A Hammer, Sickle and a Red Square

As of this year, the Dnister Moldavian Republic, aka Transnistria, has existed for thirty years. In 2000, four stamps were issued to celebrate its ten year anniversary, with plenty of references to a Soviet past.

The set of stamps was published in 2000, ten years after the declaration of independence of Transnistria. It was issued in English and Russian, as it was targeting both audiences. The letters on the stamps refer to the different tariffs: E for international mail, A for internal priority mail, Б for internal ordinary mail. But all these stamps are only valid for local mail delivery, they represent no value outside the country. Each stamp tells us something of how Transnistria sees itself.

This is the flag of Transnistria. It is an adaptation of the flag of the former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic which existed from 1940 till 1991. When the USSR started to crumble, Transnistria declared its independence from the Moldavian SSR, which in turn declared its independence from the USSR in 1991 and became Moldova, and brought back a flag from the past, but that is another story.

The flag of both Transnistria and the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (1940-1991).

The flag shows the union between the working class (the hammer) and the farmers (the sickle): famous Russian symbols of proletarian solidarity. Nowadays these tools are associated with communist ideology, but there are examples made prior to the Russian Revolution, like on these Chilean coins from 1895.

Un peso, Chile, 1895.

The symbols were first applied in the communist context when Russian artist Yevgeny Kamzolkin used the hammer and the sickle in a design for May Day decorations in Moscow in 1918.

Yevgeny Kamzolkin and his sketches using the hammer and sickle.

The imagery was so successful that when there was a need for a Soviet state emblem, the state company Goznak commissioned a team to make proposals using these symbols.

Proposals for the Soviet State emblem. Top row: Alexander Yakimchenko (2x), N.N. Kochura. Bottom row: Y.B. Dreyer, D.S. Golyadkin, V.D. Kupriyanov, ca. 1923.

Several artists worked on this commission, the design of the new emblem was created by Vladimir Adrianov and finished by Ivan Dubasov in 1923. In 1924, the design was even described in the Russian constitution: ‘The State Emblem of the USSR is composed of a sickle and a hammer on a globe depicted in the rays of the sun and framed by ears of wheat, with the inscription ‘Proletarians of the world, unite!’ in six languages – Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani. At the top of the Emblem is a five-pointed star.’

The first Soviet State emblem, 1923.

The hammer and the sickle became widely used by communist parties all over the world, in emblems, coins, flags, et cetera. It is one of the most widely recognized emblems of the 20th century. In several countries of the former Eastern Bloc, Soviet symbolism is now banned and the hammer and sickle is now prohibited to use.

The hammer and sickle used on various flags from communist parties.

Another stamp shows the coat of arms of Transnistria, which is adapted from the former Moldovan coat of arms, which in turn refers to the Soviet State emblem. The addition of the grapes refers to the flourishing wine industry of the region. Moldova is one of the twenty largest wine-producing countries in the world.

Left to right: Soviet state emblem, Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic coat of arms, coat of arms of Transnistria.

Transnistria still relies strongly on Soviet sentiment, money and power. In the capital Tiraspol you can find plenty of Soviet memorabilia from the past and Russian forces are present in Transnistria, officially as a peace force but considered an occupying force by neighboring state Moldova. The coat of arms comes back in many places, seen all over Tiraspol.

Billboards in Tiraspol.

On the stamp with the title ‘The geographical location of DMR’ there is a little red strip wedged between Ukraine and Moldova. That is the Dnister Moldavian Republic. The letters DMR are cramped in this tiny spot and the name of the capital TIRASPOL is overprinted with red ink. It is typical that this unrecognized country is known by many names: Transnistria, or Transdniestria, in English the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic or as it is here: Dnister Moldavian Republic, DMR. All names do refer to the Romanian everyday name of the region: Transnistria, which means ‘Beyond the River Dniester’. It looks like the red area where Transnistria is located has been drawn on top of an existing map.

On the last stamp Transnistria is located on the map of Europe, right on the edge. You can see how Transnistria positions itself on an international stage, clearly longing for a position in the European arena. But what is most striking is Transnistria is so small, it disappears on this scale. A red square represents the area, but the country itself can’t be seen.