Pridnestrovia: what's it all about?
How would the British feel if the Russians invaded Oxford or Cambridge? How would the Americans feel if the Russians invaded Cambridge, Massachussetts or Stamford, California? If you can start to make sense of those questions, then the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic might just start making sense to you.
Taras Shevchenko was a nineteenth century poet, author, scholar, artist, politician and political theorist. He was born in Ukraine, and he was Ukrainian, in a period when Russia and Ukraine were comfortably part of one and the same country and had little to no ethnic disputes each with the other. In the nineteenth century Ukraine, the centre and historical origin of Russian Orthodox Christianity, did not have a relationship of subservience or resentment with Russia. The two territories were equal partners in one and the same nation. How much our petty and malicious contemporary Russian and Ukrainian warmongering politicians have to learn from that era.
Shevchenko died in St Petersburg, in the nineteenth century the capital of the Russias and the cultural and intellectual centre of the region. In his honour an elite university, a bit like an enormous version of Oxbridge colleges (the Russias are a large place), sprang up to serve the Russia's with two principal campuses; andthese elite universities, departments or campuses bore Shevchenko's name. The two principal campuses in this complex were and are:
Shevchenko Transnistr State University, in Tiraspol, capital of what is now Pridnestrovia
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev
There are others. We mean no insult by missing any out. The point is that the Shevchenko chain is a little like a network of Oxford or Cambridge colleges, albeit scaled up to account the fact that the Soviet Union was a damned large place and hence there were a lot of elite students. (Shevchenko Transnistr State University is an enormous institution in both number of students and quantity and range of faculty.) Like Oxford or Cambridge, the various Shevchenko institutions, entirely non-ethnic in their composition (you do not need to be Moldovan to attend the Tiraspol campus or Ukrainian to attend the Kiev campus), participate in rankings and league tables. And Shevchenko Transnistr is often at or near the top.
This may rather explain why the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic is so extremely well run and why it is is the most moderate, intellectual and liberal place in the entire Soviet Union. Its civil servants, from the President down, are all graduates of one of the Soviet Union's most elite academic institutions that students from all over the former Soviet Union strive to seek admission to, just as students from across the United Kingdom and the world strive to gain admission to the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Those graduates who stay to go into Pridnestrovian government administration tend to be very intelligent and well educated. Pridnestrovia is a (para-)state run by elite intellectuals. If a country run by clerics is a theocracy, then Pridnestrovia is perhaps an academocracy.
This also explains why the label 'Transnistr' is so persistent as a name for the territory, even though the phrase 'between the two rivers' does not sound particularly auspicious as a name for an aspirant country. 'Transnistr' is part of the name of the university in Tiraspol, distinguishing it from other branches in the Shevchenko chain; and that is why the label is so difficult to shake off. Tiraspol is the place with the elite university between the two rivers. That is what it is known for.
The fact that this is predominantly an elite university town explains why:
There are several nightclubs and late night bars open several days a week (students want this)
The food in restaurant is dominated by burgers (students want this)
The book shops sell dissident books about the Soviet Union (this is possibly the most politically liberal place in the entire former Soviet Union)
Prices are cheap (students want cheap things)
The popular comes from all over the extremities of the former Soviet Union (they are the best students in their respective classes, who got into arguably the best university in the former Soviet Union)
There is a liberal political culture (academics encourage this)
All the Soviet monuments and museums have been so impeccably preserved (academics like to maintain historical culture)
The territory is so very well run (it is run by graduates of its elite university that specialises in particular in political science)
The police and KGB are so soft here (their job is principally really to look after students)
The median youthfulness of the population
The prevalence of French language skills (French is learned along with English as part of degrees in linguistics)
The lenient to non-existent immigration policy (anyone is welcome to come to study or to teach at the university; there is no other reason to come here)
This author eagerly awaits his appointment to the Kim Philby Chair in Cold War Studies. In the interim, everyone should just leave Pridnestrovia alone. It is a quite excellent place, full of some of the most decent, tolerant and intellectual people one will ever come across in any country; and its de facto neutrality in the current muscle-flexing ideological combat between East and West is absolutely appropriate to a quiet, studious and moderate university town. Nobody has the right to interfere with that.
This is the second in a series of summer 2022 essays about Pridnestrovia, the first of which (together with links to essays about Pridnestrovia published earlier this year) appears here.