Due to its history and particular geographical position, which over time has known the peaceful coexistence of several ethnic groups over time, Bukovina is a region of cultural interference located, according to the German researcher Erich Beck, “between the East and the West”.
Bukovina’s geopolitical destiny
Due to its geographic, cultural, and geopolitical diversity, as well as the frequent change of dominant political nation, this region’s historical and cultural destiny is unique. Bukovina is geographically located in Eastern Europe. From a cultural point of view, due to its inclusion in the Austrian (Austro-Hungarian) state, this region was part of the Central European culture area between 1775-1918. Belonging to the Central European cultural area facilitated the introduction and consolidation of German culture in Buchenland (the “Land of the Beeches”). This extensive and complex process was primarily carried out by German and Jewish Kulturträgers (“bearers of culture”), who spoke German or Yiddish. From a geopolitical point of view, Bukovina was a region in the Middle Ages located at the crossroads of the zones of influence of Hungary, Poland and the Ottoman Empire. Starting with the 18th century, Bukovina came under the influence of three empires: Ottoman, Austrian and Russian. This region has not been able to establish a real political identity over time, being successively part of medieval Moldavia (second part of the 14th century – 1774), of the Austrian Empire (1774 / 1775-1918) and of the Kingdom of Romania (1918-1940; 1941-1944). The north of this province was part of the Soviet Union (1940-1941; 1944-1991). Currently, the historical province of Bukovina is divided into two parts, with the south included in Suceava County (8,555 km2) in Romania, and the north being integrated, since 1991, in the Chernivtsi Region (8,100 km2) in Ukraine.
Historical evolution. This territory was the core around which the mediaeval state of Moldova was formed in the second half of the 14th century, but it was also the region where an active spiritual life took place and concentrated some famous monasteries (Putna, Moldoviţa, Suceviţa, Voroneţ, Arbore, Solca, Dragomirna, and so on). Due to the foundation of Moldavia’s capital in Suceava (since 1387) and the articulation of a network of national and international commerce routes and defence sites, the northern half of the country has witnessed substantial economic development (the towns of Suceava and Hotin).
Byzantine tradition and influences from Western Europe materialized in the splendid monuments of medieval architecture, most of them built in the 15th-16th centuries thanks to the financial contribution of the Moldavian lords and boyars and to the effort of the people of the country. The relocation of the capital to Iasi (1564) had negative consequences on the social and economic development of the northern part of Moldavia and, in particular, on the pace of development of Suceava. Towards the end of the 18th century, the life of the people of Bukovina unfolded in the patterns of a delayed patriarchal feudalism, in a society marked by the presence of rather rigid institutions: the Kingdom and the Church, fully feeling the negative effects of the conflicts between the High Porte and the Kingdom of Poland or Russia.
From 1774-1775, when the Ottoman Empire ceded several counties in the northern part of Moldavia to the Habsburg Empire following the peace of Kuciuk-Kainargi, the population of the annexed area gradually turned towards modernity. The Austrian Empire (Austro-Hungarian since 1867) ruled this territory (10,500 km2, about the 60th part of the empire’s surface) until 1918. Many mutations occurred in Bukovina during this time, contributing to the province’s demographic physiognomy, economic, political, ethnic, and cultural characteristics, giving it a distinct status in comparison to neighbouring regions. Because of these transformations, Bukovina became known as the “Switzerland” of Eastern Europe in the minds of the educated public, and the capital of the province, Chernivtsi, acquired the particularly flattering title of “Little Vienna”.
Ethno-demographic aspects. In the period leading to the annexation of the Habsburg Empire, the population of Bukovina was small. The censuses carried out by the military administration of the Russian occupation in 1772-1773 and 1774 recorded a population of about 80,000 inhabitants in Bukovina, grouped into 266 localities and 3 fairs. From the point of view of the ethnic structure, based on the onomastics analysis of the registered inhabitants, approximately two-thirds of the total population were Romanians, one-quarter were Ukrainians, as well as gipsies (more than three per cent), Jews (less than three per cent), Russians (just over one per cent), Poles (around 0.5 per cent), and a few German families. During the first decades of Habsburg rule, the population of Bukovina grew exponentially due to organised settlements, exploited by the Austrians mainly for economic reasons, as well as due to spontaneous colonisation, with many people voluntarily settling in Bukovina due to better living conditions as compared to their place of origin. The last Austrian census (1910) counted 798,355 inhabitants, including 34.24% Romanians, 38.22% Ukrainians, 9.15% Germans, 12% Jews, 4.54% Poles, and 1.85% “of other nationalities”. According to this census, the Romanians predominated in the south while Ukrainians were the majority in the north of Bukovina.
Bukovina’s orientation toward the economic, cultural, and civilizational forms of Central Europe was primarily achieved through the contributions of Germans and Jews. The first German colonies of Bukovina (those of Prelipcea and Sadagura) were established prior to Bukovina’s annexation to the Austrian state (1770-1774). German settlers were mainly farmers and artisans. As a result of their hard work, Bukovina has experienced significant economic development, nearly reaching Central Europe’s standards of welfare and living.
Jews came to Bukovina during the Russo-Turkish War, which ended with the peace of Kuciuk Kainargi, mainly engaged in crafts, rentals, and trade. Their emigration to Bukovina from Galicia and Poland increased after 1774. In 1912, Bukovina had 9,322 artisans, of whom 5,091 were Jews, and 10,312 merchants, of whom 8,642 were Jews. Because of their practical and daring spirit, Jews will come to dominate practically all aspects of economic life in Bukovina by the end of the nineteenth century, becoming zealous carriers of German culture and civilization in these lands. Poles, Armenians, Hungarians, Slovaks, Lipovans, Hutsuls and Ukrainians were also colonised in Bukovina in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the latter being particularly noteworthy. The emigration of thousands of Ukrainians from neighbouring Galicia in the 18th and 19th centuries had complex motivations. These motivations were economic (in Bukovina they spent 12 days a year, compared to 80-100 days in Galicia), military (settlers and immigrants arriving in Bukovina were relieved of military service for the rest of their lives) and religious (being most of them Orthodox, Ukrainians were moving to a traditionally Orthodox region). The Bukovinian boyars encouraged and facilitated the settlement of low-wage and unpretentious labour on their estates.
Nowadays, the number of the German population in Bukovina has decreased considerably, mainly due to emigration to Germany (before or after the last world war). A similar phenomenon occurred among the Jewish population, with many Jews being deported during the war or “emigrating” to Israel after the end of the conflagration, with the phenomenon occurring in both southern and northern Bukovina.
After the war, a large part of the Romanians from northern Bukovina was deported to Siberia, bringing thousands of USSR “specialists” to the region, a phenomenon that radically influenced the ethnic image of the province. According to the 2001 census, in the northern part of Bukovina, the country of Herta and part of northern Bessarabia (constituent territories of the Chernivtsi region), lived about 919,000 inhabitants, of which 75% were Ukrainians, Romanians representing 19.8% and Russians, Germans and other ethnic groups nearly 5.3%.
Certain changes in ethnic structure were also recorded in Suceava County. According to the population and housing census of March 18, 2002, more than 688 thousand inhabitants lived in Suceava County, Romanians having the absolute share (almost 663 thousand people). This census recorded a significant number of ethnic Ukrainians (8,514), Roma (9,186), Poles (2,609), Lipovan Russians (2,543) and Germans (1,773).
The cultural-political phenomenon. Bukovina’s political life, like that of the Austrian Empire as a whole, was based on the difficult “Ausgleich” (compromise) between the Empire’s various ethnic groups. In comparison to the surrounding regions, Bukovina was a true oasis of civilised political life. Bukovina’s ethnic groups manifested themselves in national-cultural societies as well as political formations based on supranational or intra-ethnic criteria under both Austrian and Romanian administrations.
According to the researchers’ quasi-general opinion, Bukovina during the Austrian administration (1775-1918) was a shining example of interethnic collaboration. Following World War II, the famous expression homo bucovinensis was relaunched as a prototype of the tolerant individual who speaks at least two languages and adheres to a model of peaceful interethnic coexistence. It is worth noting that in historical Bukovina, 11 ethnic groups practised 9 religious beliefs over time.
According to Emmanuel Turczynski, a well-known German historian and Bukovina specialist, the province had an “ideological consensus” based on “a widely disseminated identification of Bukovinians with the characteristics of the region, a well-established legal system, tolerance and cultural progress, where fidelity to these values did not mean disloyalty to one’s own ethnic or religious community.” Scholars have compared interethnic collaboration in Bukovina to situations in Tyrol and Cyprus, with the Bukovina “model” proving superior.
From a cultural point of view, Bukovina is still considered a worthy example for Europe, with the city of Chernivtsi being named “the last Alexandria in Europe” by Zbigniew Herbert in 1997. Chernivtsi was the city where German, Jewish (in German or Yiddish), Romanian, Polish, or Ukrainian culture flourished, even during the Romanian administration of the interwar period; it was the city adored by the famous Bukovinian poet Paul Celan (who wrote in Romanian at first), Rose Ausländer, Alfred Margul-Sperber, and Vasile Posteuca.
The Stefan cel Mare University of Suceava supports professionals from two faculties on its staff in the process of maintaining, enhancing, and amplifying Bukovina’s cultural traditions: the Faculty of History and Geography and the Faculty of Letters and Communication Sciences. At the same time, our university maintains a strong collaboration with Chernivtsi’s “Yurii Fedkovici” National University and is a constant participant in county government initiatives to capitalize Bukovianian interethnic and interfaith cooperation traditions. This fact places the Ştefan cel Mare University of Suceava in a position of active support for initiatives to anchor Romania in united Europe.