Ramin Mazur was born and raised in Transnistria, a slither of land wedged between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border, which declared independence from Moldova in 1990. For almost three decades the pseudo-state, which is only recognised by three other unrecognised states that emerged out of the breakup of the Soviet Union, has been busy developing the trappings of a fully independent country. Yet formal separation from Moldova is as unlikely now as it was in the early 1990s. As a photographer, Ramin has tried to steer away from the visual tropes about the former Soviet Union and tried to show the reality of Transnistria as the place where he comes from, not a quirky anomaly.


"Being born and raised in this de-facto state I decided to document it, but then faced the fact that I started to picture it in the same cliche manner as foreign media show it. So I decided to go deeper and abstract myself from the post Soviet oddity of an unrecognised state and focus on it as the region I grew up in. Is it my home or not? Do other people feel themselves at home or in a temporary place which they would leave for a more reliable one if they could? I don't pretend to answer these questions but want to get closer to understanding why the bank of my childhood is the left one."



As the Soviet Union started to crumble at the beginning of the 1990s, the linguistic and cultural divisions within the Moldovan SSR that had been papered over by an overarching Soviet identity came to the fore. A strong movement in support of the Moldovan language and Moldova's links to neighbouring Romania, headed by the nationalist Popular Front of Moldova, agitated for the recognition of Moldovan as the only official language, a return to the Latin script and, on the fringes of the movement, the voluntary departure or expulsion of non-Moldovan minorities, such as Russians and Ukrainians.

When the Popular Front won the first free elections in the spring of 1990, ethnic minorities feared for their future and tensions rose in the narrow strip of land between the Dniester River and the border with neighbouring Ukraine. By September, separatist forces had declared the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic as a new Soviet Republic with its own assembly. In November, armed separatists started to clash with Moldovan forces and the slide to war had begun. By April 1992, the newly independent Republic of Moldova had established its own Defence Ministry and was laying claim to the bulk of the military equipment of the 14th Soviet Army, based in Kishinev, in accordance with the negotiated division of the Soviet Army between the 15 Soviet Republics.



The short war from 2 March until 21 July 1992 resulted in a ceasefire which has lasted ever since. It is overseen by the 'Joint Control Commission', a body made up of officials from Russia, Moldova and the self-declared Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR).

When the guns fell silent, PMR forces, assisted by the Soviet 14th Guards Army, had secured the territory between the Dniester and the Ukrainian border and the city of Bender and its outskirts. The porto-state quickly set about establishing all the usual institutions of a sovereign country - a government, parliament, military and police force as well as a postal system, a currency and distinct vehicle registration plates. The PMR also has its own national anthem and is the last country to show the hammer and sickle on its flag.



Yet while the ceasefire has held, the status of the territory remains unresolved. The PMR is only recognised by three other territories that have gone through similar experiences during the breakup of the Soviet Union: Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. The UN considers Transnistria legally part of Moldova. As of 2015, ethnic Russians make up the largest group. Many Transnistrians also have Russian, Moldovan and Ukrainian citizenship. A few thousands Russian soldiers are permanently stationed in Transnistria as peace keepers.
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