Lecturer in the Department of World History of the Ion Creanga State Pedagogical University in Chisinau; Director of the Center for Empire Studies in the Department of History and Philosophy within Moldova State University.Andrei holds a PhD degree in the Comparative History of Central, Southeastern and Eastern Europe from the Department of History of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest (diss. “Between Nation and Empire: Russian and Romanian Competing Visions of Bessarabia in the Second Half of the 19th and Early 20th Century”). His research interests focus on modern East European history, comparative history of the Eurasian empires, intellectual history and historiography. Dr. Cusco’s major publications include: a book on the history of Bessarabia as a borderland of the Russian Empire (Bessarabia as a Part of the Russian Empire, 1812–1917), published, in Russian by the Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie Press (Moscow) in March 2012, co-authored with Victor Taki; a study (co-authored with Victor Taki) on the “construction of the Bessarabian province” focusing on the role of cultural, administrative, and institutional transfers in this process; an article on the integration of the Bessarabian nobility into the Russian imperial system, published in the European Review of History (ERH), no. 1, 2009; and a piece discussing the ideology and nationalist vision of Constantin Stere, one of the most prominent Bessarabian-born émigrés to the Romanian Kingdom, in the context of World War I foreign policy debates in Romania. This article is forthcoming in the next issue (no. 3, 2012) of the Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas.
The “Language of the Nation” in Early 20th-Century Bessarabia: Defining an Elusive Concept in a Contested Borderland
The setting of Russian Bessarabia was hardly conducive to an early and/or substantial debate on the content and multiple meanings of the “national phenomenon,” broadly defined. Throughout the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bessarabia represented an object of “symbolic competition” between the Russian empire-building and Romanian nation-building projects. This conditioned the “secondary” and rather late development of a specific “language of the nation” in Bessarabia. To the extent that such preoccupations existed at all, they were heavily indebted to the Russian models or (gradually, and mostly in émigré circles) structured by the growing awareness of the “Bessarabian question” within the Romanian national narrative. The slow emergence of an articulate public sphere in Bessarabia (which only crystallized in the early 20th century), the multiethnic character of the province, as well as the relative insignificance of the educated strata at the local level partly explain this situation. This presentation will briefly review the transition from externally generated (Russian and Romanian) visions of the nation and their reception in Bessarabia to the increasing political mobilization of the early 20th century, resulting in local expressions of and reflections on the “nation” and its defining features. The “language of the nation” became gradually more refined, when “pan-Romanian,” “regionalist,” and even (quasi-) “Moldovanist” identity projects were put forward by nationally minded intellectuals or some representatives of the authorities. However, this vocabulary remained marginal and confined to a small minority of national activists, without altering or actually subverting the hegemonic imperial discourse. The situation changed dramatically only during World War I, when “nation” became a heavily loaded and symbolically relevant concept for expanding layers of the local population, while Bessarabia could be imagined (at least theoretically) as a prospective “nation-state.” However, the rapid and explosive “nationalization” of the public sphere in 1917–18 did not fully prepare Bessarabian society for the nationalizing policies pursued in Greater Romania. “Nation” still remained, to a large extent, an unclear, elusive, and contested concept in interwar Romanian Bessarabia.