Transnistria * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Transnistria *

Transnistria *

Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The Dnestr Moldovan Republic (DMR) is a breakaway region in the eastern part of Moldova. In Moldovan, the region is called Transnistria. Despite continued negotiations in 2001 among high-level officials from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, the DMR, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the region's political status remain unresolved. In DMR presidential elections that took place on December 9, incumbent President Igor Smirnov was reelected.

When the Moldovian Soviet Socialist Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, pro-Russian separatists in Transnistria feared that Moldova would join with Romania. They reacted by declaring independence, establishing the DMR, and setting up an authoritarian presidential system. With weapons and other assistance from Russia's Fourteenth Army, the DMR leadership also fought a military conflict with Moldova that ended with a 1992 ceasefire.

Representatives of the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine have been acting as mediators in the negotiations between Moldova and the DMR. They also participate in the Joint Control Commission that monitors compliance with the ceasefire. Despite multiple agreements and memorandums of understanding since 1992, the question of DMR's political status remains unsettled.

In 1999, the two sides agreed to build relations based on common borders and shared economic, legal, defense, and social domains. In 2000, the OSCE stepped up its efforts to resolve the situation and sponsored several high-level meetings. Moldova and Russia formed special state committees to coordinate DMR-related policies. Former Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who heads Russia's new committee, proposed the creation of a "common state" in which Moldova and the DMR would maintain separate constitutions, branches of government, armies, flags, and national anthems. The common state would share responsibility for foreign policy and border guards.

Observers of the region were optimistic that the election in 2001 of Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin as president of Moldova would lead to improvements in the pace and substance of talks on the DMR's status. In April, in his first official act as president, Voronin met with DMR President Smirnov and the two signed agreements on harmonizing tax and customs laws, recognizing official documents, attracting foreign investment, and supporting an independent media. A month later, Moldova announced plans to end checkpoints at DMR borders. Negotiators sensed that they were "closer than ever" to a resolution of the conflict, but talks collapsed in August over the DMR's insistence on complete sovereignty. Although the talks briefly resumed, President Voronin suspended the negotiations again in December and declared that Smirnov was impossible to work with. At year's end, the DMR's status still remained unresolved.

The failure of Russia to withdraw its Fourteenth Army has delayed resolution of the region's status. In 1994, Russia and Moldova agreed to a three-year timetable for removing all troops and arms, but Russia failed to meet the goal. In 1999, Russia agreed to complete the army's withdrawal by 2002. With more than 2,000 troops and approximately 40,000 tons of weapons still in the region, Russia finally resumed its withdrawal in November 2000. In August 2001, when negotiations between the DMR and Moldova temporarily broke down, the DMR's foreign minister called for a suspension of the troop withdrawal. In early November, however, the DMR's Supreme Soviet approved an agreement that pledges cooperation in the withdrawal of Russia's arsenal. By midmonth, freight trains loaded with Russian military equipment had already departed the region.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Residents of Transnistria cannot elect their leaders democratically. They are also unable to participate freely in Moldovan elections. While the DMR maintains its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, no country recognizes its sovereignty. The DMR's Supreme Soviet was transformed into a unicameral body with 43 members in 2000.

Parliamentary elections in December 2000 resulted in a victory for President Igor Smirnov's supporters and the reelection of Grigori Marakusa as chairman of the unicameral Supreme Soviet. Marakusa has held this position continuously since 1990. Two opposition groups, the Edinstvo (Unity) bloc and the Vlast Narodu (Power to the People) bloc, won 9 seats and 1 seat, respectively. Despite their differences, members of the new body unanimously support Transnistrian independence and the presence of Russia's military.

In 2001, DMR authorities refused to let the Moldovan government open polling stations for national parliamentary elections. Instead, Moldovan authorities invited the region's estimated 80,000 registered voters to cross the Nistru River to vote in special polling places. Although some residents of Transnistria managed to vote, there were reports of voter intimidation by DMR authorities.

Three candidates registered for the DMR's presidential election on December 9, 2001: incumbent President Igor Smirnov, Aleksandr Radchenko of the People's Power movement, and independent candidate Tom Zenovich. After announcing his campaign, Zenovich complained that he and his family were harassed and spied on. According to the DMR's Central Electoral Commission, Smirnov won 80 percent of the vote; Zenovich, 5.7 percent; and Radchenko, 4.1 percent. Voter turnout was reportedly 64 percent. Moldovan authorities called the vote "illegitimate and undemocratic." In the region's 1996 presidential election, Smirnov defeated challenger Vladimir Malakhov with 72 percent of the vote.

The DMR government controls most print and electronic media in Transnistria and restricts freedom of speech. Independent newspapers and television stations do exist, but they frequently experience harassment for criticizing the government. Authorities have also confiscated copies of independent newspapers without court orders. In 2001, President Smirnov issued a decree on the creation of a state editorial committee to oversee the activity of all print and electronic media. The committee's members will include the ministers of security, justice, foreign affairs, and information. Late in the year, the DMR blocked the local transmission of a report on Russia's RTR television channel about organized crime and illegal arms trading in the separatist region. Days later, DMR authorities threatened to sue RTR for slander.

The government restricts most political rights and civil liberties including freedom of association and assembly. Trade unions are holdovers from the Soviet era, and the United Council of Labor Collectives works closely with the government. Authorities have denied registration to some religious groups and prevented them from distributing literature or leading public meetings. The government also limits the ability of religious groups to rent space for prayer meetings.

DMR authorities discriminate again ethnic Moldovans, who make up 41 percent of the region's population. For example, the government has forced schools to teach Romanian using the Cyrillic, rather than the Latin, alphabet. In 1999, though, the first Romanian- language school opened in Tiraspol, the DMR's capital.

The local judiciary is not independent. Politically motivated killings and police harassment have been reported, and political prisoners are frequently denied access to lawyers. Police can detain suspects for up to 30 days. In 2000, the DMR introduced a moratorium on capital punishment. The decision effectively stayed the execution of Ilie Illascu, a member of the Tiraspol Six opposition group that was convicted in 1993 of killing two separatist leaders. In 2001, DMR authorities released Illascu but continued to detain other members of the group. The European Court of Human Rights agreed to hear their case.