A Sweet History in Bitter Times: Refining Sugar in the Transnistrian Borderlands (1898-2015)

Alexandru Lesanu

Advisor: Steve Barnes, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: T. Mills Kelly, Paula Petrik

Johnson Center, D
November 03, 2015, 03:00 PM to 01:00 PM


My dissertation A Sweet History in Bitter Times: Refining Sugar in the Transnistrian Borderlands (1898-2015) traces the ground-level impacts that repeated changes of borders and political regimes had on social, economic, and technological conditions at the Rybnitsa Sugar Factory in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova. This carefully chosen location offers a different kind of transnational history. From its founding in 1898, the Rybnitsa Sugar Factory never moved, but found itself consecutively subject to the authority of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union’s Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the World War II Romanian occupation regime, the post-war Soviet Union’s Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, and today’s contested Transnistrian region in the independent Republic of Moldova.

The seemingly inconsequential town of Rybnitsa experienced and was shaped by the key events of twentieth-century European history, revealing in great complexity the impacts of two World Wars, the Soviet attempt to build a “socialist” state, the Cold War, and the post-Soviet “transition” to a market economy. My study also recovers the lives of factory personnel who were far from passive witnesses to the frequent border changes. Factory management and employees both influenced and were influenced by each successive socio-political and economic regime. To sum up, my dissertation draws on a case study in order to show how a small East-European borderland community negotiated its place through the major events of the twentieth century.