Andrei Cusco: Russians, Romanians… or Neither? Mobilization of Ethnicity and ‘National Indifference’ in Early 20th-Century Bessarabia

This paper discusses the various forms of resistance to and / or non-involvement in strategies of national mobilisation in early-20th century Bessarabia. The region was the object of rival claims to inclusion in the Russian imperial and Romanian national space, with each of the two alternative ‘centres’ competing for the loyalty of the local population. However, the extent to which the Bessarabian population responded to these signals and messages was rather limited, at best. The presentation will specifically focus on three groups that, while the most politically active on the local level, were also reluctant to react to nationalist discourses and visions generated at the ‘centre’: the majority of the Bessarabian intelligentsia, which was thoroughly integrated into the imperial system; the politically conscious members of the local clergy, some of whom created a peculiar version of local ‘patriotism’ explicitly opposed to modern nationalist propaganda; and the local nobility, which viewed its political role in terms of dynastic loyalty and conservative social values. Furthermore, the attempts to attract the local Romanian-speaking peasantry to Russian monarchist and right-wing organisations, which succeeded to a much greater extent than the similar efforts of nationalist activists will be discussed. This points, on the one hand, to the ambiguity and uncertainty of the local population’s self-identification, and, on the other hand, to the multiple forms that ‘national indifference’ could take in the Russian borderlands before World War I.

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