- Title: MOLDOVA: Transdniestria defiantly marks 20 years of unilateral independence
- Date: 3rd September 2010
- Summary: PEOPLE WATCHING PARADE
- Embargoed: 18th September 2010 13:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVABMZR02U4WWKDNPT1YRBRBK7WH
- Story Text: Shunned by the world and held at arms length even by its main ally Russia, Moldova's tiny rebel Transdniestria defiantly marked 20 years of unilateral independence in full Soviet style on Thursday (September 2).
Tanks rolled down the capital's main thoroughfare in a show of sabre rattling while veteran separatist leader Igor Smirnov said that the international community would have to accept Transdniestria's independence sooner or later and praised Russia for keeping its troops there as a guarantor of stability.
"Looking at the examples of Taiwan, northern Cyprus, Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia as precedents, the international community doesn't have any legal obstacles in establishing diplomatic relations with Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic. Transdniestria has all the grounds to be recognised," he said, addressing the crowd.
A ragged strip of land running down Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine, Transdniestria - population 600,000, is not recognised internationally by any country.
Moscow has shown little interest in Smirnov's call for Transdniestria to be integrated into the Russian Federation, nor has it responded to his regular calls for it to increase the size of its forces.
The role of up to 1,200 Russian peacekeeping troops is a constant irritant for Moldova, now led by a pro-Western coalition which wants to take the nation into the European Union.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has urged Moscow several times to withdraw its forces but they remain in place, despite promises by Moscow to pull them out.
"The people of Transdniestria are grateful to the Great Russia for the peace they live in and they appreciate it a lot. It is not difficult to understand that any attempts to change the present format of the peacekeeping process will be met negatively in Transdniestria, " said Smirnov, who has led the territory since it broke with Chisinau in 1990.
Russian-speaking secessionist leaders said they broke with Chisinau because they were worried that Moldova would unite with Romania -- with which Moldova has linguistic, historical and cultural links -- leaving them stranded in an alien environment.
Separatist forces went on to fight a brief war with Moldova in 1992 in which several hundred people were killed before a ceasefire was agreed.
Even though its fears of a Moldovan union with Romania proved unjustified, Transdniestria continued to go it alone, wrapped in a time warp of Soviet traditions and trappings.
Thursday's ceremony had all the pomp of a Soviet-style festival, set on a small stage.
Stirring national music rang across Tiraspol's Suvorov Square and verse recited over loudspeakers lauded 20 years of building a prosperous society.
"Grad" missiles were towed down the street following a tank display and military march past.
"We all hope for the best of course. Everybody hopes for recognition. Of course, we believe it will happen. If we didn't believe why would we live here?" said Oleg, a factory worker from Tiraspol.
But many in the breakaway republic do not share his optimism.
"Many people are leaving for Russia. They don't see any future here because of a very low level of income. People are losing hope. I lost my income some years ago and had to leave," said Tatyana Nikolenko, who lived Transdniestria five years ago and now works as a manager of a small company in the Moscow region.
Russian investment has poured into the republic in the past 20 years. Many in the West and in Moldova say the territory has long since become a "black hole" in Europe and a hotbed of crime, money laundering and trafficking. Transdniestrian authorities deny this. Low living standards, political isolation, high unemployment rate did not discourage two school students from Tiraspol, Olesya Chumachenko and Tatyana Gaidei.
"In the future we want to get an education, to have a house, a family, a nice retirement. And yes, we want to live here. We don't want to leave, no," said Olesya Chumachenko and Tatyana Gaidei, students at a Tiraspol school.
Seeing some movement towards a settlement of the conflict with Transdniestria is, however, vital for Moldova's new leaders who are striving to get a firmer grip on power after ousting the communists.
A referendum in Moldova next Sunday (September 5) is expected to approve switching to electing the president by popular vote -- something the new leaders hope will strengthen their hold.
Long-running talks on Transdniestria under the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine have borne little fruit. Equally, attempts by Moldova to put economic pressure on the territory have had little effect.
On the eve of the ceremony, the Chisinau leadership issued a statement urging foreign governments not to take part in the celebrations, saying they were led by forces that wanted to preserve the old Soviet Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov turned down an invitation to attend but sent his ambassador from Chisinau.
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