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CHAPTER I

THE PRAIRIES

If we imagine Nebraska transported bodily, climate and all, and set down on the Gulf of Mexico, between the Mississippi and the Alabama Rivers, we shall have some idea of the appearance and the relative location of Bessarabia, with its frontage on the Black Sea, between the Danube and the Dniester. If we further visualize a welter of nationalities all about, of different languages and religions, who have trekked and warred over this tract of land since the beginnings of history, we can in some measure conceive what Bessarabia's fate has been through the centuries. It lay directly in the path of the great migrations of Scythians, Goths, Vandals, Slavs, Huns, Bulgars, and Tartars-to name only the most important of the tribes who have plundered its prairies; rarely has it long enjoyed a settled government. To this day it keeps a frontier air. An American from one of our western wheat or plains states, driving over dirt roads across the Bessarabian steppes, feels perfectly at home, until a group of picturesque wind-mills, indication of the village hidden in the wide coulee below, recalls to him that he is in a foreign land. And how foreign, he soon learns. I have driven out from a Bessarabian city, largely Jewish and Roumanian; within an hour listened to a French Protestant pastor addressing his flock, descendants of Swiss settlers; in another hour, discussed crop prospects with Germans; then stopped in a village partly Bulgarian, partly Russian; and then attended the laying of the corner-stone of a school in a purely Russian village. In other excursions, I have passed for hours through districts solidly Roumanian; and up in the north I have been in villages partly Ukrainian, partly Polish. Bessarabia, like most European bones of contention, is a synthesis of her own history; nor can we understand her present problems without a glance at that history.

Bessarabia is a country of rich rolling plains, with good natural boundaries-the Danube, the Black Sea, the Dniester and the Pruth. It comprises about 16,000 square miles-leas than Vermont and New Hampshire together; but its population, some 2.,800,000, is 31/2 times as great. It lacks the mountains which frame the landscape in the other Roumanian provinces; but in the northern part we have the last out-runners of the subCarpathian hills, so characteristic of the rest of Moldavia and of the Bucovina. They fade away into the Podolian Plateau, part of which is made Bessarabian by the winding course of the Dniester, and becomes the so-called Moldavian Plateau. This slopes off toward the south, its rolling hills and deep coulees gradually disappearing, until it merges into the level plain of the Budjak along the Black Sea, as flat as the Red River Valley.

Some of the northern and central hills reach a height of 1500 feet: a few are strikingly pyramidal in shape, but most have been carved into highly irregular form, and drop off almost precipitously into the water-courses. One of the great surprises of the traveler in Bessarabia is the terrific gradients which his automobile has to negotiate every few miles, in a country which he at first judges to be gently rolling prairie. The foundation of these hills is the Sarmatian calcareous and argillaceous rocks which underlie all this region, and they run in general from the northwest to the southeast; but there is one range which starts in Moldavia, at the Keys of Barlad, rises near Jassy into Mt. Repedea, crosses the Pruth in a northeasterly direction, and reaches respectable elevations in the heights of Magura, the Byk Forest (Codru Bacului), and the hills south of the lakes into which the Raut empties. In the county of Baltz and the western part of Orhei, there is a deep depression in the plateau, the Middle Pruth region, into which the steppe vegetation of the Budjak runs far to the northward

There are only two water-courses of any importance in Bessarabia, the Dniester, which forms its eastern boundary, and the Pruth, which separated it from the rest of Moldavia under the Russian regime. The Dniester is navigable, at least for barges, for its entire Bessarabian course; but although mixed Russian-Roumanian Boundary Commissions have held sessions every few weeks the past three yearsa, it has not yet been possible to agree upon traffic regulations, and navigation is still suspended-a great drawback both for Bessarabia and the new Moldavian Soviet Republic. The Pruth is gradually recovering its former usefulness; under the Russians much grain went down the Pruth to the Danube. Along the Black Sea we find the same "slews" and lakes which are so characteristic of our own western prairies; some are altogether detached, while some connect with the Dniester or the sea; and all are full of fish, which constitute one of the chief resources of southern Bessarabia. Malaria is a plague throughout this swampy region. But Bessarabia is not inherently an unhealthy country. Typhus, which was scourge during the war, is now of rare occurrence; it is of interest to record that a Bessarabian scholar, Dr. N. Petroff of Bender (Tighina), first succeeded in isolating the typhus germ, as he demonstrated before the Jassy Medical Society .on Nov. 14, 1926.

a See p. 273

The northern part of Bessarabia was already rising from the sea in Silurian times; the Cretaceous deposits which lie on top consist of more or less disintegrated sandstone, with occasional banks of chalk or marl with fossils like Belemnitela mucronata. The Moldavian Plateau is of the Sarmatian formation, with lamellibranch fossils; above come Maeotian and then Pontic deposits, the latter with fossil remains of elephants. Over all lies the loess; and since the quaternary glaciers did not extend so far south, and the sea ran far inland, we find salt deposits nearly 50 miles from the coast. The loess in turn is covered by the famous cernozeum-the black earth (chornaya zemlya) of the Ukraine, a vegetable deposit as rich as the Illinois or Alabama black lands. This grows clayey up around Hotin; and as one goes south, this black earth thins out, and changes into the chestnut or red earth characteristic of the Budjak, and much like that of Virginia and the Carolinas.

Bessarabia has two climatic areas, that of the coast and of the interior. We have temperature records for Kishineff covering half a century; the average is almost exactly the same as for Vienna and Geneva-9.65 C. ( = just under 50 F ) . December is the coldest month, with average temperature of just under 35 F.; July the hottest, averaging 71, and sometimes reaching 110 in the shade. Bessarabians are apt to say that they have only two seasons, winter and summer; and it is true that the average for Map is about 12 higher than for April. The first killing frost comes about the middle of October. The year averages 102 days with frost; -22 F. has been recorded in Kishineff. The average number of rainy days is 96 a pear, May and June reaching 11 each, and September falling to 5.7, the lowest; but one can hardly speak of an average, the seasons vary so enormously.

Droughts, especially in the south, are frequent; there was a bad one in 1921, and in 1922 the crop of Indian corn was a partial failure; the drought of 1924 was so serious that 1,750,000 acres of grain failed of a crop, with a loss of over a billion lei, according to the official statement of the Kishineff Statistical Bureau, under date of June 20, 1925. The year 1925 opened well, and when I was there in March, all were hopeful; but a still severer drought set in, and even the corn crop was a failure. The Ministry voted a credit of 200,000,000 lei to be expended in grain for the relief of Bessarabia, and in October 1925, an additional credit of 60,000,000 was assigned for the same purpose. Up to Oct. 13, 11,000 car-loads (of ten tons each) of Indian corn had been sent into Bessarabia and sold through the cooperatives and popular banks, which were empowered to take the peasants' notes in payment; and over 500 carloads a month were used until the next harvest. In 1926, an abundant wheat crop was ruined by bad weather at harvesting time; but Indian corn was not affected, and gave a record crop-13,591,892 quintals, averaging nearly 17 quintals to the hectare (area in corn, 805,156 hectares). It was calculated that Roumania would have 26,767 carloads available for export. It will be remembered what devastation was produced by these same droughts in Southern Russia. Here also the comparison holds with such states as Nebraska and Kansas, where droughts influence political and social conditions, as well as business. Most of the political restlessness of Bessarabia would have disappeared, had it not been for the droughts of 1924 and 1925. Kishineff has an average rain-fall of about 22 inches, half that of New York or Seattle; this decreases to about 16, as one approaches the Black Sea. The conditions, therefore, are never so favorable for wheat as in northwestern Europe or Pennsylvania, and the average yield per acre is about the same as in Nebraska.

This low yield is due also to factors not climatic. The small peasant holdings, due to the cutting-up of the big estates, do not permit of the use of machinery as in our own West; the peasants are poor, and agricultural education is backward; and the grade of wheat has deteriorated the past few years. Matters have been complicated by the export-tag levied by the Roumanian Government on wheat, following some years of price-fixing at a lower level than the world price. All Eastern Europe is at present a grand laboratory for the study of mistaken economic policies. When the Roumanian Government, in its effort to provide the consumer with cheap bread, fixed a low price for wheat, the farmer, finding that other grains were not regulated, dropped growing wheat and put his land into barley and corn. Then the government left the price of wheat alone, but clapped on a heavy export tag; the fall in the price of wheat in 1925 ruined several great wheat traders in Roumania, and it was not till late in 1925 that the government lowered the export tax to a reasonable figure, thus allowing Roumanian wheat to compete again in the world's market. We may be thankful that our Constitution forbids export taxes!

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