Official name: Republic of Moldova
Area: 33,700 sq km
Population: 4.3 million (Moldovans: 64 per cent; Ukrainians: 14 per cent; Russians: 13 per cent; Gagauz (an Orthodox Christian Turkic people): 3.5 per cent (about 150,000 inhabitants).
Capital: Chisinau (717,000 inhabitants in 2005)
Main cities: Tiraspol (“capital” of Transnistria, 182,000 inhabitants in 1994), Balti (128,000 inhabitants in 2005), Teghina (or Bender, 133,000 inhabitants in 1992)
Official language: Moldovan (identical to Romanian). Russian is the “official language” in the breakaway territory of Transnistria.
National holiday: 27 August (the day Moldova obtained its independence in 1991)
Transnistria: a breakaway territory between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border that is not recognised by the international community. It has a Slavic-speaking majority. It declared itself independent of Moldova in 1991, when Moldova became independent on the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Tiraspol is its capital.
In an interview for the Romanian daily Romania on 5 May 2010, Moldovan foreign minister Iurie Leanca said: “Transnistria is part of the Republic of Moldova. I see no reason why we should renounce part of our territory and part of our citizens (...) We must create the conditions for reintegration.”
Transnistria’s unresolved status is seen as an obstacle to Moldova’s admission to the European Union.
What is the media situation in Moldova? Are journalists
treated differently on either side of the Dniepr?
Interview with a freelance journalist specialising in Moldova and Transnistria (who prefers to remain anonymous for safety reasons) :
Is the situation of journalists in Chisinau different from those in Tiraspol?
The situation for journalists in Tiraspol is completely different from the current situation in Chisinau. Relations between the media and the authorities in Moldova have improved since the departure of President Voronin and his family in 2009. But the authorities still try to keep the press under control. They have not used force, but they offer tempting posts to journalists who have long been independent.
It is completely different in Tiraspol. Firstly, there are no international institutions. The United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have no access to Transnistria. President Igor Smirnov and his clique are the only ones holding the reins. Transnistria is a militarised territory under the control of the Russian army’s 14th division. Power is concentrated in the hands of former KGB and GRU officers. There are no independent newspapers, no independent political party, and no independent police, prosecutors or judges.
So, is it harder to work as a journalist in Transnistria?
Most of the journalists working in Transnistria have another official job. If you are a Moldovan journalist, doing any reporting in Transnistria is dangerous because you risk being questioned and detained for several days.
Foreign journalists need a written permit from the MGB, the Moldovan secret service, that says they are allowed to work in a specific area. People wanting to do freelance reporting can get by with just an ordinary tourist visa but they risk having their equipment or material seized if they take photos of sensitive places or events.
There have been exceptions when everything has passed off without any problem, but that is not usually the case.
What is the attitude of the authorities to freedom of expression?
There is no freedom of expression as it is understood in Europe. In Transnistria, the secret services control the local NGOs and the youth organisations. I have heard of cases of HIV prevention activists being arrested and beaten in local police stations after taking part in international meetings.
Do you think Russia influences Transnistria’s policies?
The Kremlin is the only entity that has any power and any degree of control over President Smirnov. Several Russian politicians have direct contacts with the region and may therefore have some influence. The Kremlin is currently trying to change its image and give the impression that it no longer controls Smirnov, but that is false.
How is the situation evolving?
The situation has just got worse with the passing years. A few years ago it was dangerous to arrest a journalist because of the international community’s reactions. But now these reactions have become non-existent and abuses go unnoticed.
Local journalists and NGOs are partly to blame. They are badly organised and do not publicise cases. In my opinion, Ernest Vardanean’s arrest is a logical consequence of the latent passivity. But it is also a test on the part of the authorities in Tiraspol: how far will we let them go?