Discovering the forgotten ex-Soviet state of Transnistria
Meet the photographer documenting propaganda’s influence on an ever-shrinking Moldovan community
“Westerners exoticise Transnistria. They see it as a Soviet enclave and nothing else. But I am interested in the people here,” says Ramin Mazur, a photographer born in Rabnita, Transnistria. Out of 25 of Mazur’s original classmates, only 6 or so remain. As more people leave Moldova’s breakaway region in search of better opportunities within Moldova and further afield in western Europe, Mazur captures those that remain in his latest photo series, ‘The Left Bank,’ whilst striving for a true representation of his ever shrinking community.
“Those who want to change something about their lives, who are more ambitious, just run away. The flux of people leaving the countryside in Transnistria is enormous, much bigger than in the Moldovan rural areas, but no one speaks about it. I don’t think these villages will exist for much longer than 40 years,” adds Mazur.
But for now the Soviet past does live on in Transnistria. Lenin statues, tanks, the Soviet (now Russian) army and Soviet-like school graduation ceremonies still have an overbearing presence in public spaces. Tanks may be used as a playground by children but all young men are required to fulfill their military service. In addition to that, in the final two years of school, everyone studies a subject inherited called The Civil Defense Basis, in which twice a week students are taught about the basics of military life – how to build and dismantle a rifle, the differences between chemical bombs, using the anti-gas mask, military tactics and marching.
There isn’t much for young people to do in Transnistria, and that’s why propaganda works so well. TV and public ceremonies are the only source of entertainment besides drinking in the park and one club with a maximum capacity of 50 people. Out of boredom, adolescents either eventually leave or get married very young. “I remember being really proud of the Russian army at school, even if I had never seen it in real life. Because I watched Russian television all the time, I knew that on the other side of the river Nistru were our ‘attackers’. Only when I crossed the river in 2002 to come to Chisinau did I find out that wasn’t necessarily the case.”
In addition to the Soviet inheritance though, there are a few chain pizzerias, billboards and even some luxury restaurants in the area. Young people live as much on their phones as they do anywhere else in the world. And the further you go from Tiraspol, the capital city of Transnistria, the less people believe in their government and its propaganda. “Because they understand that the government does nothing for its’ people.”