East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Ruritanias of today


As assiduous readers of Karavansara know, I have always liked The Prisoner of Zenda – I first saw the movies (first the Stewart Granger film then the Ronald Colman) as a kid, and only later read the novels, and the whole concept of a pocket-sized state tucked away in some nook of the European map is a classic of belle epoque adventure fiction: operetta-style places, with Old Europe pomp and circumstance, the odd Strauss waltz, dashing men in uniforms and women with daring necklines and corsets…

The whole “there is this small state in the Balkans” thing of course also worked in the early years of the Cold War – Eric Ambler wrote such sorts of novels, off the top of my head. Uniforms took a more Soviet-style, old German scientists lingered in the shadows, and women wore berets and tight skirts. Music became less Strauss and more Bernard Herrman.

Later the thing seemed to fade, and today the idea of a small nation frozen in time, and yet somehow a significant piece on the international political chessboard might seem preposterous. Today’s adventures and espionage take place in the real world – and some would have us believe that the old, basically romantic notion of Ruritania is extinct.

But two days ago, while I was taking a break from my writing, I discovered Transnistria.
And my reaction was… a nation that is not recognized by the UN and therefore formally does not exist, squeezed between two hostile Eastern block nations, filled with nostalgic remnants of the Soviet regime…? How come I never heard about it?!

Quoting from Wikipedia…

After the dissolution of the USSR, tensions between Moldova and the breakaway Transnistrian territory escalated into a military conflict that started in March 1992 and was concluded by a ceasefire in July of the same year. As part of that agreement, a three-party (Russia, Moldova, Transnistria) Joint Control Commission supervises the security arrangements in the demilitarised zone, comprising twenty localities on both sides of the river. Although the ceasefire has held, the territory’s political status remains unresolved: Transnistria is an unrecognised but de facto independent semi-presidential republic with its own government, parliament, military, police, postal system, currency and vehicle registration. Its authorities have adopted a constitution, flag, national anthem and coat of arms. It is the only country still using the hammer and sickle on its flag, despite not being a communist state.

This is the perfect place to set an old school spy story – the sort of thing John Buchan used to write. Again, I can see uniforms, clothes, atmospheres…
And Transnistria is only one of the many “places that do not exist” in our modern, often-considered-boring world. Again from Wikipedia…

Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Artsakh are post-Soviet “frozen conflict” zones. These four partially recognised states maintain friendly relations with each other and form the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations.

There is so much potential for stories here…
I will file this for later.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “Ruritanias of today

  1. I always loved James Mason as Rupert of Hentzau



    • I prefer the Fairbanks version, but Mason is such a great actor he could pull any part, even Rupert.


    • One line sums up Rupert’s character perfectly, and no, it’s not the exchange during the duel that goes,
      “I’ve shot one man tonight for trying that.”
      “In the back, of course?”
      “Of course!”
      Not even, “I left my knife in Michael. He annoyed me once too often.”
      No, I’m thinking rather of the scene in which two of Rupert’s henchmen are frowning over a game and Rupert, giving one glance at the first player’s hand, says wearily, “Play the queen, you blockhead!”
      A man who’d sink that low will do anything.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rupert is certainly one of the all-time gfreat characters in fiction – a lot better than the rather boring hero of the Zenda books.
        And his dialogue is always pitch-perfect.


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