Amazing Places

Welcome to Transnistria, the Country That Doesn't Exist

What makes a nation? Is it the borders, the government, or the national anthem? The passport? The president? What if you had a nation that had all of those things, but still wasn't officially recognized by any other nation on Earth? Welcome to Transnistria.

Related Video: 10 Countries That Don't Officially Exist

I Live, Therefore I Am

If you ever make it out to Transnistria, then the first things you'll probably notice are the Lenin sculptures. In fact, the country is full of reminders of its not-so-distant Soviet past. You'll find pictures of Josef Stalin tacked up in shops, and the Transnistrian flag prominently features a hammer and sickle. But despite the national reverence of Soviet figures, Transnistria is not a communist state.

Instead, you might think of the abundance of Soviet memorials as a reflection of the time during which the pseudo-nation was formed. When the USSR dissolved in 1990, the newly independent country of Moldova announced its plan to unify with its neighbor Romania. But most Moldovans east of the river Dniester were Russian speakers, and they didn't feel the same way. So they declared independence instead.

The Transnistrian War began in 1992, went on for four months, and ended in a ceasefire. In the end, the larger nation decided to grant the smaller one a limited degree of autonomy, but it still won't recognize Transnistrian independence. In other words, Transnistria isn't officially a nation, but nobody's going to interfere with their day-to-day sovereignty.

A Living Time Capsule

Almost everything that you'll find in Transnistria hearkens back to an earlier age in some way, shape, or form. Besides walking past monuments to Soviet leaders, residents travel on roads named after Marx, Engels, and astronaut Yuri Gagarin. And then there's Sanatorii Dnestr, a Soviet-era spa for Party bigwigs that now accepts reservations from anyone with enough Transnistrian rubles. But the history of the country goes back much further. One must-see destination for any visitor is Kvint, a world-renowned cognac distillery that dates back to 1897. You'll find a relic of an even more distant age in Bender, near the Moldovan "border," where a fortress known as Tighina was built more than 600 years ago. In a lot of ways, Transnistria is its own history — even if no other nation recognizes it.

Get stories like this one in your inbox each morning. Sign up for our daily email here.

For more not-quite-official countries, check out "An Atlas of Countries that Don't Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States" by travel writer and Oxford geography don Nick Middleton. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas February 21, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.