This blog post comes from our NUI funded PhD student Keith Harrington who has been experiencing some media attention as a result of his research, read below to find out more….
My research focuses on Transnistria, a de-facto state which broke away from Moldova in 1992. Since 1992 Transnistria has existed separately from Moldova, complete with its own flag, army, currency among other things. In fact, Transnistria has achieved virtually all the aspects of legitimate statehood, albeit with heavy Russian support. However, Transnistria remains unrecognised by any UN-member state. Given its unrecognised status, many outsiders are wary of the region, with it commonly being referred to as the ‘black hole of Europe’. In addition to this, Moldova itself is the least visited country in Europe. Taking this into consideration, it should come as no surprise that not many outsiders visited the breakaway state. Even Russians, locals complain, know very little about the territory their government bankrolls. And so, it came as a surprise to many when I reached out to the central archival authority requesting permission to work in all their regional archives.
Until now virtually all of the English language historiography on Transnistria has been written from a Moldovan perspective, with many researchers focusing their attention on the Russian involvement in the conflict. I wanted to break this pattern and investigate the role that the local Soviets and other actors played in the conflict, pursuing the theory that the war which followed was a local conflict that Russia capitalised upon rather than caused. During my first research visit in November 2017 I played it safe and stayed in the de-facto capital of Tiraspol, working in the central archive. However, I soon realised that if I wanted to know what happened in the other six regions, I would have to visit their archives. Most of these regions are difficult to access for researchers or spend prolonged periods of time in due to their lack of infrastructure. Nevertheless, I was determined to go.
In August 2019 I returned, more confident in my language skills and ready to venture to the other districts. The first city I visited was Ribnita. Rather than working in the archive I worked in the local newspaper office, because they had copies of the Soviet era newspaper. When I returned to the office after lunch, I was confronted by a news crew from the TV channel ‘First Transnistrian’ (Первый Приднестровский) who wanted to ask me why I had visited the city and the purpose of my research. And so, in front of the local government building, a stone’s throw away from the Lenin statue that still stands in the central square, I answered a range of questions from the purpose of my research to what I liked about the region.
The following day I received an email from the producer of the TV show ‘Good Morning Transnistria’, requesting that I come in for an interview at my soonest convince. But due to unforeseen circumstances I had to put it off until my next visit.
In November 2019 I returned to Transnistria and visited Camenca, the northernmost district of Transnistria as well as the most isolated. Here a reporter for the local newspaper, who had been tipped off about my presence by the archivist, came to see me in the archive. Fascinated by the fact I was interested in the region’s history she requested that we do an interview. Of course, I obliged. Afterwards I visited Slobozia, another rural region of Transnistria located in the far south. While there I visited the editor of the local newspaper, whom I’d been introduced to in August. I visited after being assured that he had material I would be interested in. However, he had no material and he simply wanted to conduct an interview to get a foreigner’s perspective on his district.
When I returned to Tiraspol, I reached out to the producer of Good Morning Transnistria to set a date for my interview. The interview itself was an interesting experience. I asked the interviewers to steer clear of too many politicised questions as I did not want to compromise myself in either Transnistria or Moldova. Prior to the interview I decided that I would use the it as an opportunity to thank the people who had helped me to that point and highlight the positive experiences, I had had working in the archives. My plan worked, in addition speaking fondly about Transnistria I spoke of the high-quality assistance I had received in even the most rural archives.
The following day I was invited to the central archive to give a lecture to the leading archivists in the de-facto state. I tentatively spoke about some of my research findings and spoke highly of the archival service. I also spoke on topics such as Irish history, Maynooth University and the Irish archival service.
The exposure I have received through my various media appearances has greatly benefited my research. When calling state institutions, newspaper offices or other outlets of importance, the majority of those who I speak with tend to know who I am before they meet me. They usually say over the phone ‘you are the guy who was on the news/tv?’. This presence has made people more willing to assist me in my research, with archivists and museum directors going that extra mile to help me find useful material. In addition, I have also established a direct line of contact with the Director of the ‘State’ Archive service, which has proved useful on numerous occasions. All-in-all I have thoroughly enjoyed the exposure I have received in Transnistria and it has benefitted my research immensely so far. I have plans for how to keep up this level of exposure and it is something I intend to keep up upon my return this summer!
Keith Harrington is funded by a NUI Travelling Doctoral Studentships