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Andreas Menn, Konstruktion von Nation und Staat in Osteuropa: Transnistrien und die Republik Moldau [Construction of nation and state in Eastern Europe: Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova].

Andreas Menn, Konstruktion von Nation und Staat in Osteuropa: Transnistrien und die Republik Moldau [Construction of nation and state in Eastern Europe: Transnistria and the Republic of Moldova], Saarbriicken, Vdm Verlag Dr. Muller, 2008, ISBN 3836459221 (pbk), 112 pp

The recent events in Georgia and the repercussions thereof in world politics have shifted attention to Russia and its near abroad where several cases of unstable states and separatist conflicts were created by the break-up of the Soviet Union. Right at the border of the recently enlarged European Union is the case of Moldova and the self-declared Transnistrian Moldavian Republic that lies within Moldova's internationally recognised boundaries. Both the internationally recognised state and the de facto independent Transnistria are rather new constructs in terms of nation-building and state-building and their mere existence continues to surprise many analysts and decision makers.

Andreas Menn's Konstruktion von Nation und Staat in Osteuropa: Transnistrien und die Republik Moldau sets out to trace the construction of the two entities of Moldova and Transnistria throughout history and it does just that. After justifying the need for his research and clearing up the most important terminology, he summarises both Western and Eastern European approaches to explaining nation-building and nationalism. He then opts to employ a synergy of them, or rather to use different theories to explain different aspects of the nation- and state-building in Moldova and Transnistria. Through combining other author's insights into one thorough historical study, critically analysed through various theoretical lenses, Menn sheds some light on the complex cases of Moldova and Transnistria:

Both Moldova proper and Transnistria are ethnically heterogeneous and with a history of foreign rule by diverse empires and states. The question of a Moldovan nation has only seriously been posed in the last hundred years and the concept of a Transnistrian nation is an invention of the early 1990s. Both, therefore, missed the earlier waves of nationalism which created nation-states such as Germany, France or Poland. As Menn correctly notes, this was due to a late completion of the prerequisites for national identity formation--communication and social mobility--set out in the modernisation-based school of thought (p.91).

All of Moldova and Transnistria were part of the Russian empire. Western Moldova (Bessarabia) declared independence in 1918, but then allowed itself to be absorbed by Romania (p. 36). Transnistria had never been part of historic Moldova, but rather belonged to Ukraine. Mere political calculation by Moscow brought the two together under Soviet rule when Moscow decided to carve out a separate Moldovan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (MASSR) from Ukrainian territory, including present-day Transnistria in order to reclaim "the rest" of Moldova from Romania. When Romania lost Bessarabia in the Second World War, Moscow integrated it with the Transnistrian portion of the MASSR to form the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR).

In both the MASSR and the MSSR the Soviet Union chose to artificially exaggerate the differences between Moldovans and Romanians in terms of language, culture and history in order to prevent future Romanian claims of the territory. This ran contrary to Soviet nationality policies elsewhere, as local identities were usually suppressed rather than encouraged. However, Moscow was never fully committed to the project of the Moldovan nation which was thus encouraged and suppressed at different times or even simultaneously. Adding the parallel creation of the supranational homo sovieticus and the de facto preference of Russian elites to this equation, it is no wonder that many Moldovans until today wonder where they belong and who they are.

During perestroika and the break-up of the Soviet Union the Moldovan Popular front, assisted by modern communications and media and a now much better educated public, managed to reach a temporary consensus, mostly in Bessarabia, that lead to the declaration of independence. Transnistria, fearing the loss of its traditional dominance and a reunification of Moldova with Romania, also declared independence, heavily relying on Russian support for its cause in the resulting conflict with Moldova proper. The expected reunification, however, never came despite Romanian efforts in that direction and the debate between "Moldovanists" and "Romanianists" continues ever since.

In both Moldova and Transnistria the processes of state-building and nation-building are running in parallel (p. 90), though there are specific peculiarities to each case. Menn correctly identifies present-day Moldova as a polyethnic state where both ethnicity and citizenship count rather than a traditional nation-state. In Transnistria, however, a separate identity based mainly on citizenship of a constructed common regional homeland has come into being and the leadership has arguably been somewhat more successful at nation-building (p. 81).

At the end of his book, Menn concludes that everything is still possible in Moldova and Transnistria, as the identities that are forming there are not yet fixed. A key factor will of course be Russia, who can either escalate the Transnistria conflict like in the Georgian case or allow for a reintegration of Transnistria into Moldova which would then lead to another phase of joint nation- and state-building.

The reviewer shares Menn's opinion that there is much scope for further research into Moldovan and Transnistrian statehood and the Transnistria conflict. A fuller understanding of the realities in Russia's near abroad can only help Western decision makers to make well informed decisions and avoid another Cold War. Menn's book, however, already represents an excellent starting point for those wishing to understand the history of the creation of present Moldova and Transnistria.

Unfortunate is the relatively high price of this publication, which might limit its reach to those most devoted to the subject who tend to already have a relatively good understanding of the issues covered by Menn. Hopefully, however, the book will be read widely enough in decision-making circles which are often dominated by generalisations and false assumptions about Moldova and Transnistria.

Florian Kuchler,

The German Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen Romania
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Author:Kuchler, Florian
Publication:CEU Political Science Journal
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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