A Short History of Bukovina

Ancient and medieval times: The region between the northern Carpathian mountains and the rivers Prut and Siret was populated in antiquity by the tribes of the free Dacians, after the Roman conquest of Dacia in 105. The territory became the entrance for the nomadic tribes in Europe, beginning with the Huns and ending with the Mongol hoards. In the Middle ages, the region was the birthplace of Moldavia – one of the three medieval Romanian states, which gained its independence from the Hungarian kingdom in 1359. The first 3 capital cities were placed in the region: Baia, Siret and Suceava, the first fortresses and monasteries were built. The top development in the medieval times was reached in the XV and XVI centuries, during the reigns of “Stefan cel mare”(1457-1504) and his son “Petru Rares”(1527-1538;1541-1546) when the Suceava fortress was extended and Putna, Voronet, Moldovita and Probota monasteries were build. The region’s importance declined after the country’s capital was moved to Iasi, in 1564, and quickly fell into decay after Suceava fortress was destroyed in 1675. 

Modern times(the Austrian period): The north-west part of the medieval principality of Moldavia was occupied in 1775 by the Austrian troops, who renamed the region “Bukowina”, which means “the beech land”. The new Austrian province was one of the most important parts of old Moldavia, because it included the former country’s capital, Suceava and concentrating many rich monasteries such as Putna, Dragomirna, Sucevita and on. The Austrians colonized the region with other eastern-European nations, to decrease the Romanian population and to optimize imperial control over the province. Therefore many Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Slovaks, Hungarians and Jews settled in Bukovina, creating new rural communities and towns. Eventually, until 1918 when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire collapsed, Bucovina became a multi linguistic place with a great variety of cultures and traditions, where nations learned to cohabited in peace. In metaphorical terms Bukovina became “a miniature Europe”. During the Austrian occupation, the province was modernized: railroads and factories were built, and the cultural domain flourished: the first public university was opened in 1875 at Cernauti(now Chernivtsi) and the old historic monuments were restored.

 Interwar period and WWII: Due to the defeat of the German and Austrian-Hungarian empires in World War I(11 nov. 1918) the Duchy of Bukovina is united with the Kingdom of Romania on 28 nov.1918. The old Austrian province was split into 5 counties(“judete”) and the Romanians became once more the predominant nation in Bukovina. Although Romanian was now the official language the other nationalities kept their cultural identity. Many Germans immigrated in that period to the United States and in contrast the Jewish community increased.

At the beginning of World War II Bukovina was split in two, due to Soviet demands, the northern part being incorporated in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. During the soviet occupations many Romanians who lived in the northern part of Bukovina were deported in Siberia and many others were killed(around 36.000 people). After the German offensive over the Soviet Union began, the lost territory was regained by Romania, but then lost again definitely in 1944. The Soviet occupation in the mid 40s still marks a dark moment in the Romanian history.  

Postwar: After the Second World War the two parts of Bukovina lost more and more of the old cultural unity, and after a couple of decades the northern part became Ukrainian and the southern Romanian, the other minorities immigrating in time.

Today the Northern Bukovina is included in the Chernivtsi oblast in south west Ukraine, and the southern part in the Suceava county(judet) in north-east Romania. Despite the political segregation, the region still owns one of the most valuable cultural monuments and breath taking landscapes, things that I will present in the next article.

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