I crossed the river this morning to visit Bender. The centre is small, a lot of activity is concentrated on Suvorov road. I walked round Lenin square, then to the pedestrian bit in front of the town hall. The west-facing side of the building is still pock-marked with bullet holes.
There’s a little display in the street showing the movement for independence, then the history of the town during the Second World War. I’m struck by how much history inter-weaves here, it’s as if each event sets up the next:
the Russo-Turkish War,
the October Revolution,
the Second World War,
the Transnistrian War of Independence,
Yeltsin’s coup in 1993,
and now the war in Donbass. The use of symbolism in these conflicts, particularly the ribbon of St. George, echoes through time to create one long chain.
I feel like I don’t know enough about the war. I’m aware that the initial clashes broke out at Dubasarry bridge, and here there are photos of women blockading the train line crossing the Dniester. There’s a museum nearby which would have explained much more, but it’s Sunday so it’s closed.
Last thing to point out about the centre is the statues opposite Malanka square. There’s a particularly grotesque depiction of the Ottoman Turks, verging on racist. The Russian generals meanwhile are portrayed as heroes. It’s troubling.
Later on I walked down to the riverside. The boathouses are open and a few rowing crews are on the water.
Some of the rowers are quite fast, and if you ignore the tank on the bridge this scene wouldn’t look so different from the Thames. It’s… normal? It’s not ‘Europe’s North Korea’ or the ‘last outpost of the Soviet Union’, it’s a complicated but ultimately functional society. It’s not just a big nostalgia theme park, there aren’t many other tourists (or foreigners) about. Sure there are a lot of soldiers walking around, but most of them don’t carry guns, and there’s no street police.
Something works here, I can’t quite place my finger on what it is, but it looks idyllic. Boys cycle to the river with fishing rods, women in flowery dresses stroll round the park. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Enid Blyton.
There are some cool innovations in Bender which I think other cities should copy. The promenade by the riverbank has got markings on it for a running track. This means runners can pace their distance while also having nice scenery to look at. Also, some billboards in the town have been reclaimed to show big simplified road maps instead of advertising.
Passed by the Palace of Culture on the way back, it’s advertising a concert this evening. I don’t normally go to concerts, but since I’m here I may as well see what it’s like.
So I went to the concert, which is why I didn’t have time to go and post this. I’ll do it tomorrow before going to Dubasarry. I was impressed by one guy in traditional dress who went on and played a very impressive flute solo. There were dancers too. It looked like an amateur production, but at least it was free. We don’t get many free concerts like this in Britain.