While the older generation is aspiring for Transnistria to be recognised and to become a part of Russia, the young people are not especially interested in the topic and are more pragmatic. The lack of jobs is indeed an issue as many of them would like to buy the new iPhone X, invest in bitcoin, buy a BMW and fall in love. Sounds like a cliché?
Ask them what they think about it and you’ll be surprised! The Transnistrians at home are envious of the expatriates because they can afford the products they can only dream about, but at the same time the expatriates miss the relaxed life without concerns of the others. Of course, finding a job is an opportunity but also the beginning of a nightmare, as smart Transnistrians have to survive as foreigners, with a Russian degree, in a competitive world which is not especially friendly even for young Americans and Europeans.
We usually describe the younger generation in Transnistria as oppressed, dreaming of a more colourful and hopeful world that allows more freedom and nonconformity. However, the situation is probably even worse in Europe, as most of the young people have to compete in high school to find a good university, then take a loan from a bank or have their families pay for university studies and only a few of them will be able to find an unpaid internship and land a job in the end.
Overall, young Transnistrians have more opportunities to express their opinion than westerners – who have to be docile, taciturn, uncomplaining and submissive – otherwise they will not get the unpaid internship and job, and will have to stay living with their parent’s until they’re 30 – like many in Western Europe at the moment. At least, in Transnistria you can still dream about something, while their European counterparts have low expectations for the future.
Most Transnistrians I have met are open-minded, unlike many young people in Western Europe and the US who are increasingly supporting far-right parties. When I visit Transnistria, I have a feeling that it is a way to discover how young Europeans were at the end of the 1960’s, with high expectations and hopes, whereas today most EU and US youngsters are just disappointed and struggling to survive.
Nationalism is rising all around the world and people are describing themselves as “proudly French” or “Polish patriots”. On the other hand, Transnistrians are open to the question and are ready to say they are European, from a geographic perspective, and those with a Russian passport may claim to be Eurasian – both concepts are transnational.
Like all youth they are depressed about little things, but not anxious at all. The lack of information and the feeling of living in a bubble make it easier for them to survive. Despite what you might often read in the western press, life in Transnistria is not all that bad. In Transnistria, you can enjoy free education, free university, free social care, almost free public transportation and sometimes receive income from the government.
The paradox is that most westerners are actually poorer than Transnistrians. In the US and the UK, most people have to take a loan to pay for everything and will only be able to save a part of their income after they are 30, while the Transnistrians have access to pretty much everything for free. There are, of course, trade-offs, and in the end living in the EU or North America is better, but we cannot deny that statistically the young generation in Transnistria is actually better off than their peers in the West. It is quite ironic since Transnistria is often described as one of the poorest places in Europe.
Forget all the stereotypes and go out to meet the young generation in Transnistria. This is the only way to really see what the situation is like. I suggest to all my colleagues: go and meet them on your own and you will discover some creative and open-minded people with a fascinating identity.
Travelling to Transnistria can open one’s eyes that the reality is much more complicated than simplistic media reports. However, we cannot deny that a lack of freedom and the challenges young people face when it comes to finding a job or paying the rent. But, in the end, how is it any different than the young generation in Europe? Are they in such a better position?
Michael Eric Lambert has PhD in international relations from Sorbonne University and is the director of the Black Sea Institute.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: http://ecfr.eu
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