Did you know that Moldova is the least visited country in Europe? The few that do venture here visit the fabulous wineries, which during Soviet times gained Moldova the title of THE wine producer for the whole of the USSR. Even these days, tiny Moldova it’s the 22nd biggest wine exporting nation in the world. Another reason many people to travel to Moldova is to visit the unrecognised country of Transnistria, or as the cool kids call it, Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (Russian: Приднестровская Молдавская Республика).
Transnistria, which fought a bitter war of independence during the early 90’s, has many monikers. The “last of the Soviet Union” and “the place that didn’t get the memo that the Cold War was over”, to name a few. Tiraspol and Transnistria still use the hammer and sickle liberally in their iconography, whilst also boasting more than their fair share of Lenin statues. Both places have a somewhat pseudo-Soviet feel to them.
But, whilst travelling to Transnistria has now become less uncommon, most people don’t realize that less than two hours from Tiraspol in Transnistria and the Moldovan capital of Chisinau is the lesser-known city of Comrat. Capital of Gagauzia, technically known the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, Comrat is another dejure part of the Republic of Moldova that also fought a war of independence. The Gagauzians are descendants of Turkic people who settled in the area and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Whilst the winds of change hurtled through the old USSR in the early 90’s, support for the Soviets in Gagauzia ran high. Following the failed coup of 1991 (which many Gagauzians supported), they declared themselves independent to avoid being part of a Romanian dominated Moldovan state.
To avoid a conflict, such as had arisen in Transnistria, the Moldovans gave Gagauzia a decree of autonomy. In 1994 the “Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauzia”, which gives Gagauzia control over most internal affairs, but they remain part of the Republic of Moldova. A happy medium between being a colony and a breakaway state. The terms of their special autonomy are actually very interesting; with provisions stating that if Moldova joins another pact, or country (namely Romania, or the EU) then Gagauzia reserves the right to declare independence, or interestingly, join the Russian Federation. Watch this space!
So, with the history and politics lesson over, why on earth would you want to visit the least visited part of the least visited country in Europe? Well, if you like crumbling Soviet Wastelands, abandoned buildings, and big busts of Lenin, then Gagauzia is paradise.
Comrat, the capital “city”, whilst not the most cosmopolitan city on earth, is small (with a population of 24,000). It’s easy to walk around, with parks, statues and beautiful churches to visit. Not to mention the open-air markets that are unique to this part of Europe.
But what also fortifies Gagauzia as a great travel destination is what can happen when you venture out into the countryside. Find a friendly farmer who’ll invite you round (they’re not hard to come by) and then feast on a BBQ of local produce washed down with homemade wine in the serenity and darkness of the Gagauzian countryside. Gagauzian hospitality is something that really sets it apart from some of it’s more foreigner-wary neighbours.
So, whilst Gagauzia is unlikely to become the next Ibiza (hell, it’s unlikely to be the next Transnistria), for the refined traveller that enjoys their Soviet backwater, whilst collecting unrecognised, or semi-recognised countries in their stamp book, it is a must see.