A Contested Borderland

Competing Russian and Romanian Visions of Bessarabia in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century
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345 pages

Bessarabia―mostly occupied by modern-day republic of Moldova―was the only territory representing an object of rivalry and symbolic competition between the Russian Empire and a fully crystallized nation-state: the Kingdom of Romania. This book is an intellectual prehistory of the Bessarabian problem, focusing on the antagonism of the national and imperial visions of this contested periphery. Through a critical reassessment and revision of the traditional historical narratives, the study argues that Bessarabia was claimed not just by two opposing projects of ‘symbolic inclusion,’ but also by two alternative and theoretically antagonistic models of political legitimacy.

By transcending the national lens of Bessarabian / Moldovan history and viewing it in the broader Eurasian comparative context, the book responds to the growing tendency in recent historiography to focus on the peripheries in order to better understand the functioning of national and imperial states in the modern era.


Bessarabia—A Contested Borderland of the Russian Empire
Conceptual Framework and Historiographical Overview
Chronological and Thematic Structure of the Book

Chapter I. Empire- and Nation-Building in Russia and Romania: Discourses and Practices

The Russian Empire and the Challenge of Multiethnicity: Managing the Periphery
Constructing the National Narrative in Romania: Models and Variations
Russian Imperial Visions and Policies in Bessarabia between the 1860s and World War I

Chapter II. Southern Bessarabia as an Imperial Borderland: Diplomatic and Political Dilemmas

The Russian-Romanian 1878 Controversy: Between Realpolitik and National Dignity
Southern Bessarabia in Russian Imperial Discourse after 1878: Visions of Otherness and Institutional Transfers

Chapter III. Rituals of Nation and Empire in Early Twentieth-Century Bessarabia: The Anniversary of 1912 and its Significance

The 1912 Anniversary and the Early Twentieth-Century Russian Imperial Context
The 1912 Anniversary and Bessarabia’s Public Sphere
Russian-Romanian Symbolic Competition and the “Romanian Response”
Romanian National Discourse on Bessarabia during the 1912 Celebrations

Chapter IV. Three Hypostases of the “Bessarabian Refugee”: Hasdeu, Stere, Moruzi, and the Uncertainty of Identity

Hasdeu—The Romantic Nationalist
Moruzi—The Uprooted Traditionalist
Stere—The Legal Revolutionary

Chapter V. Revolution, War, and the “Bessarabian Question”: Russian and Romanian Perspectives (1905–1916)

Bessarabia as a Contested Borderland during Revolution and War (1905–15)
The Wartime “Nationalization” of the Russian Empire and its Significance
The Controversy over the “Bessarabian Question” in the Romanian Kingdom (1914–16)


Instead of an Epilogue: Autonomy, Federalism, or National Unification (1917–18)?


"Andrei Cusco’s book provides the background to understanding the rival territorial claims made by Romania and the Soviet Union with regard to Bessarabia in the interwar era (the so-called “Bessarabian question”). In so doing, the book also provides the historical context for the competing claims of the Soviet Union/Russia and Romania in Moldova in more recent decades. This is a thorough work that draws upon unpublished documents from the Russian State Historical Archive, the Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, and the National Archive of the Republic of Moldova. As the writing is quite dense in places, it is a work that will appeal to those with some prior knowledge of the history of Bessarabia and is a useful addition to the available works in English on this contested borderland."
"Cuscos akademischer Ansatz zeight sich bereits in des zeitlichen Eingrenzung des Themas des symbolischen Zueignung des Gebietes durch Moskau und Bukarest: 1860-1918. Insgesamt ist der Aaufbau des Buches weitaus kreativer als eine chonologische Nacherzählung der Diskurse und ihrer Träger. Cusco erkennt auch an, dass die intellektuellen Kontroversen sich verengen und auf dogmatische Positionen reduziert weden, wenn die staatspolitichesn Spannungen wachsen. Umgekehrt hat sein Buch eindrucksvoll gezeigt, dass das halbe Jahrhundert viel mehr zu bieten hatte, als wachsendes Nationalbewusstsein und Wiedervereingungsbestrebungen in Bessarabien. Somit endet das Buch mit einem 'cliffhanger' - 'the most impostant result was Bessarabia's entry into the world of violent change that would signal the advent of modernity to the region' - und macht Hoffnung auf einen 2. Band."