Borderlines and nation-building: Bukowina 1848 to 1947



The current drawing up of (internal and external) frontiers on the territory of the
Bukowina is the result of the idea of the nation state in the 19th century. The external borders
of the former Austrian crown land emerged when this territory still was in a pre-national
period. They were exclusively based on political and strategic considerations. State concepts
fraught with national ideas, although the Habsburg Empire tried to avoid them right to its
disintegration, began to gradually split the cultural landscape. It developed in more than 100
years of political and social continuity. There was a deliberate attempt to repress the grown
regional identity by restructuring borders. Even the Soviet Union, which claimed to be
supranational, was not able to emerge fully from the shadow of the Russian Empire. In the
end, in this case too, national ‘liberation claims’ were the driving force behind territorial
In the area of Upper Moldavia the longue durée of political structures has remained
particularly obvious to this day, even though the appearance has radically changed. First, the
Habsburg and Russian Empires filled the power vacuum of political instability left by the
Ottoman Empire. Both tried to consolidate the territory in different ways by exercising the
power of a centralised state and to offer a new structure. Finally, the development of a
regional identity, which had started in the late 19th century, in the course of the radicalisation
of national claims during World War I, turned out to be too weak to act as a sufficient
counterbalance to the latter.
For both Ukraine and Romania, the striving for national union and demarcation has been a
constant and dominant factor to this day. The repeated major revisions of the frontiers of the
Bukowina in the first half of the 20th century are the result of this. The artificial dividing lines
between the ethnic groups, which were drawn up on the basis of the nation state ideology,
became manifest in the changing territorial structure of the Bukowina after 1918.
At the moment, it is unforeseeable whether in view of this situation the historical Bukowina
will be able to develop a common regional identity beyond national claims, which is supported
by a majority (for instance in the Euro region Upper Pruth). Moreover, this will to a large
extent depends on future European integration. Projecting national ideas of the 19th century
and at the same time establishing programmatic guidelines for the future, as Ion Nistor did, is
obviously not in the interest of a European spirit. It tries to overcome the nation state idea with
its frontiers und promote identities that are linked to a cultural landscape.
The Bukowina is certainly a Europe en miniature in both the positive and the negative
sense. The overcoming of the political nation state concept in this peripheral area of Europe
thus might become an indicator of the seriousness of a new supranational Europe. The
following probably applies to the cultural landscape of the Bukowina more than to any other
European region: “Territory is not; it becomes, for territory itself is passive, and it is human
beliefs and actions that give territory meaning.”


Bukowina, borderline, nation-building.

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