Transnistria * | Page 23 | Freedom House

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Transnistria *

Transnistria *

Freedom in the World 2010

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Russian president Dmitri Medvedev hosted a meeting between Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin and Transnistrian president Igor Smirnov in March 2009, and the three leaders signed a declaration that effectively endorsed a continued Russian troop presence in Transnistria until a political settlement on the breakaway region’s status could be reached. Follow-up talks between Voronin and Smirnov were scuttled later that month, however, and an opposition victory in Moldovan elections in July added a new element of uncertainty to the negotiation process.

The Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica (PMR), bounded by the Dniester River to the west and the Ukrainian border to the east, is a breakaway region in eastern Moldova with a large population of ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. In the rest of Moldova, where the dominant language is nearly identical to Romanian, the separatist region is commonly known as Transnistria. It was attached to the territory that became Moldova when the borders were redrawn under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1940. As the Soviet Union began to collapse in 1990, pro-Russian separatists in Transnistria, fearing that Moldova would unite with neighboring Romania, declared independence from Moldova and established the PMR under an authoritarian presidential system.
With weapons and other assistance from the Russian army, the PMR fought a military conflict with Moldova that ended with a 1992 ceasefire. A new Moldovan constitution in 1994 gave the territory substantial autonomy, but the conflict remained unresolved, and the separatist regime maintained a de facto independence that was not recognized internationally. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine have attempted to mediate a final settlement between Moldova and the PMR. In 2005, the United States and the European Union (EU) were invited to join the negotiations as observers, creating the so-called 5+2 format.
The latest round of formal multilateral talks collapsed in early 2006, and Transnistrian referendum voters in September 2006 overwhelmingly backed a course of independence with the goal of eventually joining Russia, although the legitimacy of the vote was not recognized by Moldova or the international community.
In the absence of active 5+2 negotiations, Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin pursued bilateral talks with Russia and took a number of steps to bring Moldova’s foreign policy into line with the Kremlin’s. For much of 2008, he unsuccessfully urged Russia to accept a proposal whereby Transnistria would receive substantial autonomy within Moldova, a strong and unitary presence in the Moldovan Parliament, and the right to secede if Moldova were to unite with Romania in the future. The failed proposal also sought to replace the hundreds of Russian troops who remained stationed in Transnistria with civilian observers.
PMR president Igor Smirnov met with Voronin for the first time since 2001 in April 2008, then again in December. In March 2009, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev hosted the two leaders in Russia, and together they signed the so-called Moscow Declaration, which called for Russian troops in Transnistria to be replaced by an OSCE peacekeeping mission, but only after a political settlement was reached. Critics of the document said it amounted to a Moldovan acceptance of the Russian troop presence, and argued that Russia could use its leverage with the PMR to delay a political settlement indefinitely.
A planned bilateral meeting between Voronin and Smirnov was scuttled later in March, after Smirnov responded to an extension of EU travel bans on PMR officials by imposing his own travel bans on European envoys to Moldova. An opposition victory in Moldovan national elections in July drove Voronin and his party out of power, and it remained unclear how Moldova’s negotiating strategy would change as a result.
Most of Moldova’s industrial infrastructure is within Transnistria’s borders, although economic isolation limits its potential. Ukraine in early 2006 agreed to require that all goods imported from Transnistria be cleared by Moldovan customs officers, and the EU has established a program to help Ukraine control smuggling along the Transnistrian border.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Residents of Transnistria cannot elect their leaders democratically, and they are unable to participate freely in Moldovan elections. While the PMR maintains its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, no country recognizes its independence. Both the president and the 43-seat, unicameral Supreme Council are elected to five-year terms. Having won reelection in December 2006 with 82 percent of the vote, Igor Smirnov is now serving his fourth term as president, and he has said that he will not step down until Transnistria is independent. The international community has generally considered the presidential and parliamentary elections held since 1992 to be neither free nor fair, although they have not been monitored.
Opposition presidential candidates have often been barred from participating on technical grounds. In December 2005 parliamentary elections, the opposition group Obnovlenye (Renewal)—backed by Transnistria’s dominant business conglomerate, Sheriff Enterprises—won 23 of the 43 seats. Obnovlenye leader Yevgeny Shevchuk seeks business-oriented reforms and has been accused of taking a softer line on Moldova, though his party supports PMR independence. He became speaker of parliament after the elections, but the parliament has traditionally held very little power, and he stepped down as speaker in July 2009 after a disagreement with Smirnov over constitutional reform. The changes backed by Obnovlenye would have shifted significant power from the presidency to the parliament, but Smirnov submitted a counterproposal that would increase presidential power even further. No changes had been enacted by year’s end.
Native Moldovan speakers are not represented in government and are under constant political pressure. PMR authorities prevented voters in the village of Corjova, which recognizes the Moldovan government, from participating in Moldova’s 2009 national elections, though a few thousand Transnistrians were able to cast ballots at special voting sites on the west bank of the Dniester.
Corruption and organized crime are serious problems in Transnistria. The authorities are entrenched in the territory’s economic activities, which rely in large part on smuggling schemes designed to evade Moldovan and Ukrainian import taxes. Russia has a major stake in the Transnistrian economy and supports the PMR through loans, direct subsidies, and low-cost natural gas. Upon resigning as parliament speaker in 2009, Shevchuk reportedly accused the government of corruption, nepotism, and economic mismanagement. Transnistria is not listed separately on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
The media environment is restrictive. Nearly all media are state owned or controlled and do not criticize the authorities. The few independent print outlets have small circulations. Critical reporting draws harassment by the authorities, who also use tactics such as bureaucratic obstruction and the withholding of information to inhibit independent media. The Individual and His Rights, an independent newspaper,has experienced intimidation and violent attacks. Journalists exercise a certain amount of self-censorship. Sheriff Enterprises dominates the limited private broadcasting, cable television, and internet access. There were no reports of censorship of internet content.
Religious freedom is limited. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith, and authorities have denied registration to several smaller religious groups, at times in defiance of court decisions. Other court rulings in favor of minority faiths have been routinely overturned. Unregistered groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals, have difficulty renting space for prayer meetings and face harassment by police and Orthodox opponents.
Although several thousand students study Moldovan using the Latin script, this practice is restricted. The Moldovan language and Latin alphabet are associated with support for unity with Moldova, while Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet are associated with separatist goals. Parents who send their children to schools using Latin script, and the schools themselves, have faced routine harassment from the security services.
The authorities severely restrict freedom of assembly and rarely issue required permits for public protests. Freedom of association is similarly circumscribed. All nongovernmental activities must be coordinated with local authorities, and groups that do not comply face harassment, including visits from security officials. The region’s trade unions are holdovers from the Soviet era, and the United Council of Labor Collectives works closely with the government.
The judiciary is subservient to the executive and generally implements the will of the authorities. Defendants do not receive fair trials, and the legal framework falls short of international standards. Politically motivated arrests and detentions are common. Human rights groups have received accounts of torture in custody. Prison conditions are considered harsh, and the facilities are severely overcrowded.A Moldovan civil society group reported in October 2009 that 90 inmates were on a hunger strike to protest long pretrial detentions, beatings, and poor living conditions; family members of the strikers were allegedly threatened by police. Military conscripts have reportedly been mistreated, and at least two died in 2009.
Authorities discriminate against ethnic Moldovans, who make up about 40 percent of the population. It is believed that ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians together comprise a slim majority, and as many as a third of the region’s residents reportedly hold Russian passports.

Women are underrepresented in most positions of authority, and domestic violence against women is a problem. Transnistria is a significant source and transit point for trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution. Homosexuality is illegal in Transnistria.