Transnistria: A Functioning State

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

By: Šárka Humlová

State Institutions of Transnistria

The pre-existence of state structures left over from the Soviet Union, meant that the Transnistrian authorities did not have to build formal state institutions from scratch (Isachenko 2012: 81).

Still, since the declaration of independence the Transnistrian authorities have adopted their own constitution, built new state institutions such as the national bank that issues Transnistria’s own currency – the Transnistrian ruble; along with forming an army, police, militia and strong internal security services (ICG 2003: 5).

In addition, the Transnistrian government has the ability to levy taxes and provide various types of public goods for its citizens (von Steinsdorff 2012: 201).

All of these institutions and policies form an essential part of Transnistria’s recognition strategy, since Transnistrian authorities believe that “successive development of the republic, strengthening of its sovereignty and state system” will eventually lead to Transnistria’s recognition (communication with an Official from the MFA PMR, 14 June 2019).

Transnistria’s institutional framework is based on the Constitution of Transnistria, which was adopted in 1995. The constitution portrays Transnistria as a democratic state, which is subject to the formal separation of powers; however, it has been noted that there is no effective formal separation of powers nor is the regime democratic (Protsyk 2012: 175).

Although, parts of the constitution can only be amended through a referendum, in general constitutional changes can be approved either by the Supreme Council (Transnistria’s parliament) or by a referendum (Dočekalová 2012: 149).

The constitution grants extensive powers to the President, who is in charge of appointing ministers, ambassadors as well as other highly positioned executives (ibid).

Following the 2011 constitutional amendments, the president also appoints the prime minster, yet the majority of the executive power still remains with the President since the post of the prime minister is relatively weak (Freedom House 2018).

Besides the President and the prime minister, the executive branch also includes a government, which is composed by the Cabinet of Ministers and the heads of regional/city administrations.

Considering that Transnistria has a relatively small population and only consists of five regions and two cities, the fact that it is administered by twelve ministries (all of which consist of various committees and commissions) leads to extensive bureaucracy (Government PMR 2019).

Even though Transnistria has a presidential system, the Supreme Council is not a superfluous institution as it is the location of various meaningful political processes.

One of its main functions is the adoption of Transnistria’s legislature, which is predominantly based on the former legislation of MSSR; but it also drawa heavily on the Russian legislation (ICG 2003: 20).

Some of its other competences include: tax assessment, implementation of budget, ratification of international agreements, creation of proposals for constitutional amendments as well as announcement of referendums (Dočekalová 2012: 151).

Additionally, it names and dismisses the general prosecutor, the chairman of the Pridnestrovian Republican Bank as well as the representatives of Transnistria’s courts, yet these appointments and dismissals are based on nominations by the President of Transnistria (ibid).

Transnistria also holds regular elections through which the President and the Supreme Council are elected (in territorial districts on the first-past-the-post principle) for 5-year terms (Protsyk 2012: 176).

Yet none of the electoral rules or legislation regulating the activity of political parties stimulated the growth and institutionalisation of political parties, hence political parties were left on the margins of the electoral process (ibid).

In reality, political parties only emerged in 2006, yet even now they are mostly virtual since their main purpose is to demonstrate political plurality (Dočekalová 2012: 155).

Even so, plurality remains restricted since not everyone is allowed to become a candidate in the first place (interview with a journalist B, Prague, 28 May 2019), for example several candidates in the 2017 by-elections were reportedly impeded from registration, including one who was favoured to win his district (Freedom House 2018).

Moreover, none of the elections held in Transnistria have been recognized or monitored by an independent international institution, which undermines their legitimacy (Behenský and Šanc 2011: 51).

Nonetheless, in general it could be said that there are elements of electoral competitiveness and contestation at all levels of the political system (Protsyk 2012: 177).

Another integral part of state-building is the establishment of the army, police and other security services, since it is assumed that states should possess monopoly on violence.

Considering that Transnistria is home to approximately half a million people, its military and security sectors are rather extensive – maintaining an army of 4500 soldiers, 2000 members of paramilitary units, 2000 border control soldiers and finally 10 000 policemen and members of riot forces (Behenský and Šanc 2011: 45).

Despite the relatively large military and security forces, Transnistria is still dependent on Russia to guarantee its security (ibid).

Apart from building state institutions, Transnistria has also engaged in symbolic state-building together with nation-building in order to cultivate support for the newly founded state.

The state symbols that were adopted have relied heavily on the region’s Soviet history - for example adopting the flag and the coat of arms of the MSSR as its own (Isachenko 2012: 81).

Besides the adoption of the courts of arms along with the flag, Transnistria has also created its own national anthem (ICG 2003: 5).

A passport is yet another important symbol of statehood; however, for a long time Transnistria used old Soviet passports, only introducing its own passport in 2001 (Isachenko 2012: 98).

The introduction of the Transnistria passport was initially not very successful, since most citizens hold Russian, Moldavian or Ukrainian passports with which they can travel abroad unlike with the Transnistria one - since the country is unrecognized (ibid).

To incentivise the use of Transnistrian passports a measure was introduced which required the citizens of Transnistria “to present their Transnistrian passports on virtually any occasion, from a visit to a doctor to a sale of a car.” (ibid).

As a consequence, the Transnistrian passport is now widely used, mostly serving as a legal identification within Transnistria.

Judiciary of Transnistria

Transnistria has also established its own judiciary system, which has divided the judicial power among several state bodies including the Supreme Court of the PMR (Transnistria), Arbitration Court of Transnistria and the Constitutional Court of Transnistria (MFA PMR 2011).

The introduction of three types of courts (courts of general jurisdiction, arbitration courts and constitutional court) seems to suggest that Transnistria has based its judicial system on the Russian one (Tolstykh et al. 2019: 93).

In general, the judges often lack proper education as well as professional training and the higher courts do not issue the necessary explanations regarding the application of law (idem: 95).

Furthermore, the judicial system lacks transparency and a lack of judicial independence.

Judges are exclusively appointed by authorities from the executive branch (most are appointed by the President, magistrate judges are appointed by the public and the judges of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the President together with the Supreme Court and the Congress of Judges – each body appoints two judges) (idem: 93).

Transnistria’s courts also face the problem of non-recognition, and therefore the non-enforcement of their judgments abroad (Tolstykh et al. 2019: 96). The only two exceptions are South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which recognize Transnistria’s judgments and also provide each other with legal assistance (ibid).

Finally, due to the contested nature of Transnistria a problem of parallel jurisdictions exists, this is especially relevant for the city of Bender (Bendery) as it is located on the western side of the Dniestr river, as opposed to the rest of Transnistria (idem: 97).

The parallel jurisdictions problem arises from the fact that there are Moldovan courts as well as the Moldovan Prosecutor’s office in Bendery, therefore the citizens have a choice between a Transnistrian court and a Moldovan court, which undermines Transnistria’s authority (ibid).

Economy of Transnistria

The Transnistrian authorities tend to portray Transnistria as having a ‘self-sufficient economy’ and their state as ‘viable’ (Isachenko 2012).

In 1992, the authorities of Transnistria took the first steps in creating a separate financial and economic institutions, with the establishment of their own customs service, own central bank, a separate fiscal policy and a separate budgetary system (Isachenko 2007: 20).

Moreover, in 1994, Transnistria had successfully introduced its own currency (Transnistrian ruble), which was yet another important step in the state-building process; since the bank notes are in themselves a direct representation of Transnistria’s statehood.

The banknotes feature various historical figures many of which precede the Soviet era, therefore attempt to highlight the supposed historical continuity of the entity (Isachenko 2012: 95).

Even though the Transnistrian Ruble has no value outside of Transnistria, Transnistrian authorities ensured its use by requiring by law that within Transnistria, businesses can only transact in the local currency.

Besides the regular currency, the Pridnestrovian Republican Bank also emits commemorative banknotes and coins.

Some of these banknotes and coins are released individually for specific occasions, such as a banknote celebrating ‘75 years from the date of liberation of the left-bank Transnistria from the Nazi invaders’; while others belong to one of the 28 series, which stress various aspects of Transnistria.

Among the various titles of the series are: ‘statehood of Transnistria’, ‘Holidays and Traditions, ‘Founders of Transnistria’, or the ‘Republic series’, all of which not only try to emphasise Transnistria’s claim to statehood but also its distinctiveness from Moldova as well as Russia (Pridnestrovian Republican Bank 2019).

The introduction of the Transnistrian ruble has however, led to high inflation that the authorities countered by agreeing on a Protocol Statement that legalised Transnistria’s foreign trade by allowing it to use Moldovan customs stamps (Isachenko 2012: 114).

When considering that Transnistria’s economy is highly dependent on foreign trade, this legalisation played an important role not only in allowing it to diversify its exports but also in making its economy more self-sufficient (ibid). In 2001 a change in Moldova’s customs has however, terminated the use of these custom stamps.

The new regulation suggested that “legitimate business activity can only be done via Chisinau” since in order to be able to export goods it became necessary for Transnistrian companies to be registered in Chisinau, Moldova (ICG 2006: 8).

This registration can be temporary or permanent, the temporary registration leads to higher tariffs for Transnistria’s companies, but it does not require them to pay Moldovan taxes (ibid).

Transnistria’s trade has been further affected by the signing of the EU-Moldova Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Agreement, which has been extended to Transnistria on the basis of “Tiraspol’s principled acceptance of Moldova’s authority” (Dobrescu and Schumacher 2018: 18).

Although Transnistrian representatives took part (as observers) in the DCFTA negotiations, their presence was more of a formality than anything else.

Although, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Transnistria claims that they have created their own free trade regime with the European Commission that differs from the rules of the EU-Moldova DCFTA as well as the previous autonomous trade preferences regime (communication with an Official from the MFA PMR, 14 June 2019); others sources indicate that the EU ignored Transnistria’s proposal to conclude a separate bilateral trade agreement and just extended the DCFTA framework to Transnistria (Secrieru 2016: 2).

Collecting taxes is one of the main functions of a state, not only because it forms a link between the state and its populations, but also because it is an important source of revenue for the government which it can subsequently use to provide the population with public goods and or subsidies (Isachenko and Schlichte 2007: 8).

For instance, the taxes collected from the biggest steel plant in Transnistria – MMZ; are estimated by the ICG (2006: 4) to contribute 50% of the Transnistrian budget.

Still the initial tax legislation was not only subject to frequent changes but also quite contradictory, which combined with the high level of taxes resulted in widespread tax evasion (Isachenko 2012: 115).

For instance, in 1998 approximately 60% of enterprises in Transnistria did not submit a tax declaration and although the authorities attempted to address the issue through several tax reforms since then, the system is still far from effective (idem: 116).

From the economic point of view, there are three main strategies identified by Isachenko (2012: 113) that enable the survival of Transnistria - privatisation, use of the border, and informal external support.

Privatisation was mainly utilised to cover budget deficits, which led the former speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Evgeny Shevchuk, to call it an “oxygen pillow that allowed Transnistrians to survive” (quoted in Isachenko 2012: 119).

Nonetheless, the revenues from privatisation were rather limited and could not be used as a long-term solution, which is where the use of the border comes in (idem: 123).

The estimates made by EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) suggest that between October 2005 and May 2006, the smuggling of large quantities of chicken meat contributed around 7 million USD to Transnistria’s budget (ICG 2006: 6).

Since then the EUBAM has achieved some success in curtailing the smuggling, yet a large grey and black market remains in the PMR (de Waal 2018: 43).

Finally, in spite of the fact that Russia and Ukraine do not recognize Transnistria as a sovereign state, their informal support has played an important role in the survival of Transnistria’s economy.

The need for this support is an indication of the continuing contested nature of PMR’s internal sovereignty. One Transnistrian deputy even said that: “if there is no gas from Russia, there is no Transnistria” (quoted in Isachenko 2012: 121), because it significantly increases the competitiveness of Transnistria’s goods.

Lastly, Russia has provided significant financial aid to Transnistria through “pension payments, subsidised resources and economic loans and investments” (Pacher 2019: 5).

The pension payments are especially important since, it is estimated that around one third of the population are pensioners (interview with a journalist B, Prague, 28 May 2019).

At the same time Ukraine customs officials, for instance enabled Transnistria to carry on its trade with Ukraine since by continuing to recognise the invalid customs stamps until the EU “threatened to speak publicly about lack of cooperation” (ICG 2006: 8).


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