Second open letter to the President of Pridnestrovia upon the conflict in southern Ukraine
Dear Mr President,
Firstly I would like to thank you for your hospitality over the past week. As with every visit to Pridnestrovia, I was treated with unqualified professionalism, courtesy, straightforwardness and decency.
I would like to thank you and your Foreign Minister for such assistance and support as you were able to provide to make my journey both useful and enjoyable.
As promised and as always, I will now conclude my visit with a series of recommendations and suggestions about Pridnestrovia's development. Some are in the nature of details; but the details can turn out to be important as Pridnestrovia finds itself squeezed between East and West amidst the ongoing, ever more serious, war in neighbouring Ukraine.
At some point the war is going to affect Pridnestrovia more significantly than it has done so far. This is inevitable and you do not doubt it. Moreover the changes Pridnestrovia will experience for the most part will be negative. Such is the nature of war. Here are a number of possible scenarios that will already be on your mind.
Whereas the number of Russian troops in Pridnestrovia has dropped off, Russia may once again decide to populate Pridnestrovia with substantial quantities of troops and armour, principally to use the territory as a logistics supply route for an assault upon Odessa.
An influx of refugees from Nikolaev and/or Odessa may take place; given that Nikolaev comprises a city of 600,000 and Odessa over one million, we are looking at Moldova and Pridnestrovia between them needing to absorb at the least several hundre thousand refugees.
In principle (and this is a Russian fear and it may or may not be grounded), NATO forces may occupy Moldova and in the course of that occupation they may seek to occupy Pridnestrovia. (We consider both of these scenarios unlikely because they would represent a serious escalation, which Russia might view as a direct assault upon its interests as the war spreads beyond Ukraine's borders; such manouevres would place the two nuclear powers, the USA and Russia, at loggerheads; NATO is unlikely to want such an escalation. Nevertheless this is a scenario that concerns Russia who may act upon it if provoked, with consequences for Pridnestrovia.)
In light of these three categories of future adverse event affecting Pridnestrovia (and these types of event might come to pass either in a matter of weeks or months or even years into the future), you need to start planning now. And here are some suggestions of ours.
Tiraspol's best defence to any sort of adverse event is to transform itself beforehand as far as it can into an international metropolis. It needs to strive to become more of a global city, with foreign journalists, international investment capital, foreign diplomats, international expatriates, foreign tourists and all the other things that keep a city under global attention. The greater the global attention, the more likely funds are to flow into the city and the region to deal with any crises that may occur; and the less willing any aggressor may be to cause havoc in Tiraspol and in Pridnestrovia more generally, knowing that the world is watching.
At the current time, Tiraspol must be one of the world's least visible and well-known capital cities. Tiraspol has the (false) reputation for being both totally closed and dangerous to visit. You and I know it is a liberal and scholarly university city in which free ideas flow and in which people from many different cultures mix freely. You and I also know that Tiraspol is ludicrously safe. It must be one of the safest capital cities in the world. Nevertheless when I tell people this, they don't believe me, even though I have been to Tiraspol several times and they have been to Tiraspol zero times. The reason they do not believe me is because there is a global media machine of ill-informed foreign journalists who are writing about a subject they know nothing about.
I have not met or spoken to a single journalist who has written recently about Pridnestrovia's averredly critical role in the war in Ukraine who has actually been here. Ex hypothesi, they know absolutely nothing about the subject on which they are writing. By contrast I am writing and publishing these words while physically in Tiraspol. But I am only one man and I am not a journalist; I am a lawyer and political analyst and not as many people listen to me as they do to journalists.
Accordingly we have a massive exercise in changing the opinions of the international influencers whose views in turn will lead into the opinions and decisions of politicians whose words and actions translate into the exercise of military might.
We need to internationalise Tiraspol and make it feel in a series of important ways more like a global city, working as rapidly as we can because we do not know how much time we have.
Tiraspol must, of all the world's capital cities I have visited (and they number over some 160), the one with the least general knowledge of English, the lingua franca of international business, politics and diplomacy. The median score must be about 2/10. This desperately needs improving. As you are aware, it inhibited my own political engagements as I was unable to find a professional interpreter.
This damages Pridnestrovia's prospects and potential. It severely limits the number of visitors; and tourists spend money. It reduces the number of foreign investors virtually to zero. It limits the capacity of Pridnestrovians to serve as ambassadors abroad for their country. It makes Pridnestrovia look amateurish; even though you and I know that it is not.
As a stark example: I wrote to Pridnestrovia's top-ranking business hotel, in English, asking for a reservation and also asking them to locate an English-Russian interpreter for business meetings. Not only were they unable to locate an interpreter, they were unable even to read my email (in English). It seems that even Google Translate has not yet made it to Pridnestrovia. Nor does it seem that an important domestic business is capable of using international email.
The way to improve English language proficiency is (a) specify a minimum number of hours per week all school pupils and university students must spend learning English; (b) offer working visas and salaries to young persons across the world with a TOEFL qualification to come to Pridnestrovia to teach English; and (c) offer a number of government-sponsored foreign study schemes elsewhere in Europe for both pupils and students. (Approached wisely, the EU may even fund or subsidize such schemes).
Your businesses and institutions have extremely good internet presence as a rule. However it could be improved, in a way that satisfies international norms even if they are irritating, by your enacting a decree prescribing that all business and public service websites for Pridnestrovia are available in four languages: Russian, English, Ukrainian and Moldovan. This would increase your credibility with a lot of people, and at minimal cost: most website development tools provide automatic translation of content at zero cost.
You should also initiate and carry through a programme in which every civil servant with a public facing role speaks fluent English. Every government department needs to be fronted by fluent English speakers; then shops and businesses will follow. Granted, this is no easy task. But a person can learn decent English in three months. Pick 10 per cent of the civil service (all public employees) and get them to start now. Inform them of improved salaries for those who pass the English language tests they are sequentially required to undertake. You will soon find a revolution in every aspect of society.
With widespread use of English will come widespread access to the internet and commercial and international interests on the part of your populace. Like the balance of Moldova, yours will become a nation of entrepreneurs who themselves will invite important foreigners to Tiraspol to enjoy and invest in the fine things you have here. But it all needs to start with a strong push, and that push must come from you.
On issues relating to the internet, you need to cooperate with Google (and several other global internet portals). As it is, you don't. There are no Google Earth or Google Street view images available for Pridnestrovia. You have nothing to hide. Who cares what the KGB building looks like? Its location is already on Google Maps and there is no reason why its appearance should not be on Google Street View either. It's just another building. Low orbiting commercial spy satellites mean that NATO countries already have access to images of every street view and map view in Pridnestrovia. This entails that there is no loss in giving them to Google as well.
One consequence of not cooperating with Google is that Chisinau cooperates with them to your detriment, providing maps with Moldovan language and pre-1992 street names. You don't want this. Cooperate with Google. There are no downsides.
This author was detained - very briefly and extremely courteously and respectfully, it must be added - for taking photographs in the vicinity of the KGB building in Tiraspol. (The reason he did so was to find his way back to the most excellent KGB boot repair shop that was mending his shoes - it undertook a most excellent service). While this was not even a trivial episode, this author respectfully suggests that it is is indicative of an old-fashioned attitude of no purpose when we live in a modern world of encrypted communications and low-orbit spy satellites. (The KGB officer very politely asked this author to delete his photographs of the environs; the author did it in front of him; he checked the author's phone; he was satisfied, and the author went on his way with a salute to the officer for his correct professionalism.) These sorts of rules are an anachronism, and they can properly be erased from the Pridnestrovian statute book.
Likewise, this author has heard of reports of people being arrested for writing hostile propaganda against Pridnestrovia. It is inevitable that some people living in Pridnestrovia will want to write rude and unconstructive things about it. Ignore them. You personally are popular, as (so far as I can tell) is your government. It seems petty to crack down on dissenters whose voices are really irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Your real enemies are outside Pridnestrovia, not inside it.
Introduce a law making the teaching of the Moldovan language mandatory until the age of 14 in all schools. It is so simple a method of winning credence with the international community in response to charges of ethnic discrimination. After all, the Moldovans mostly speak Russian (and English) and they are your neighbours. Show that you are capable of matching them in international standards.
Do you realise that, subject to the general lack of English language skills amongst the population, you are a tourists' paradise waiting to explode with foreign income? Consider the following. (a) The wealth of fascinating sites, museums and cultural history attracting a range of tourists. (b) Bargain prices for high standards in hotels, bars, restaurants, transportation, tours and hospitality. (c) An innate cultural honesty that visitors will warm to as they realise they are not likely to be ripped off here. (d) Easy and liberal immigration rules for short-term visits. (e) Friendly and helpful people. (f) A wide range of consumer goods sold at bargain prices. (g) A pleasant beach and riverside area (if only you would exploit it). A fascinating religious and cultural history of interest to an influential sector of religious visitors.
All you need is to repair your runway (in a way confined to civilian purposes only) and rebuild an airport building; negotiate an immigration cooperation arrangement with Chisinau; and then start negotiations with the budget airlines to commence flights to Tiraspol International Airport. It would be an economic boom.
Imagine a giant statute of Lenin in the arrivals hall of Tiraspol International Airport, and Soviet Union flags whistling in the breeze together with flags harbouring the emblem of FC Sheriff Tiraspol - both for sale, together with t-shirts broadcasting the same emblems. All this before you even leave the airport. Tourists could be driven to their modernised Soviet emblem hotels in modernised Soviet emblem luxury sedans. The opportunities for acceleration of Pridnestrovia's tourist appeal is there with only a little imagination.
The entire affair could be supported by a modest but compelling international public relations campaign; something Pridnestrovia can easily afford, given her bouyant finances.
In parallel, Shevcherenko Transnistr University could broadcast her international expertise internationally, engaging in an array of student, faculty and conference exchanges and initiatives with the world's other leading universities. Being neutral territory of a kind, the university system in Pridnestrovia could reach out in a way that no other European university is able to do. Shevcherenko Transnistr University could become perceived as what you and I know it always has been: an international centre of excellence for the exchange of ideas, in particular in the sphere of political science, amidst the confusions and misunderstandings that will inevitably arise in the course of this the Second Cold War.
Do more to promote FC Sheriff Tiraspol as an international league team. Internationalise its website, advertising, merchandise, information about players and reputation.
Long live your tradition of blasting classical music into the streets on warm sunny evenings. Thank you for taking the consideration to play Rule Britannia for me. This symbolises for me the quaint, elegant sophistication of Tiraspol, the elite university town determined to keep alive the trappings of Soviet culture if not the controversial political philosophy underlying it, that you and I have both studied and with which we are both intimately acquainted.
In modernising and internationalising Tiraspol, you have a massive amount to achieve. But there is nowhere better to start than the present. You are quite intelligent and sophisticated enough to recognise the connections between this strategy of internationalising your city and keeping the chilling winds of war away from your territory. Only if you internationalise yourself will you be able to control or even participate in the various international narratives whose contents, direction and conflicts will affect the future fate of your city and your land.
As it is, you have a mostly contented and comfortable population with high levels of education and culture living in a virgin Eastern European paradise that has survived for so long precisely because it was unknown. Now suddenly everyone knows what Transnistr is. It is a contested territory on the edge of a grizzly war zone. It follows a priori that it is quite possible that Pridnestrovia is comprehensively destroyed by virtue of its proximity to military theatre. That would be a wasteful tragedy given how much Pridnestrovia has achieved; and it might well have devastating consequences for you. Another possibility is that a growing, thriving Pridnestrovia, proving itself to adapt to extraordinary challenges, carves a role out for itself as an intermediary state in which diplomacy, commerce and government can be undertaken in a way suitable to the channel of the next period of European history we are entering, that we might call the Second Cold War.
War will be either the catalyst for your modernity, or the destruction of a paradise that shows itself incapable of change. You are at the helm, and you will decide, more than anyone else, which route your nation will pursue.