I’m going to a country that doesn’t exist!
Don’t tell my parents but this summer I’m going to a country that doesn’t exist.
I’m always amazed by how little I know. While taking a course about technology in developing countries I stumbled upon an interesting article that referenced the Republic of Moldova as being the European country with the lowest Human Development Index (HDI). Silly me thought — that’s definitely false, I spent 18 years in Romania (the neighboring country that speaks the same language) and I’ve never read or heard about this.
So I started looking into it and what I found shocked me. Even though the Republic of Moldova became independent on August 27th 1991, there has been a significant socio political and cultural rift within the region. The Republic of Moldova and Romania both started from the same HDI level in 1989 (after the fall of communism), however, at the moment, according to the United Nations, the Republic of Moldova ranks 112 out of 189 countries and territories in HDI, meanwhile Romania ranks 52, Ukraine ranks 88 and Russia ranks 49 (1 being the best, 189 the worst).
One discovery made me postpone getting a “real job” in investment banking or consulting over the summer, but rather design and pursue research trying to understand why Moldova’s HDI hasn’t improved over the last 30 years. More than that, I’m going on a quest to identify the potential of entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship in Moldova.
So, where’s the part about “going to a country that doesn’t exist”? I’m going to be crossing the borders of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (also known as Transnistria).
In 1990–1991, Soviet Union’s military armies left the territories of the Eastern European countries which they “friendly” protected. Some of these countries were independent (East Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary), some of them were part of the Soviet Union (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Moldavian Republic). There was one exception, the Russian 14th Army never left Moldavian territory reasoning that they protect the citizens of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. The conflict escalated into short periods of armed violence. So, now the oldest frozen conflict zone is a Russian army captive between two countries (Ukraine and Moldova, both aspiring to connect with the European Union).
From the Moldavian officials’ point of view, Transnistria is an autonomous region within the republic. To make things more interesting, there is another autonomous region in the Moldavian Republic. Gagauzia is a self-governed area, but, unlike Transnistria, it does not carry a history of conflict.
Transnistria has many of the trappings of an independent state including its own government, money, institutions, army, newspapers, car registration numbers and three TV channels, however the region is not recognized as a country and there are no proper travel guides or route-maps of the land. Surprisingly, the region has its own passport but the passport is only used for identification within the borders, because the country and its ID are not recognized for international travel. For more information, you can read Anton Dendemarchenko’s article about what it means to be a citizen of the region, here.
My intrigue prompted me to request permission to conduct research in the region which, after two weeks of back-and-forth correspondence, was granted by The Pridnestrovian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Overall, this project aims to identify the potential of entrepreneurship and, more particularly, social entrepreneurship in Moldova and compare it to the ecosystems in Transnistria, Ukraine and Romania.
The approach will be to present and analyze three points of view:
- Policy and Regulation
The main methodology of data collection will be qualitative interviews with entrepreneurs, foundations, investors, authorities and local experts using a semi-structured method. The on-sight interviews will take place in:
- Chisinau, capital of Moldova
- Balti, Moldova — second largest city in terms of population, area and economic importance;
- Soroca, Moldova — Roma (gypsy) capital of Moldova where I’m looking to meet with the Gypsy King;
- Comrat, capital of Gagauzia;
- Tiraspol, capital of Transnistria;
- Odessa, Ukraine — port on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea;
- Kiev, capital of Ukraine;
- Bucharest, capital of Romania.
By September, I will provide clear recommendations of steps to be taken towards improving the current situation in Moldova and publish an academic paper through The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
If you have any questions, tips or recommendations feel free to leave them in the comments below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories and details about my adventures, you can find me on Instagram: @cristinapogo.