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


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

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.

"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, Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania


"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, Professor of International Affairs and Government, Georgetown University

348 pages, 2017

978-963-386-159-2 cloth

$65.00 / €60.00 / £52.00

ISSN 2306-3637 Historical Studies in Eastern Europe and Eurasia