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New Europe

Day Forty-nine: Tiraspol

National Day in Transdniester 
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A lavishly decorated general takes the salute.
Michael Palin - New EuropeApart from a ferocious exhibition of Ninja-like unarmed combat, most of the set pieces that follow the parade are cultural rather than militaristic. Noticeably missing are any of the heavy weapons which normally mark these big communist march-pasts. No rockets or missiles on low-loaders. And the only tank on show is the one on the war memorial.

A choir of children, all dressed in white, sing patriotic songs to their President, and there then follows a bouncy display of Russian dancing, all high-stepping, heel-slapping, leaping twirls, squat-kicks and rictus grins. This, more than anything, embodies what Transdniester is all about. Ever since they expelled the Turks from the land east of the Dniester in 1792, the Russians have been regarded here as natural protectors, and nothing that happened after the fall of the USSR has changed that. After the war with the rest of Moldova (and there are displays here showing atrocities committed by the Moldovan army), ninety-seven per cent of Transdniester's 550,000 people voted for independence.

Russophilia is what keeps the Transdniestrians separate. They may have a communist administration, but then so does the rest of Moldova, and from the activities of Viktor Gusan it's clear that it is as pragmatic a communism here in Tiraspol as it is in Chisinau. What cannot be reconciled are Russian (Slav) and Romanian (Latin) differences, and things will not have been helped by a recent bomb attack on a bus in Tiraspol only two months ago. This will only give heart to those who prefer a Russian union to a European Union. And that, of course, includes Vladimir Putin.

Away from the parade ground there is much letting down of hair. Stalls have appeared under the trees in the centre of town, a Ukrainian musical group is playing heart-rending melodies and, as in Chisinau yesterday, it's the seventy-year-olds who lead the on-street dancing. I watch mesmerised as an old woman reveals a mouthful of monumental gold crowns as she's twirled round and
round by an old man in a suit, who a moment ago had been a lonely figure sitting on a bench.

In the West, all this would be recorded, filmed, photographed. Looking around the crowd here in Tiraspol I can't, apart from our own, see a single camcorder, mobile phone or digital camera.

They're just watching.
National Day in Transdniester 
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Old campaigners (one of them possibly Ronald Reagan) look on with pride, no doubt remembering the war they fought with Moldova in the early 1990s.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Forty-nine: Tiraspol
  • Country/sea: Moldova
  • Place: Tiraspol
  • Book page no: 125

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