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New Europe

Day Forty-nine: Tiraspol

National Day in Transdniester 
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National Day in Transdniester, Moldova's breakaway republic that wants to stay Russian. Police prepare for the march-past.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIt's Transdniester's National Day, and it's raining.

Tiraspol is not Venice at the best of times but in low skies and drizzle, it looks particularly dispiriting, as if the gods might be punishing them for not having their national day at the same time as the rest of Moldova.

The signs in the centre of town point two ways: west to Chisinau, east to Odessa, engendering a strong feeling of being on the outer edge of Europe as we know it. We park and follow a hardy group of celebrants to the long, wide main street where some thousand troops are lined up and students with red flags stand at intervals marking the course of the parade. A low and modest dais has been provided for a presidium of VIPs.

The most eye-catching element of the mix are the policewomen, dressed like 1940s Hollywood pin-ups in very short grey skirts, black high heels, epaulettes and jaunty caps, whose beauty shines even through the rain.

On the dot of ten o'clock two military jeeps, both with the hammer and sickle and garland of corn emblem of Transdniester on their sides, are driven down the ranks of soldiers. In the back of each, and quite delicately balanced, is an elderly general with a peaked hat the size of a steering wheel and a chest stacked with medals and decorations. As the generals draw level with each detachment, its troops let out fierce cries of loyalty, which roll down the line one after the other in a rather stirring Mexican wave of sound.

Then there are speeches, the main one from President Smirnov, recently re-elected for a third five-year term, after which the march-past begins. Up close the army looks young, scrawny and scared. They're followed by police detachments and a lone helicopter which emerges from the low cloud and flies slowly along the parade route with the rebel flag, red with two green stripes, hanging from its belly. It's followed at a suitable interval by two droning turboprops which perform a long and doubtless ambitious aerobatic display almost totally obscured by the clouds.
National Day in Transdniester 
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Students line the route with red flags.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-nine: Tiraspol
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Tiraspol
  • Book page no: 124

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