Transnistrians in their turn are not against maintaining the image of the region as a museum of Soviet symbols. If everyone comes here for a mini version of the Soviet Union, let them use it", says Anton Poliakov, year-old documentary photographer born in Transnistria. In his project he shows other Transnistria, that transforms — his generation of young people, people living in villages, on the borders.
Who are we? He says he loves Transnistria. As many of his friends he went to live in Russia, but returned eventually. He is a geographer by education and learnt photography by himself. For his own inspiration and to inspire others he participates in the organization of the only documentary film festival in Transnistria on human rights called "Chesnok" garlic.
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The festival started in in four Transnistrian cities. Still the final stage of the festival takes place in Chisinau, in the premises of the Moldavian underground "Spalatorie Theater". On the stage of a small theater hall an Iranian human rights activist, the main character of one of the festival's films, is answering questions from the audience.
Before that there was a documentary about Russian Channel one backstage. The idea of the festival belongs to the activists of Tiraspol information and rights centre "Apriori". Anya Galatonova, 26, and Alexandra Telpis, 27, are among them. The organisers explain that the program was selected considering the specific nature of a Transnistrian spectator. Therefore, we are very happy to host the festival in Chisinau.
There are no problems and the audience is prepared. In addition, we have many friends in Chisinau — not everyone can come to Transnistria, but we can come here", — says Anya. The conservative view Anya and Sasha explain as a "Soviet mentality". They themselves do not trust PMR authorities and believe that the state protects only itself but not people. The young women refer themselves to a new Transnistria generation which is open to everything new and can think critically.
But they are a minority here. You feel it when you go to Ukraine and Moldova", — says Olga Purakhina from Information and legal center Vialeks in Rybnitsa, Transnistria northern city. She admits that Transnistrian legislation is mostly either a remnant from the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, or it contains rewritten abstracts from the Russian legislation. In some cases, she says, they forget to remove the "Russian Federation" from the text.
The main problems that people face in Transnistria are non-payment of wages and holidays, illegal dismissals, both in private and state companies.
The human rights activist, however, admits that Transnistrians are powerless in cases of human rights violations. One of the reasons, in her opinion, is the unrecognized status of the "republic". Karolina Dutka, a 5th year student of the medical department in the University in Tiraspol, faced such a problem when she was doing her photo project about an LGBT community of Transnistria.
Transnistrian Conflict: State of Affairs and Prospects of Settlement
She searched for her heroes of her project through friends and social networks, but it was difficult, since the topic of LGBT people in Transnistria is closed. But with the help of word of mouth I was able to talk to over people. Among them there were not only students, but also adults, those who work, for example, in state institutions, teachers. After two months of photoshooting, Carolina announced an exhibition. The very next morning she received a call from an unknown person and was invited to a meeting at her University and asked to bring her passport. At the meeting the photographer was unequivocally told by a person from Security Service that the exhibition had to be cancelled, since this "contradicts the ideology of the state".
She was able to record this conversation and later published it. She decided to cancel the exhibition, and instead run it as online project which grew popular in Transnistria. After several months she counted 15, visitors on the website — a considerable number for Transnistria.
Later on she held the exhibition in Odessa and Chisinau. I was surprised", Carolina tells about her reaction. She is finishing her studies in Transnistria, making a new social photo project and planning to leave. When I have ideas in my head about projects, I immediately think if I will be imprisoned or not". You can touch this feeling of censorship and self-censorship in the air. People are not willing to talk to strangers in the street, you can hardly see them protesting. It is the government that in fact has got the only right to organise street actions.
In Moldova voted for switching to Latin spelling. The Left bank interpreted that move as a threat, as Moldova was turning its head away from Soviet Union and towards Romania. Cyrillic Moldovan is one of three official languages, together with Russian and Ukrainian.
You can find it on street name plates, names of the official bodies, in PMR passports, but you can hardly hear it in the streets. But there is also a possibility to learn Moldovan language in Latin spelling — a Romanian, in fact. In PMR there are 8 schools where you can learn to write and speak Moldovan language in Latin alphabet.
Theoretical Lyceum Alexandu cel Bun in Bender is one of them. On the walls of the Lyceum there are portraits of Moldovan and Romanian writers, educators, poets, a portrait of Stefan cel Mare, a Moldovan prince whose statue stands in the center of Chisinau. The Lyceum has got three buildings and they are located on the outskirts of Bender.
One of the buildings is adopted premises of a forestry.
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Apparently, life is not easy for this Romanian school in Transnistria. Angela, a teacher of primary school, agrees to talk to me, however, she waves her hand in a tired gesture: "We talk but it goes nowhere". She confesses that there are less and less students each year — both due to demographic crisis in Transnistria and conflicts with local administration.
They travel to school from Tiraspol and their parents think about sending them to study in Europe. Nowadays Russia is not as attractive as Europe. Politics is politics, but people need to survive", explains Angela. Angela is a living witness of several blockades by PMR government that Lyceum lived through. The first one was in mid-nineties.
Then the Lyceum teachers tried to save their school and organized the lessons right in front of the city administration, in the street. In PMR police again attacked and blocked Romanian-language schools.
Sasha and Kristina Telpis, then 14 years old, were among those who defended their Lyceum in Bendery. Kristina remembers how she and her sister came to the school yard to protect their rights to study in Romanian language. At first, teachers came out to defend it, then students and some parents. Including me and my mother, because we had no idea where we else can continue studying", — says Christina and adds that it was a scary experience for her. The schools remained under siege for several months. The PMR authorities cut off electricity, gas and water supply to them.
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The OSCE called the situation a "linguistic cleansing" then. After the Lyceums got back to work, the oppression still remained. It was their mother who insisted on studying in Romanian language school so the sisters could continue their education in Romania. Though these schools are situated on the territory of Transnistria, they are subordinated to the Ministry of Education of Moldova and have a private status.
During school lines, the students are not allowed to sing the national anthem of Moldova and put up a tricolour, the Moldovan flag. Legalisation of Transnistria education in Moldova is another subject of long-standing bargaining between breakaway region and Moldova. On the other hand, Russia is readily recognizes PMR diplomas. That is where a lot of students go to after they finish their education. Not in any way a serious document that allows, for example, to study further at any university or getting a second higher degree by a shortened program or, even more so, teaching at a university.
However, the conflict resolution dimension of the ENP is underdeveloped. It is time for the EU to focus on the conflicts in its immediate neighbourhood. A settlement of the conflict in Transnistria would attenuate the soft security challenges the EU faces on its eastern border.
Settlement would also assuage an irritant in EU-Russia relations, and set a positive precedent in building the EU-Russia common space for external security. It would also be an example of positive cooperation with Ukraine under ENP. The focus of EU policy should be to alter the context in which the conflict is situated and sustained, rather than hoping for an early agreement on the status of Transnistria. The Transnistrian separatist project is to a large degree based on false economic arguments for independence. Undermining these claims will be central to efforts to reunify the country.