In 1991, the Eastern regions of Moldova called Transnistria declared independence from Moldova and sporadic violent clashes between Moldovan police and Transnistrian militia led to a short war in June 1992. Transnistria developed all the State attributes – the President, Parliament, Government, border and customs services, army, banking system, currency, and flag. A ceasefire agreement, and negotiations mediated by Russia, Ukraine, OSCE, EU and the USA failed to achieve any results, and the conflict is still "frozen".

In 2003, the UK Government started a conflict resolution programme managed jointly by DfID and FCO. Civil society organisations offered the only way to work on both sides of the river, in the absence of contacts between public administration bodies from the both sides. Alla Skvortova explains:

Bridging the river

"Although at a personal level, contacts between people from either side of the river remain strong, based on kinship - families live on both sides - friendship, and business, there are no official contacts. Even informal contacts are discouraged by politicians. There is no religious or ethnic hatred but the political and cultural differences are growing. We were looking for organisations that already had working contacts in Transnistria and we wanted to screen out politically biased organisations that didn’t follow the principle of tolerance, were known to have used hate language, or were unwilling to acknowledge the need for concessions towards the opposite side."

"Moldova is a small country, and information is shared freely. We already knew about Moldovan and Transnistrian NGOs through the UK Small Grants Programme managed by DfID. This gave us a good insight into the whole range of their work and by going to NGO events, talking to other donors who’d worked with civil society organisations we were able to make a judgement about who to work with."

Crossing the lines

Skvortova’s organisation was working with journalists, against a backdrop of a media industry used to sticking to the "official" line, which meant that the conflict was only discussed publicly from two rigid government positions.

"We were aiming in the first instance to train journalists in investigative reporting and conflict sensitive journalism. We had interns from Transnistria working in Moldova for 2-3 weeks, in both radio and print and we put journalists from the two sides together in small groups, who jointly authored stories and multimedia pieces."

However, working with local public administration bodies proved almost impossible largely due to the fact that the organisation that put forward the programme, which was quite experienced, proved unable to deliver it, and this element of the programme had to be closed. But, Skvortova believes that positive results in other areas meant more donors were encouraged to fund and she says, the lessons from Moldova are clear.