crimea’s Supreme Court decision banning Mejlis on grounds of extremism marks new low in Russia’s treatment of indigenous peoples
- A Window to Europe for Crimean Tatars
- A word on migrants, refugees and minority rights
- “Promise change, but make sure it always stays the same”: how “a regional pattern of authoritarian temptation” in the Balkans isn’t being tackled by Europeanization
- Europe: Minorities are protected, but by whom?
- Is integration “impossible” for Roma in France?
- Sochi Olympic Games cold comfort to minorities
- Clumsy, crude, divisive; the media and their portrayal of the marginalized
- Ideas for Europe: A Minority Rights Perspective on Europe’s Refugees and Migrants
- Towards Convergence? Anti-discrimination Policies and Minority Rights Protection in the Eastern Partnership Countries and the European Union
- Call for the immediate release of leading human rights defenders in Turkey
- Building a network: The Eastern Partnership
- Towards Convergence? Anti-discrimination Policies and Minorities Conference
- Learning Sustainable Citizen Participation: Democratic Structures and Fundraising Strategies for Grassroots Citizen Organizations
- MRG condemns Spanish authorities’ excessive use of force during Catalan independence poll
- Compulsory purchase of Seven Sisters market vital to culture of London’s Latin American community, should not go ahead, says MRG
- Türkiye’de birçok Roman, barınma ve eğitim haklarına erişemiyor
- Joint Statement on the proposed Hungarian NGO Bill
- MRG welcomes decision of Romanian court ordering installation of bilingual place signs in capital of Transylvania, urges authorities to abide by ruling without further delay
- Turkey: MRG condemns detention of Diyarbakir co-mayors
- European Court’s decision in Roma eviction case a missed opportunity concerning an urgent issue, rights organizations say
- MRG deplores closure of legitimate minority TV stations by Turkish government for alleged ‘terror propaganda’
- MRG demands ‘fair and transparent investigation’ after Roma fall victim to ‘mob justice’ in Ukrainian village
- Uluslararası Azınlık Hakları Grubu (MRG), Türkiye Cumhuriyeti hükümetini, Kürtlerin haklarını savunan kuruluşlar üzerindeki baskılarını sona erdirmeye davet etmekte ve hükümeti devam etmekte olan çatışmaya barışçıl bir çözüm getirmek adına PKK ile görüşmeleri yeniden başlatmaya çağırmaktadır.
- MRG raises the situation of Roma and Crimean Tatars in Ukraine at the Human Rights Council
- Joint NGO Statement ahead of the European Council of 22-23 June 2017 – Towards a migration policy that works
- Actions of the UK with respect to the indigenous peoples of the Chagos Islands – Universal Periodic Review 27th session
- MRG expresses deep concern regarding threat to academic freedom in Hungary
- Oral Statement – UN Human Rights Council, 34th session – ID on Ukraine (item 10)
- MRG Europe statement on Roma in Ukraine to the 2016 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland
- MRG statement on Roma in Turkey to the 2016 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, Poland
- UN Human Rights Council, 33d session – statement on Ukraine
- Statement on Ukraine – UN Human Rights Council, 32nd Session
- MRG expresses concern over the situation of Crimean Tatars at the UN
- Macedonia: Ethnic profiling and discrimination against the Roma at border crossings
- Chagos Islands: The Right of Return for the Chagossians
- Russia: Roma housing rights
- Freedom from hate: Empowering civil society to counter cyberhate against Roma
- Europe: Minorities, Migration and the Media
- From action to equal rights for Roma in the FYROM: civil society facility and media programme
- Ukraine: Local authorities and civil society organizations together for an inclusive socio-economic development
- Ignored and Unequal: Roma Access to the Right to Housing and Education in Turkey
- Görmezlikten Gelinen Eşitsizlik: Türkiye’de Romanların Barınma ve Eğitim Hakkına Erişimi
- Minority Rights Advocacy in the EU: A guide to NGOs in Eastern Partnership Countries
- Pocket book for Russian non-governmental organizations and grassroots minority organisations
- Monitoring toolkit CD ROM – A methodology guide for Russian non-governmental organizations on monitoring and documentation activities
- Collateral Damage of the Dayton Peace Agreement: Discrimination Against Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Twenty Years On
- Afro-Descendants: A Global Picture
- Discrimination based on Colour, Ethnic Origin, Language, Religion and Belief in Turkey’s Education System
- Learning Sustainable Participation: A toolkit on democratic structures and fundraising strategies for grassroots citizen organisations in Europe
- Country strategy papers: A policy tool to increase effectiveness of Polish development cooperation (April 2012)