Transnistria * | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Transnistria *

Transnistria *

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores

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. During 2002, high-level officials from Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, the DMR, and the OSCE were again unable to reach a multilateral settlement on the political status of this disputed territory. Further complicating a resolution, the Russian Federation failed to honor a 1999 agreement with the OSCE on the withdrawal of weapons and troops from Transnistria.

The Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. At the time, 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 14th Army, the DMR leadership fought a military conflict with Moldova that ended in a 1992 cease-fire. Since that time, the separatist regime has existed as a "ghost state," strong enough to resist absorption by Moldova yet too weak to gain outright international recognition as a sovereign nation.

Representatives of the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine have attempted to mediate a final settlement between Moldova and the DMR. They also participate in the Joint Control Commission that monitors compliance with the 1992 cease-fire. Despite multiple agreements and memorandums of understanding, the question of DMR's political status remains unsettled.

In 2001, regional observers were optimistic that the election of Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin would lead to improvements in the pace and substance of talks on the status of the DMR. After some initial success, discussions broke down when neither side could agree on the nature of a reunified state. The DMR refused to accept an OSCE plan for a federalized Moldova, insisting instead upon a confederation of two equal states.

Negotiators made little progress during 2002, as all sides remained constant in their positions. In response to Moldova's refusal to recognize the DMR's customs certificates, separatist leader Igor Smirnov imposed a 20 percent tax on all "imports" from Moldova. Moldovan leaders denounced the move as a further obstacle to negotiations and stated that no resolution was possible on the customs issue without a final agreement on the future of Transnistria within the Republic of Moldova. The lingering presence in Transnistria of 2,500 Russian soldiers and a supply of Russian weapons--the second-largest weapons stockpile in Europe--has further complicated a resolution of the dispute. In 1999, Russia agreed to an OSCE initiative for the removal of all Russian weapons and troops by December 2002. As the withdrawal deadline approached, Russia announced that it would not meet its obligation and attempted to refashion the force as "guarantors" of any eventual diplomatic settlement. In response to this development the OSCE extended the deadline by 12 months. However, given the sheer quantity of weapons, and Russia's apparent reluctance to divest itself of this former Soviet military outpost, it seems unlikely that Russian troops will fully complete their withdrawal by the end of 2003.

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 separatist leader 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. A local faction of the Communist Party of Moldova is the only group in opposition to Smirnov; however, their influence is limited. There exists no other democratic alternative to the current regime, as all other parties and political formations have ceased to operate in Transnistria.

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. 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 include the ministers of security, justice, foreign affairs, and information. Late in 2001, 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.

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 constitute 40 percent of the region's population.

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 is investigating their case.