I decided not to hitchhike that day. A marshrutka was heading to Bender and I decided to take it. We drove for an hour or so through the flat central Moldova, thinking about not important things as I was looking through the window, when Nikolai showed some interest in me.
- Iedich na Priednistrovie, da?
- Da, I answered.
Well, my Russian was quite bad. Although when you are alone in a foreign country you improve fast, I had been only for three days in Moldova, and even Moldova isn’t a 100% Russian speaking country. I would say, maybe, 45% of the people I met spoke Russian. But this doesn’t matter. Nikolai was talking to me and I had to please him, I wanted to cause a good impression despite my broken trousers and my dirty bag, so I asked him questions like where was he from, if he had kids, wife, horse or dog.
And then I was there, applying for some sort of transit visa to the unknown Republic of Transnistria, an auto-proclaimed state, a de facto republic, the Russian area by the Dniester River that didn’t want to become a region of Moldova and gained their independence by the power of weapons. But being still a communist country, the new state was not recognized by any other state, and just got the sympathy and protection of Russia, giving a Russian passport to all Transnistrians. Now the Republic of Transnitria is still called a communist state, but the only thing left from that is the unique party regime, while the economic system is a fierce capitalism with Soviet symbols and Lenin statues here and there, extended corruption and Russian soldiers controlling the strategic points.
In the border, they gave me a thin paper with some writings in it. It was my visa. As a non-recognized state, they cannot stamp the passport, so a paper is all they can do. It all ran without hassles and all the stories about corruption I heard about Transnistria vanished in the happy face of a kind policeman. I had a visa for stay in the country for several hours and I got into Bendery. You can hear many awful things about Transnistria, but there the market looked like a normal market, the streets were the same as in the neighboring countries and the people looked more or less like everywhere. I realized how many writers’ exaggerations about this land made us have a wrong image of it, because the corruption and criminal affairs may be true, but most of the people in the country have nothing to do with this; they are kind, well-dressed, polite and a little bit abject, more or less, like everywhere. I had read Nikolai Lilin’s book Siberian Education¸ with many criminal matters about this land, which made me expect another thing.
But maybe it wasn’t that normal, possibly Transnistria still had something unique and special.
Just when I got down the bus I saw a war tank turned to a monument that welcomes and warns everybody not to mess with this land. Bendery was a normal ex-communist city, wide alleys and short houses combined with huge concrete buildings, the market with the typical products and policemen with wide hats. But the things changed when I saw then Dniester River and the bridge. As a result of the war between Moldova and Transnitria in 1992, the Russian army took positions in the area, being the bridge linking the two sides of the Dniester River one of the places permanently controlled by the Russian Army.
The soldiers asked me for papers, information and so on. After a while, I stopped being a fun, and they left me go and put the attention to a couple of vans. I passed walking over the river remembering how far the Dniester seemed during the geography classes when I was in school. I was pleased to be in a mythical geographical feature like that. As pleased I was that I decided to take a trolleybus to Tiraspol and use my first Transnistrian rubles, getting down just when I had enough of it. The river made a long detour by the city, and I was again not far from it. There was a promenade and some aquatic attractions, just by a muddy beach where the people was swimming and sunbathing. I got there and extended my little travel towel, emulating them and laying over it. Some people’s attention turned to me. They came and we maintain a little conversation. They all decided I would have problems with police getting out of the country and wanted to help. They catch my notebook and wrote something in Russian I couldn’t understand.
- Show it to the police in the border – they said.
After a short bath and thanking them, I went to look for the station. I had only a couple of hours left to leave the country. I passed through Tiraspol center, with the opportunity of making some photos to those Lenin’s statues and war cars decorated with the Transnistrian flag and the inscription “Za Rodinu”.
Just there I found Andrei. I asked him how to go to the bus station, and he wanted to go with me. He was a mathematics student who became very excited when I told him I was from Catalonia. He knew a lot of things about my place, the willing to be independent, the political events of the past years, the differences with Spanish, the language, football and so on. I made him note that the realities here and there were somehow similar.
- Yes, the way to understand identity maybe it’s similar -he said-, but the situation is different. Very different. Here, the politics…
And he looked up at the sky and exhaled a deep sigh.
And I agreed.
After a couple of typical Eastern-Europe-bus-station-drunkards, I got into a bus heading to Ukraine. It was a pity: my dreamed stay in Transnitria had been too short; a six hours visa was not a big thing. But it didn’t disturb me for a long time. After a while I would be again in Ukraine, one of the countries I’ve visited more times. And I’ll have never enough.