No. 15-16 - 12 / 2014:
Moldova: A Borderland‘s Fluid History

edited by Diana Dumitru & Petru Negura


Editorial by Diana Dumitru and Petru Negura
1812 and the Emergence of the Bessarabian Region: Province-Building under Russian Imperial Rule by Victor Taki

This article addresses the policies of the Russian authorities in Bessarabia in the two decades that followed the annexation of this territory in 1812. It examines the process of discursive and administrative construction of the Bessarabian province from the territories that existed for centuries under different political jurisdictions. The article argues that the early Russian accounts of Bessarabia redescribed these territories into a single whole, a province, whose exotic nature and population distinguished it from other parts of the Russian Empire. The article further claims that each of the three consecutive attempts to define the form of administration of Bessarabia undertaken by the Russian authorities in the years following 1812 reflected a different perception of the province’s place within the imperial space. Thus, the initial idea to use Bessarabia as a conduit of Russian influence in European Turkey gave place to the vision of this province as part of Russia’s self-governing Western borderlands and finally to the re-definition of Bessarabia as part of New Russia. Without fully negating its predecessor, each new vision and the accompanying administrative changes consolidated the discursive and institutional identity of Bessarabia, which ultimately enabled this province to outlast the empire that created it.

1878, Before and After: Romanian Nation-Building, Russian Imperial Policies, and Visions of Otherness in Southern Bessarabia by Andrei Cusco

The reintegration of three Southern Bessarabian districts into the Russian Empire in 1878 represented not only a high point of the Russian-Romanian symbolic competition for Bessarabia, but also the creation of an ‘administrative aberration’ within the Russian Empire. The former Romanian territories, merged into the new Ismail uezd, preserved their institutional and legal peculiarities for almost 40 years. Thus, the modern structures of an emerging nation-state were transferred into the Russian imperial context. This article will discuss, first, the attitude of a number of Russian observers and officials towards the 1856 – 1878 Romanian administration, with a special emphasis on mutual perceptions and the foreign policy dimension. Second, the article will examine the polemics concerning the alternative strategies for integrating this region within the empire. The Russian bureaucracy was divided on the issue, oscillating between a centralizing approach and a more  pragmatic attitude which admitted the continued existence of the Romanian institutions. The discourse displayed by the Russian officials on this occasion is a curious amalgam of flexible pragmatism, modern rationality, bureaucratic inertia, centralizing impulses and foreign policy considerations. The lack of coherence of the Russian policies on the Southern Bessarabian periphery points to the contested and fragmented nature of the imperial discourse regarding the alternative models of institutional organization and political legitimacy.

Between the Empire and the Nation-State: Metamorphoses of the Bessarabian Elite (1918) by Svetlana Suveica

The aim of the article is to examine the circumstances that shaped the feelings and attitudes of the Bessarabian political and economic elite, who experienced the disintegration of the Russian empire, but did not show readiness to embrace the Romanian-nation state perspective in 1918. I claim that 19171918 political changes of the region deeply affected the economic and social status of the former elite, influenced its identity and belonging, forced new survival strategies, shaped mobility patterns, as well encouraged the development of alternative political scenarios for the future of the region, namely the return of Bessarabia back to Russia. Romania’s protection of Bessarabia from the Bolsheviks did not ensure the expected support for the new regime of those who cared about the preservation of their economic and social status; the metamorphoses experienced by those who served the empire were shaped, besides the feeling of loss and nostalgia for the tsar, by the frustration and disappointment for the failure to switch loyalty to the Romanian king. Besides that, the abolition of Bessarabian autonomy that lasted for six months led towards merging of a common  anti-Romanian front of the former and the acting regional elite that once supported the union of Bessarabia with Romania.

From a "Libertation" to Another. The Bessarabian Writers During the First Year of Soviet Power (1940-1941): Integration Strategies and Forms of Exclusion by Petru Negura

The dual aim of this article is, on the one hand, to identify Bessarabian writers’ individual and group rationale to stay in the territory occupied by the Soviet authorities after 28 June 1940 and, on the other hand, to analyse the institutional mechanisms set up by the Soviet authorities (namely the Moldovan Writers Union (MWU) and AgitProp) to integrate these writers into the Soviet cultural system. The three groups of Bessarabian writers remaining in the annexed territory (the ‘regionalists’ from Viaţa Basarabiei journal, the writers of Jewish origin and the formerly ‘underground’ (pro-Communist) activists) intersected and overlapped, since the writers’ interests were often multiple. At the same time, the strategies implemented by the Soviet authorities to enrol Bessarabian writers into the Soviet institutional structures followed a binary and apparently contradictory rationale, of inclusion (of candidates deemed suitable for the aspiring status) and exclusion (of those who did not correspond to the criteria of political probity). Moldovan writers coming from the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) (the ‘Transnistrians’) had a crucial role in the integration and enrolment of Bessarabian writers into the MWU as mediators with the Soviet authorities (having had a longer ‘length of service’ in Soviet political and cultural affairs), as well as in the role of cultural and ideological ‘tutors’. In response to these enrolment strategies operated by the MWU, Bessarabian writers adopted a zealous and emulative behaviour in order to ensure their successful integration. This behaviour laid the basis for duplicitous and somewhat dysfunctional interactions between writers, which would reach a paroxysm in the post-war ‘Zhdanovist’ campaign.

How the Bessarabians were Perceived by the Romanian Civilian-Military Administration in 1941 by Diana Dumitru

This chapter delineates the ambivalent perception of Bessarabians by the representatives of the Romanian administration after June 1941. The resentment accumulated by Romanian officials, as a result of loss of Bessarabia to the USSR in 1940, aggregated with the broader fear of the Soviet state, and marked their attitude toward the population of Bessarabia once the rovince was returned to Romania in the summer of 1941. While the population was still viewed as an integral part of the Romanian nation, their mentality and their devotion towards the Romanian state were considered corrupted by the influence of communist ideology and Soviet egalitarian milieu. Correspondingly, Bessarabians were blamed for loosing their sense of being Romanians and the atrophy of sentiments of discipline, respect, and hierarchy under the rule of the Soviet Union. Still, the Bessarabian Romanians were regarded as the most trustworthy social category, compared to other indigenous ethnic groups which, were suspected of anti-Romanian feeling and deemed to share an affinity for the Soviet regime. In the views of Romanian authorities, the Bessarabians could be brought back to normality through a process of “rehabilitation.” Until then, the population of Bessarabia could not enjoy the complete trust and had to be administered by devoted elements, predominantly functionaries originating from the Old Kingdom, or verified member of the Bessarabian elites who took refuge to Romania after the Soviet annexation from 1940.

"The Quiet Revolution": Revisiting the National Identity Issue in Soviet Moldavia at the height of Khrushchev's Thaw (1956) by Igor Casu

The article highlights the impact of Khrushchev’s Thaw on the question of national identity in Soviet Moldavia in the framework of the internal Soviet debates unleashed by the ‘Secret Speech’ and the subsequent Hungarian Revolution. The question of national identity was expressed by two groups, one representing the former GULAG returnees and the other the intellectuals or students socialized in the Soviet milieu. The position of the former was more radical and anti-Soviet, while the latter was milder and respected the status-quo, i.e. the Soviet regime, and only questioned some previously established traditions on what it meant to be Moldavian. Incidentally or not, the former position proved to be more long-lasting and in some way prepared and anticipated the national agenda during Perestroika, in the late 1980s. The question of national identity emerged once again with a comparable fervour in 1968 subsequent to the Prague Spring and Ceaușescu’s refusal to support the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia. In 1956 and 1968, the former Western borderlands – the former Bessarabia, Western Ukraine and the Baltic States – witnessed what one could call a ‘revenge of history’. More exactly, in periods of crisis the links between these territories and the interwar political entities and their traditions were stronger than any time before or afterwards. The specificity of the Moldavian case is that it succeeded in 1955-1957 to resume if only partially the Romanianization process witnessed by the interwar Bessarabia and partially by MASSR. This article is based mainly on archival documents disclosed in the recent years from Chișinăubased depositories. The first set of documents comprises reports from all districts of MSSR sent to Chișinău in the months following the ‘Secret Speech’ and Hungarian Revolution. They are located in the former Archive of the Institute of Party History within the Central Committee of Moldavia, reorganized in 1991 in The Archive of the Social-Political Organizations of the Republic of Moldova. The other set of documents consists of reports of the KGB of MSSR from 1956 and 1957, especially those concerning the attitudes labelled as nationalistic, and are located in the Archive of the Service for Information and Security of the Republic of Moldova, the former KGB of MSSR.

1991: A Chronology of Moldova's independence by Sergiu Musteata

This paper highlights the most important events of the year 1991 and their impact on the Moldovan society. The year 1991 proved to be crucial for the Soviet republics, including Moldova, and as a result of incremental democratic transformations and the collapse of the USSR, the Republic of Moldova became an independent state.

Justifying Separatism: The Year 1924, the Establishment of the Moldovan ASSR and History Politics in the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic by Alexandr Voronovich

This article analyzes the history politics in the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic. The paper focuses on the role played by the Moldovan ASSR and, in particular, its establishment in 1924 in contemporary politics and historiographical debates in Transnistria. Due to its history and similar territorial configuration the Moldovan ASSR became the most convenient candidate for the title of the ‘first period of statehood’ in the Transnistrain historical narrative. This study  investigates the ambiguities, complexities, and changes in the attitude of contemporary Transnistrian politicians and historians towards the Moldovan ASSR and its representation in Transnistrian public discourse.

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Euxeinos 15-16

Moldova: A Borderland‘s Fluid History edited by Diana Dumitru & Petru Negura