October 10, 2017
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v2.1 Reference

A Contested Borderland

Competing Russian and Romanian Visions of Bessarabia in the Second Half of the 19th and Early 20th Century

Bessarabiamostly occupied by modern-day republic of Moldovawas 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.

About the Author

Andrei Cusco is Director of the Center for Empire Studies at the Department of History and Philosophy within Moldova State University.


"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 This is a thorough work that draws upon unpublished documents from the Russian State Historical Archive, the Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire, the State Archive of the Russian Federation, and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."—Slavic Review

"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."—Südost-Forschungen

"Andrei Cusco widmet sich einem Thema, das bis heute von großer Bedeutung ist. Es birgt in sich die Wurzeln einer Reihe von Problemen, die im Nachfolgestaat Republik Moldau, das an der Grenze zur Europäische Union liegt, zum Vorschein kommen. Die Auswirkungen der Raumkonstruktion in Bessarabien sind insbesondere bei der lokalen Bevölkerung und ihrer Identitätsbildung deutlich spürbar, zumal das Land bis zur Gegenwart Projektionsfläche antagonistischer, diskursiver russischer und rumänischer bzw. europäischer Projekte zu bleiben scheint. Die sich weiter hinziehende prorumänische und/oder prorussische Debatte innerhalb des Landes, spaltet die multiethnische Gesellschaft und hemmt die Weiterentwicklung des Landes. Alles in allem ist Cuscos Buch und seine angestrebte Objektivität bei der Behandlung des Themas sehr lobenswert. Es ist ein aktuelles Buch, das weiterzuempfehlen ist – vor allem in der Republik Moldau."—Galina Corman, Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas


"A Contested Borderland is a thoughtful and well-crafted study of how one borderland region—Bessarabia—was the object of efforts to appropriate it by, on the one hand, a Russian imperial project, and, on the other, by a Romanian national project. A major contribution of this work is to demonstrate not only the symbolic contestation over this region, but to illuminate the differences between how an empire sought to incorporate this territory and how a nation-state sought to do the same. Through a broad reading of a wide range of archival documents, contemporary press, memoirs, and other publications, Cusco devotes special attention to how both the Russian imperial and Romanian national projects engaged in a symbolic competition to appropriate the region. The work covers an impressive chronological sweep, from the 1860s to 1918. Employing broader analytic concepts, such as Orientalism and civil society, this work will be of interest to scholars of both the Russian empire and southeastern Europe, as well as students of borderland studies and nineteenth-century Europe more generally."—Peter Holquist

The "Bessarabian Question" was one of the thorniest but least-understood problems of nineteenth- and twentieth-century diplomacy in Eastern Europe. In this erudite, deeply researched, and sensitive account, Andrei Cusco shows how both Romanian and Russian imperial interests intersected in this small but much-disputed borderland. In its level of detail and eloquence of style, Cusco's book is unmatched as a study in the limits of diplomacy, the origins of nation-building, and the travails of empire-maintenance.—Charles King
Central European University Press

9789633861592 : a-contested-borderland-cusco
350 Pages
$95.00 USD

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