De Facto states are commonly viewed as pawns in a game of Great Power geopolitics. They often exist as a consequence of Great Power intervention and crucial support at consequential moments of crisis, disintegration and transition. They are often buttressed and sustained by considerable financial support from a Great Power. And they are often led by figures who make very public allegiance of their loyalty and identification with certain Great Powers. So it is not surprising that they are viewed as geopolitical objects, nor that the conflict between them and their parent states are interpreted as ‘geopolitical fault lines.’
But none of this tells us very much about the local circumstances of the territorial division that created the de facto state. Geopoliticizing de facto states can obscure important localized divisions, tensions and, also, commonalities.
The new issue of the Taylor and Francis journal Eurasian Geography and Economics features an article by John O’Loughlin, Rebecca Chamberlain-Creanga and I on Moldova and Transnistria entitled “Divided Space, Divided Attitudes? Comparing the Republics of Moldova and Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) using Simultaneous Surveys.” It is the first publication from the US National Science Foundation supported De Facto State Research Project on the case of Transnistria, one of the four Eurasian De Facto States this project examines. JohnO, Vladimir Kolossov and I visited both Moldova and Transnistria in June 2009, and contracted scientific surveys in both locations that were completed nearly simultaneously in the summer of 2010. We matched about three-quarters of the questions so that the proportions choosing the various responses can be directly compared. In total, over 2000 respondents, composed of 1102 in Moldova and 976 in Pridnestrovie, were surveyed.
JohnO crunched the data and we first presented the results at a talk at George Washington University in 2011. Other pressing project work, however, slowed the write up of the results. To add grounded anthropological perspective to the survey results, we invited Rebecca Chamberalain-Creanga, a discussant of the original GWU presentation and recent Ph D in Anthropology at University College London, to contribute to the writing up process. Ralph Clem provided important commentary and editing suggestions as part of the refereeing process in EGE. The result is the long paper, 31 journal pages, that appears this week in the journal.
The argument of the paper, in short, complicates the notion that Moldova is riven by a deeply consequential geopolitical faultline. While the local and Great Power divisions that characterize this conflict are real and powerful, the attitudes of residents of both entities are quite similar in important respects. A river runs through it but that river is not manifestly a primordial geopolitical faultline.