Pontes. Review of South East European Studies, vol. 1/2004 [printed 2007].
Editors: Emil Dragnev, Virgil Pâslariuc, Igor Caşu, Chisninau: Moldova State University. UNESCO Chair of South East European Studies. ISSN 1812-333.

 

Area studies periodically find themselves exposed to two different but often related forms of critique: the accusation of essentializing their object of study is often paired with that of lagging behind the current discussions of the particular disciplines. The publishing of a new journal for South-Eastern European Studies, thus, seems to go against the general trend of refraining from area-oriented periodicals in favor of a methodologically and conceptually more specified approach. The changing academic landscape in South-Eastern Europe with its growing number of specialized periodicals in the social sciences is no exception here. The thriving editorial activity in this region is, however, characterized by the paradoxical circumstance that the recent diversification of social sciences is only insufficiently paralleled by corresponding interdisciplinary structures; it is still hard to learn about the current research done in other institutions or adjacent disciplines from the neighboring countries, and sometimes even within the respective country. This is information that many researchers from South-Eastern Europe still have to “acquire by detour” via Western periodicals and other academic platforms - vehicles of discourse which remain underdeveloped or hardly accessible in their own countries.
Establishing this missing link and enabling communication across the discursive context of separate disciplines is precisely what I consider the forte of area-oriented periodicals, despite their often criticized lack of coherence and methodical foundation. Communication is all the more necessary for historical science in the Republic of Moldova which, in correspondence with the general development of the country, is still stalled by its political compliance and the constraints of deplorable working conditions.

The recently established journal Pontes (the second issue of which will appear soon) is institutionally backed by the “UNESCO Chair of South East European Studies” founded in 1998 at the Moldova State University of Chişinau. The journal is edited by Emil Dragnev and Virgil Pâslariuc, specialists in medieval history, and Igor Caşu, a specialist in modern and contemporary history. Endorsing the traditionally wide spectrum of “South-Eastern European Studies-Journals” such as Balcanica (Belgrade), Balkan Studies (Thessaloniki), Études balkaniques (Sofia), or Revue des Études sud-est europénnes (Bucharest), Pontes adopts a multidisciplinary and avowedly supra-national approach, as its title suggests. By situating national history within a regional context, the editors seek to reestablish a tradition of regional history that would live up to Moldova’s recently “acknowledged identity as a South East European country, even though its post-Soviet identity is still the most visible one” (Foreword, 5). Guided by this conviction, the first issue also includes two reports by Igor Caşu and Emil Dragnev, who give a general overview of the development and institutional status of South-Eastern European Studies in Moldova (Emil Dragnev, Moldavian Historiography on South East European Studies, 163-165 and Igor Casu, South East European History in Moldavian Universities, 166-168). Despite being somewhat enumerative, both reports offer informative accounts of the recent readjustments made within the cultural and political framework in Moldova following its independence in 1991. According to both accounts, the highly controversial retrieval of Romanian history (“History of the Romanians” as the allegedly consensual formula) as the more or less official guideline of history after 1991 subsequently led to a reinvigoration of South-Eastern European ties while simultaneously weakening the previously dominant Soviet bond. While the journal pays a moderate but still perceptible allegiance to the re-enforced Romanianist geopolitical view, one can only hope that it will not fall into the exclusionist trap of symbolic geography which has so often subordinated historical science to political decision-making.

As Pontes is the first historical journal with a broader international orientation to appear in independent Moldova, it is instructive to browse through its contents in more detail. With contributions in English, French, Russian, Romanian, and German, the first section of the journal (which makes up more than three quarters of the volume) is reserved for research articles. Its smaller review section is comprised of “review essays” and “reviews” in the sense of shorter bibliographical notes.
The articles are roughly arranged in chronological order with considerable focus given to medieval and early modern topics, covering the period between Byzantine ruleto the beginning of the 19th century. This section includes a general introductory essay by Răzvan Theodorescu (Geneze statale şi geneze artistice medievale în Sud-Estul European [The genesis of states and the genesis of arts in South-Eastern Europe], 9-19), two examinations of manuscripts by Emil Dragnev (Iconografia frontispiciilor grupului de manuscrise Parisinus Graecus 74 [The iconography of frontispieces of the manuscript group Parisinus Graecus74], 34-41) and Valentina Pelin (Aspects inédits dans les manuscripts de Gavriil Uric, 42-46), as well as an outline of Armenian trade-history by Valentin Arapu (Contribuţia negustorilor armeni la raporturile economice dintre Ţara Moldovei şi Reczpospolita Polska în a doua jumătate a secolului al XVIII-lea [The contribution of Armenian tradesmen to the economic relation between Moldova and Poland in the second half of the 18th century], 64-71). Particularly noteworthy are Emil Dragnev and Virgil Pâslariuc’s study on one of the most remarkable measures of Byzantine body politics and its symbolic range (La rhinocopie et la lutte pour la succession au thrône à Byzance et dans les Pays Roumaines au Moyen Âge, 20-33), as well as an extensive article by Ion Gumenâi on the Moldovan-Polish border town and prominent “lieux de mémoire” Hotin (The See of Hotin, 47-63). Constantin Ungureanu’s article, a summary of his highly interesting dissertation on demographical aspects of the Austrian Bucovina, is, unfortunately, hardly comprehensible due to its faulty translation (Bevölkerung der Bukowina an Ende der 18. Jahrhundert – erste Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts [sic!], 71-86).
In the contributions dealing with the 19th century onwards, the focus shifts towards the wide area of nationalism and nation-building. Given the controversy surrounding these topics, one cannot expect a consistent discourse. Nevertheless, the reader is confronted with a inspiring panoply of approaches and outlooks on “nation”, “ethnicity” and related issues.
With the exception of Silviu Andrieş-Tabac’s brief account of archival history (Архивные фонды переданные из Кишинева в Измаил. Учреждения российского периода (1812-1917гг.) [Archival fonds that were moved from Kishinev to Ismail relating to the institutions of the Russian period (1812-1917)], 94-114), the bulk of the articles on modern history center on minority politics and institutional development. While Cătălin Turliuc adopts a theoretical and comparative perspective in his thought-provoking essay on Nationalism and the Modern State Building (87-93), Natalia Timuş’s Europa de Sud-Est: „Gaura neagră a Europei“? [South-Eastern Europe: Europe’s black hole?] (125-132) focuses on the efforts made within the last decade to confront the region’s negative image. Octavian Ţâcu’s historic account deals with Bessarabia’s difficult position between Romanian nationalism and Soviet claims in the interwar period and puts forward a quite debatable assumption as suggested by the title (Basarabia în cadrul României întregite – consecinţele unei incertitudini de politică externă [Basarabia in the framework of integral Romania - the consequences of an uncertainty in external politics], 115-120). A stronger focus on minority issues is taken by Lilia Crudu in her particularly descriptive article Russian Minority in Moldova before and after 1989: a comparison (121-124). Igor Caşu also makes ethnic minorities the focus of his critical discussion of federalization as a means of solving the ethno-political problems of present-state Moldova (Identitate etnonaţională, minorităţi şi federalism [Ethno-National Identity, Minorities and Federalism], 133-140). Finally, William Crowther and Yuti Josanu’s contribution, which is a revised version of a previously published article, provides a critical and sweeping account of the political power-play since Moldovan independence [Political Institutionalization in post-Soviet Republic of Moldova, 141-162].

As one can gather from this brief overview, the volume is extremely heterogeneous. Other than the geographical point of reference, there appears to be little commonality in the respective objects of investigation. As previously mentioned, the risk of contents to “fray out” is inherent in such publications without a coherent topic. In the case of Pontes, this is aggravated bydifficult conditions of production and a lengthy editing-process (see e.g. the review section which includes books dating back to 1993). A stronger thematic coherence in future volumes would certainly help the reader to distinguish investigative focal points, thereby limiting the risk of conceptual fragmentation.
Given the sheer number and variety of designs of the contributions, it is difficult to evaluate the journal’s first issue in its entirety. What is to be stressed is the important role it can potentially play for Moldovan historiography (and the northern Black Sea region in general) in providing young scholars with an opportunity to publish and communicate beyond existing discursive trenches. Unfortunately, the remarkable effort of the editors is somewhat curtailed by careless editing: a plethora of typographic errors, inconsistent transcriptions, bad proof-reading, and even worse translations render some texts almost unreadable and make for an outer appearance that remains below the journal’s professional claim.

To put together a comparative scientific journal with the task of transcending the numerous cleavages and fragilities of the Moldovan national project by placing it within the broader South-East European framework is a remarkable achievement. Given Moldova’s worsening political and economic situation, Pontes could indeed be an important step towards surmounting Moldova’s scientific destitution and self-isolation.
Unfortunately, as with many other ambitious and noteworthy publications in Eastern Europe after 1989, the journal is still widely unknown (its limited distribution is confirmed when browsing through the library catalogues). This ultimately points to a notorious problem: in countries with essentially no proper system of book distribution such as Moldova, the only way for researchers to get the books they need is through a lengthy and tedious process of inquiry and/or through personal acquaintance. An online publication might provide a way for escaping the impasse of anonymity and should therefore be seriously considered by the editors of Pontes.

 

Reviewed by Konrad Petrovszky (Berlin)
Email: petrovsz@zedat.fu-berlin.de


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60 Alexe Mateevici St
MD-2009
Republic of Moldova

tel/fax: +373-22577598
e-mail: unesco@usm.md

 

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