Everything is empire and Sheriff territory. The modern supermarkets, which contrast with the everyday and multifaceted statues of Lenin and the abundant symbols of his Soviet past, the gas stations, banks, cognac distilleries, telecommunications providers, even a caviar nursery. Virtually everything in Transnistria leads to the mighty holding Sheriff business. And of course, also the huge sports complex which is the headquarters of the Sheriff of Tiraspol. The surprise team of the Champions League that will face Real Madrid at home this Wednesday (9:00 p.m., Movistar LC) has put on the map this region, recognized as part of Moldova by the international community, which proclaimed itself independent in 1990, lived a war and remains trapped in one of the frozen conflicts left over from the collapse of the USSR three decades ago.
Transnistria, like many other parts of Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, is bleeding to death from migration. Opportunities are not abundant either in this region – which proclaimed its independence through a referendum almost two decades ago and claimed the idea of joining Russia in the future – nestled on the left bank of the Dniester River, which calls itself Pridnestrovia. So for Tatiana Rudkovskaya, 43, the fact that the Sheriff of Tiraspol has given the bell in the Champions League and plays at the level of “a team of stars”, like Real Madrid, is excellent news: “Recently no one knew where we were. And suddenly the whole world found out that Transnistria exists! When he beat Real Madrid in Spain that was the end ”.
Active and smiling, Rudkovskaya, athlete, Sheriff’s fan and president of the region’s yoga federation, believes that football and the publicity generated by the matches can be a golden opportunity to develop tourism in the eminently rural region. Although getting to Tiraspol – going through a checkpoint guarded by its security forces on the administrative line that separates the enclave from the rest of Moldova – and getting around is not so easy.
In the territory, which has its own currency, visa and mastercard cards are not accepted because the banks of the self-proclaimed republic not recognized as independent do not have international codes. “Transnistria is very attractive especially for those interested in Soviet themes. Many of those who come are amazed by our Lenins, ”says Rudkovskaya hopefully in her yoga studio in Bender, the second city in the region, after Tiraspol, where the scars of the 30-year war that took about a thousand lives.
Like the huge statue of Vladimir Lenin with his cape flying, as if they were wings, which presides over the square of the Supreme Soviet (the Supreme Council) of Tiraspol, the seat of the Government of the territory, where they wave at the same level, as in all the official buildings, the flag of Transnistria – red and green, with hammer and sickle – and that of Russia.
At the club owner’s hotel
The enclave, with a population of half a million, is home to several Russian military bases, a multitude of checkpoints and some 1,500 Russian soldiers, who act as “peacekeepers” in the unresolved conflict. A war unleashed in 1990, when Transnistria – which accumulated the majority of the industry -, with a majority Slavic population (Russians and Ukrainians) and where Russian is spoken, claimed its independence from Moldova and its Soviet character after Chisinau – more agricultural – proclaimed its independence from the USSR, wanted to join Romania and reestablished the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic. The Russian troops then prevented Moldova from subduing Transnistria and since then it has become a kind of Russian protectorate, a point of influence to which it supplies practically free gas and which acts as a small geostrategic anchor in a region that is turning increasingly to the West. .
Transnistria might look like a huge Soviet theme park, where there are no international chain franchises like McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Zara, which already hosts organized tours of pioneers, nostalgic or curious, who also make a pilgrimage to other places in the communist orbit. Reminiscences are breathed everywhere, in its statues, traditional mosaics in buildings with Soviet aesthetics, old tanks from the Second World War and in the punctilious layout of its streets. But the so-called republic of Pridnestrovia is far from being a communist enclave. The territory is, in practice, administered by a single person, the oligarch Viktor Gushan, a silent former Soviet police officer (hence the name of his holding, Sheriff) who made his fortune in the dark days of privatizations that erupted after the collapse of the USSR.
The owner of the Sheriff business conglomerate – who also owns the best hotel in the city, the Russia, where Real Madrid is staying in (pun intended) rival territory – has very close ties with the Government of Transnistria, where its citizens avoid talking of politics and speculating in public about the fortune of the oligarch. His allies, points out the political scientist Anatoly Dirun, a former member of the party financed by Gushan, who knows the ins and outs of the empire and the difficulties now of being an opponent, control the main positions of the leadership of the region.
300 euros average salary
Kristian Tijomirov was one of thousands of young people from Transnistria who emigrated. He went to Poland and worked in a metallurgical plant. But it ended up coming back. You have now found a job in a clothing store with a touch hipster on the main avenue of Tiraspol. “This is cozy, warm, a convenient place to start a family,” says 24-year-old Tijomirov; However, he laments the price of some social services that are theoretically free but for which he ends up paying something for a “quality bonus”. Also that “those above do not think of those below.”
In Catalina Park, in the center of Tiraspol, recently renovated and where a huge Christmas tree put up by the Sheriff Corporation has a place of honor, Vasili Sukhov takes pictures with his son Mikhail as if they were the Real Madrid players and the Sheriff, behind a huge poster, with the logo of the Champions League. Sukhov, a programmer, says that there are not many places of entertainment or great events. Hence, the game against Real Madrid, as happened with Inter Milan, has become almost the event of the century. Although of the 6,000 seats put up for sale (half the capacity at this time of the pandemic) only 1,000 have been released for local citizens. And at 30 euros the cheapest in a region where the average salary is 300 euros a month, Sukhov points out. He had never been a big fan, he started cheering for the Sheriff this year, but he is already enjoying the dream of going to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Tatiana Rudkovskaya, in the Yoga studio that she shares with her husband, Igor Rudkovsky, president of the Transnistrian Wushu Federation, says that she has made a “dream map”. One of them is to live a season abroad, in a warm place with the sea. “But always with the visit set on returning.” “Some are skeptical about the great advantage for Transnistria from all this football, but I think it is a great advantage. Perhaps even the recognition of independence. If they recognize it, I will stay forever ”.
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