Waiting for a Soviet Reunion

Will the people of this disputed enclave ever reclaim the good old days of the U.S.S.R?

For many post-Soviet states, the last 25 years have been an exercise in nation building, slowly extricating themselves from long heritages of Russian control. But in little Moldova, a mostly Romanian-speaking nation squashed between Romania and the Ukraine, there’s a small strip of land where you can still find the Soviet hammer and sickle flying over government facilities.

The Moldovan government doesn’t approve of this symbol. And you can certainly bet they don’t approve of thousands of Russian soldiers tromping around the region either. But there’s very little the state can do about any of this, because it’s all happening in the self-declared independent Pridnestrovian Moldovian Republic, better known as Transnistria.

A sliver of land between the Dniester River and Ukraine (in some places just a few miles wide), the primarily Russian-speaking Transnistria rejects Moldovan rule, pledging allegiance to Moscow and displaying Soviet relics as a symbol of its devotion to the notion of a regional Russophone empire. They’re not alone in yearning for a bygone Soviet era either: While we think of the U.S.S.R. as a hot mess in hindsight, many post-Soviet states (and minorities within) remember it fondly for tamping down ethnic conflicts, ensuring basic rights, and shelling out heavy subsidies that ensured a basic standard of living.

To many observers biting their nails over Vladimir Putin’s perceived expansionist policies, this kind of Soviet nostalgia is nightmarish. Putin rode to power on express promises to restore Russia’s global greatness. As an ex-KGB man, that has involved restoring some Soviet symbols at home, playing to these Golden Era memories. It’s also involved patriotism-building promises to protect Russian speakers abroad, especially those discontent with post-Soviet realities and longing to reconnect with Mother Russia. Many believe his dedication to a Novorossiya has fueled Russia’s territorial expansions in the Ukraine and ambitions beyond. And many fear that Transnistria, with its open arms towards Moscow, is both a model of Putin’s vision of a future of regional pro-Russian client states, and the next potential flashpoint for his neo-imperial inclinations.

After the former Soviet Union began to fall apart and Moldova moved towards independence, Transnistrians, wary of how Moldovan nationalism and language policies might affect their lives, decided not to follow, eventually fighting a war from 1991 to 1992 to retain their freedom. During the conflict, Russia offered Transnistria military and financial assistance, and then just never left. What’s more, Moscow has bankrolled Transnistria’s state-building venture for the past 25 years, although it still doesn’t officially recognize their independence. That’s probably a big part of why, in a 2006 referendum, 97 percent of the population expressed interest in joining Russia outright—an inclination that plays into Putin’s claims that aggressive action is needed to protect the rights and self-determination of Russian-speaking communities (and potential client states).

For a long time, Transnistria’s Russian-supported, Moscow-aligned de facto independence was just the status quo. Occasionally, Transnistria drew attention for its shady business practices, intense isolation, and frozen-in-time, Soviet wonderland feel. But for the most part, its borders with Moldova and Ukraine remained silent and steady. Yet in recent months, as Russia’s expansions into Crimea and other regions of southeastern Ukraine have intensified, Kiev has started to challenge Moscow’s access to Transnistria. Partisans in Transnistria have in turn called on the Russian state for protection. And waiting in the wings, observers like America’s John McCain and Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili have started to speculate that Russia might soon try to make a show of force in the enclave, living up to its regional patriotic and empire building ambitions, and possibly accelerating its expansion beyond Crimea.

This spring, as tensions continued to build, bringing the bizarre, self-declared state into sharper international focus, photographer Thomas Van Den Driessche decided to visit Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, on behalf of The Story Institute. Arriving just as the nation began simultaneous celebrations commemorating the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Great Patriotic War (Russia’s name for World War II) and the 25th anniversary of Transnistria’s self-proclaimed independence, he proceeded to document the trappings of pseudo-Soviet life, not just at the state level, but in the lives of everyday Transnistrians. The following 10 photos especially speak to just how deep the region’s love of Mother Russia runs, and how eager many are for the Novorossiya era.


He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

Keep Reading Show less

Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Coal mining is on the decline, leaving many coal miners in West Virginia without jobs. The Mine Safety and Health Administration says there are about 55,000 positions, and just 13,000 of those jobs are in West Virginia. The dwindling amount of work is leaving some struggling to make a living, but the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective is giving those coal miners a way to find new jobs and make a supplemental income as coal mining diminishes.

The Appalachian Beekeeping Collective trains coal miners and other low-income residents in mining communities to keep bees. Some coal miners are getting retrained to work in the tech industry, however beekeeping allows coal miners to continue to work in a job that requires a similar skill set. "The older folks want to get back to work, but mining is never going to be like it was in the '60s and '70s, and there is nothing to fall back on, no other big industries here, so all of these folks need retraining," former coal miner James Scyphers told NPR. "Beekeeping is hands-on work, like mining, and requires on-the-job training. You need a good work ethic for both."

Keep Reading Show less