Title


CHAPTER XII

THE ZEMSTVO AND ITS FUNCTION

This brief sketch must suffice to give an imperfect picture of the failure of the Russian Imperial Government in Bessarabia, as regards school and church. On the material side, a century of development, mainly peaceful, was somewhat more successful. A few hundred miles of road were built, and some five hundred miles of railway. But here also too little was done for the Moldavian peasantry. Most of the boyars were merged into the Russian nobility, and gradually lost their early zeal for the language and institutions of their ancestors. Their interests lay in Odessa and St. Petersburg, and by the end of the nineteenth century they differed little from the great land-holders in other parts of the Empire. In 1911, there were inscribed in the list of Bessarabian nobles 468 families, of which only 138 belonged to the old Moldavian aristocracy; 198 had been raised to the nobility from the military or official class; the remainder came from other parts of the Empire, the majority (64) being Polish, who found here a more congenial atmosphere than in Poland. The Bessarabian nobility in recent years had their representatives in the Imperial Senate and Duma; they took the leading part in what local institutions were allowed under the Imperial regime, particularly the zemstvos, a characteristic Russian institution, introduced into Bessarabia some 55 years ago. In each of the seven districts-Akkerman, Bender, Baltz, Kishineff, Orhei, Soroca and Hotin-there was a district zemstvos; each elected five deputies to the provincial zemstvos. The district zemstvos were composed of delegates elected by three colleges. The first college consisted of nobles owning 250 to 500 acres of land, or paying taxes on property of equal value; the second, of land-owners not of the nobility; the third, of the peasantry, electing one delegate for each country-circuit. In the seven district zemstvos, there were 127 delegates of the first college, 36 of the second, and 64 of the third, the total number of electors being restricted-about 3500 altogether. The delegates were elected for three years, and met once a year for ten days. They had charge of special taxes; of the district's land and other possessions; of roads and bridges; of the post and telephones; of hospitals and charitable institutions; and of mutual benefit organizations. They were also consulted by the government in connection with government supplies; government care of orphans, dependents, insane, etc.; public health and diseases of livestock; public instruction; and aid for agriculture, industry and commerce.

The zemstvo formed a corporation with the right to buy and sell property, to make contracts and to sue and be sued in court. The government had the right to revise or veto its decisions, and several government officials were members, including a representative of the Church. The Marshal of the District Nobility presided. Each of these district zemstvos elected five members for the Provincial Zemstvo, which met every year for 20 days. This zemstvo included in addition each of the district Marshals of the Nobility; the presidents of the executive committees of each district zemstvo; the government provincial Secretary of Agriculture, and the Superintendents of the Imperial Domains and Crown Lands; and representatives of the Church. The Marshal of the Bessarabian Nobility presided. They elected an Executive Committee, composed of the President and five members. The Provincial Zemstvo had charge, for the whole province, of the same general activities as the District Zemstvos; but in addition it had the right to issue ordinances; to supervise mutual insurance organizations; to sanction loans; to fig the date and place of fairs; to regulate the campaigns against noxious animals and other pests, like the frequent plagues of locusts; and to fix the amount of damages in case of harm to provincial property. Over the zemstvos was a supervising committee, under government auspices; and the decisions of the zemstvos generally required government sanction; the governor had a broad veto power, including even that of the zemstvo personnel.

Bivouac of A Charcoal Caravan, August 5, 1837

Altogether, this was an easy-going patriarchal institution, which in some generations or centuries might have become a genuine representative governing body; but it operated less than two generations in Bessarabia, and made no considerable success except in the fields of hospitals, charitable organizations and mutual benefit and insurance organizations, which had a flourishing growth. We possess, in Prince Urusoff's account of his impressions as Governor-General of Bessarabia some twenty years ago, an interesting critique of the system. "The zemstvo was representative mainly of the great land-owners; the peasants had no importance. Its activities lacked perseverance and continuity. The tendency was to do everything on a grand and luxurious scale, as with the Museum and Hospital of Costiugeni. After building them, they discovered the difficulties of maintenance. In general one noticed the lack of serious thought which characterizes the Bessarabians. They cut first, then they measure, and after measuring they discover they have cut too much." He remarks elsewhere in the book, with regard to the great land-owners: "In their homes on their great estates you find much luxury, but a lack of traditions and seriousness. I did not observe even an attachment to their homes; the estate was a source of revenue, passing from hand to hand. In general, the Bessarabian landowner keeps for himself only his vineyard and a part of his land, and rents out the rest, largely to Jews. Ostentatious luxury, a fondness for city life, a desire to make much money and spend still more-these are the traits you observe in the Bessarabian land-owners, explaining their lack of traditions and moral -fiber . . . . In Bessarabia, with its abundance of natural wealth, life is lazy and free from anxiety. The people are uneducated, well-off and mild-mannered, the land-owners are easy-going and fond of enjoyment; society has much tolerance for its own and others' weaknesses, loves ostentation and tries to keep on good terms with the administration; energy and character are rare, hospitality lavish, morals somewhat lag. Such, in broad strokes, is Bessarabia."

We hope that the reader now has some idea of conditions in Bessarabia, as the Russian Empire nears its fall. In general, the nineteenth century was a period of comparative peace for this province, so tossed about in the past between Tartar, Turk, Pole and Cossack. To be sure, war traversed the province three times during the Russian occupation. From 1828 till 1834, Russia administered Moldavia and Wallachia, and the Pruth barrier disappeared for six years. The Crimean War, of 1853-56, restored to Moldavia the Danube Bessarabian districts of Cahul, Bolgrad and Ismail, which became part of the Principality of Roumania in 1859. In 1877, Russia and Turkey again came to war, and the new Roumanian army saved the Russians from annihilation at Plevna ; but although the Czar had solemnly promised Prince Charles of Roumania that in return for the passage of his troops across Roumanian soil, he would respect Roumanian territorial integrity, the diplomats of the Treaty of Berlin handed back these districts to Russia, ostensibly for compensation in the Dobrudja, and they were reincorporated with Russian Bessarabia.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents