John O’Loughlin, Vladimir Kolossov and Andrei Tchepalyga1

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The experiences of the “Secessionist Internationale” demonstrate that, while nationalism and separatism may be linked quite intimately, they cannot be conceived as identical ideologies. It is certainly not accidental that three of four self-proclaimed republics (Abkhazia, Chechnya and Nagorno-Karabakh) had autonomous status during the Soviet era; the TMR did not. It is precisely such an autonomous status that allowed for the development of conditions conducive to the development of national/regional elites and their particular interests, supported by vast client networks, answering only to federal authorities. With the new political and economic conditions emerging in the democratization of the Gorbachev years, these national elites felt a distinct threat to their previously privileged positions and thus opted for nationalism as the best conduit to continued influence. At this point in time, their interests coincided quite neatly with those of the national intelligentsias, based largely in the realms of culture and the human sciences and which provided for the ideological needs of the elites. The democratic pretensions of the elites sustained during the early days of the political and economic reforms were fast transformed into nationalism and separatism. It is nearly impossible to find mono-national spaces within Eastern Europe so the new republics thus began a campaign of “mini-imperialisms” directed towards their own ethno-cultural minorities. Yet within the regions that these minorities called home, these very same processes of independence were also taking hold, particularly in those cases where the regions possessed some degree of autonomy.

The history of Transniestria shows that nationalism at any territorial level always provokes vehement counter-reactions, and that conflicts can emerge even in locations previously unaffected by prejudices or traditional hostilities, or even in those regions lacking any significant concentration of an ethnic minority. Once conflicts of this nature reach the phase of violence, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to resolve with political means. The memorandum of understanding between the TMR and Moldova, agreed under Russian pressure in 1994, and subsequent attempts to build on it have generally failed and the current situation is still unresolved and will likely remain so in the absence of concerted and consistent Russian interest. Any kind of confederation, now the most likely scenario for the TMR, would be akin to complete independence in these post Soviet times (Kolstøe et al., 1993, 996). Pseudo-states such as the TMR can continue to operate as de facto states in the geopolitcal debris of the former Soviet Union and other failed states. This new kind of state structure can thus be expected to become a more or less permanent feature of the early twenty-first century global scene.


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The Transdniester Moldovan Republic (TMR) is representative of a new kind of quasi-state that has emerged from the geopolitical debris of the former Soviet Union. Starting at the time of the end of the Soviet Union, this mixed ethnic region east of the Dniester river has tried to assert its autonomous status. The aftermath of the war between the TMR and Moldova has resulted in a stalemate with the presence of Russian troops and a state of “cold peace” across the Dniester. The TMR authorities have been successful in promoting a new regional identity and have tried to construct a national consciousness that is civic-based but relies on close economic and social ties to Russia. Economic and population trends have been strongly negative since 1991 for the region and attempts to replace Soviet-era economic links have generally failed. The positions of the parties to the crisis are reviewed and the current situation is described and possible resolution scenarios are outlined. In the next few decades, we can expect to see more examples of this kind of “pseudo-state” that retains a precarious, unrecognized status in the geopolitical interstices of great power control.


1 Professor of Geography in the Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder CO. 80309-0487, Professor of Geography, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Staromonetniy perulok 29, Moscow 109017 Russia, and Professor of Geography, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, Staromonetniy perulok 29, Moscow 109017 Russia, respectively. This research was supported by a grant from the Geography and Regional Science Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation to Professor O’Loughlin and by a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholarship in the Institute of Behavioral Science to Professor Kolossov. The research and cartographic assistance of Bert Ross was funded by a Research Experience for Undergraduates supplementary award to the NSF grant. Luiza Bialasiewicz assisted with the translation of texts.

2 We use the term “pseudo-state” to indicate a special kind of geopolitical entity that has formed in the wake of the territorial implosion of the former Soviet Union. Other post-Soviet examples include Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya. Elsewhere, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Somaliland and perhaps, the Palestinian Autonomous Areas of the West Bank and Gaza constitute other examples of this genre. These territories share an uncertain political status, non-recognition by other countries, internal dissension and hostile relations with neighbors, and reliance on large states for economic aid and military support. See the article by Kolossov and O’Loughlin (1998) for more details on the “pseudo-state” phenomenon.

3 We will use the term “Transniestria” and “TMR” interchangeably throughout this paper to refer to the self-declared autonomous region in eastern Moldova, east of the Dniester river. The official name is the “Dniester Moldovian Republic” (DMR) or sometimes “Transdniester Moldovian Republic” (TMR) after the Russian “Pridnestrovskoi Moldavskoi Respubliki” (PMR). The term “Dniester Republic” is often seen.

4 The Gagauze are a Turkish-speaking Christian minority, concentrated in the south of Moldova and comprise about 4% of the population of the country (Kolstøe et al., 1993, 975)


 Lebed later ran for President of the Russian Federation in June 1996 and finished third in the first round of voting. Throwing his support to President Boris Yeltsin in the run-off, Lebed was appointed as National Security Chief and in this office, he negotiated an end to the fighting in Chechnya. Fired in October 1996, Lebed was elected as governor of Krasnoyarsk krai in May 1998 and is widely expected to run again for President. (Economist, July 11, 1998, 19-21).


 There is now a museum in Bendery in memory of the victims in the fighting in June 1992. The local authorities have published a book of photographs that document these events from the TMR perspective and sell banners and emblems that mark the fifth year commemoration of the fighting.

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