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Moldova: In Cyberspace, Transdniester Doesn't Look That Bad

Front page of the 'Tiraspol Times' (official website) PRAGUE, September 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Often criticized as a gangsters' paradise and Soviet theme park, Transdniester is on a charm offensive -- at least in cyberspace.

Take a look at one of a handful of new English-language websites showcasing the breakaway state and you'll get the impression of a forward-thinking young democracy.

If the country's young people aren't break dancing, a reader is led to believe, they'll be blogging or attending an environmental demonstration -- all while enthusing about Transdniester's drive for independence. is one such site. With savvy writing and a slick design, the site aims to challenge popular notions of Transdniester as dreary, corrupt, and run by a repressive regime funded by arms and people trafficking.

The websites quote a number of Westerners marveling at Tiraspol's new football stadium or saying Transdniester is the French Riviera compared to Moldova proper.

Irishman Des Grant is one of those quoted on He says he first came to Transdniester in the early 1990s as part of a humanitarian aid mission, and has been visiting ever since.

"It's an absolutely beautiful country. The people there have a spirit that you don't really get in many Eastern European countries," Grant says. "I've visited probably 20, over 30 countries in the world, in fact, and I have to say that this place really sparkles. There is a warmth and an energy in that small place. If I was to compare it with anywhere in Western Europe it would have to be Switzerland."

'Tiraspol Times'

Grant is also the founder of the "Tiraspol Times," an online newspaper that professes to be "committed to the truth."

Grant says his intention is to help the free press in Transdniester. But at least one journalist has questioned the methods of the "Tiraspol Times," whose content is largely dedicated to effusive praise of the government or endorsing independence.

The headquarters of the Transdniestrian government in Tiraspol (AFP)"

Tom de Waal, a London-based journalist and author, was outraged to see an article under his name appear on the "Tiraspol Times" website.

The article, which the site says was "adapted" by a journalist named Michael Garner, appears to support Transdniester's claim to independence.

"I've certainly never been to Pridnestrovie, Transdneister, or Moldova, and I am certainly not arguing, as is written under my name, that Pridnestrovie has a better case for independence than Kosovo," de Waal says.

De Waal says that the publication grafted material onto an article he had earlier written about parallels between Kosovo and Georgia's breakaway territory of Abkhazia. He said he had never heard of Michael Garner, and did not even know his byline had appeared on the "Tiraspol Times."

Confronted with this information, website founder Grant said he had no knowledge an error had been made, but that it would be rectified if it proved to be the case.

Mysterious Think Tank

It isn't just young European hipsters that Transdniester is targeting in its image campaign, but also the more serious-minded foreign-policy community.

An August report in the U.K.-based "Economist" magazine looked into a group called the International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty.

The council is credited with producing a report in support of Transdniestrian independence. But journalist Edward Lucas, who wrote the original "Economist" story about the organization, says he could find little information about the think tank.

"What's really remarkable is that nobody's been able to produce any credible proof or verifiable proof that they have any existence," Lucas says.

Break dancers, Transdniester style, on

All but one of the alleged authors of the report have since denied involvement in the study. The case has provoked suspicions among Western officials like Louis O'Neill, the head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

"It even quoted my former colleague at the [U.S.] State Department, who, of course, was never consulted, never said the things he was said to say and generally was distorted," O'Neill says.

So who is behind the sudden crop of polished promotional websites? And who is responsible for the report by the International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty?

And where, Lucas asks, is the money coming from?

"I think that the extreme conspiracy theory that the entire thing is run from Tiraspol is quite hard to sustain. I think it's much more likely that it's a mixture of some money from Tiraspol, which might either be government money, money from Mr. [Vladimir] Antyufeyev's State Security Committee, or possibly from one of the wealthy trading companies there," Lucas says.

No doubt, tracking the money is likely to be tough. Grant is vague about the funding of the "Tiraspol Times." In a telephone interview, he says the publication receives no funding whatsoever. But later, in e-mail correspondence, he says the website is funded by unnamed "directors."

Despite the images of cloudless days and young people dancing in the streets, Transdniester may well have to do a little more to shake off its dubious reputation in the West.

(RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc contributed to this report.)

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