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CHAPTER XVI

THE REVOLUTION COMES TO BESSARABIA

This sudden freedom seemed to the Russian people like an awakening from a long nightmare. At last they could themselves decide the tremendous problems so bungled by the Imperial Government. The first provisional cabinet, under Lvoff, though conservative (Kerensky was the only Socialist, and a moderate one), had everyone's good wishes; but its lack of real power was immediately evident, and only the tolerance of the Executive Committee of the Soviet, an abler and bolder group of men, kept it from falling. Furthermore, the new government made a fatal mistake at the outset, in trying to continue the war. The Russian Revolution had come up from the people, and their instinct told them that they had nothing to gain but everything to lose by a continuance of the war. A strong faction in the Soviet was for immediate peace; the manifesto of the official organ of the Soviet demanded that the government approach the proletariat of all the warring countries, to induce them " to rise against their oppressors and stop the bloody carnage immediately." Even in the Soviet, however, there were important leaders who were undecided; Lenin and Trotzky, pacifists, carried on the negotiations for the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk; but when they saw the German demands, as we now know from the testimony of Robins and Sadoul, Trotzky made every effort to obtain Allied and American help for the continuance of the struggle-help withheld because of the fatal Allied conviction that the old Russian regime could be restored if the Soviet government was left to its fate.

On May 2, the divergencies between the Soviet and the bourgeois cabinet had become so serious that a new government was formed, with Kerensky as Minister of War. He visited the front, and was astonished to find Russian regiments concluding separate peace with their German adversaries, on the basis of no annexations and no indemnities. Nevertheless he loyally tried to carry out the long-planned advance on the Russian front (July 10). Meanwhile (July 3-5) there had been street fighting in St. Petersburg, and Lenin and Trotzky had first showed their power. The Russian attack having failed, Kerensky's situation became more and more untenable; he tried to make himself personal head of the army, but the soldiers were now entirely out of hand; and in October, Kerensky gave up and fled. Russia was now in complete governmental, military, financial and economic chaos. Two of the ablest men the world has ever seen, Lenin and Trotzky, seized the power, on the basis of a proletariat soviet government, and succeeded, in spite of every possible obstacle, in creating a strong and ruthless government, which has restored order and- put the currency on a gold basis, however reprehensible we may consider its other activities. So much for the general course of the Russian Revolution. Now we must turn our attention to its manifestation in Bessarabia, where it resulted, as in so many Russian provinces, in the creation of a new and independent state-the Bessarabian Moldavian Republic.

Russia mobilized for the war twelve per cent of the population of Bessarabia; the remainder, by a supreme effort, maintained the cultivation of grain. Roumania remained neutral till 1916 (see my "Greater Roumania," pp. 164 on); then Roumanian and Russian troops fought side by side, as at Plevna. With the breaking of the Roumanian front, Bessarabia was flooded with troops; but in its quiet remoteness, it was not till the arrival of an official telegram from St. Petersburg on March 5, 1917, that the Bessarabians suddenly learned that the Imperial Government had ended, and that, like all the rest of Russia, they were free. The functionaries met at Kishineff and wired their allegiance to the new provisional government; but other factors immediately came on the scene. On March 22, a local Soviet of Workers and Soldiers was formed at Kishineff, with outside elements (not a native Bessarabian among them). The local professional syndicates, including the bakers, waiters, etc., held their meeting. The forms of government maintained their continuity at the start through the zemstvos; but they were handicapped by the preponderance of the great land-owners in their selection and in their ranks. Beside them sprang up local executive committees, in which were many soldiers and other outside elements. Soldiers and representatives of the so-called "democratic organizations" made their way also into the zemstvos. The city and local police were replaced by an improvised militia. The prisons were emptied by a general amnesty. It was decreed that soldiers should be addressed as equals, that they should salute their officers or not, as they pleased, that they could enter political organizations. Freedom was rampant.

The Provisional Government was worried over the possibilities of the Bessarabian situation, They knew that the well-known anti-Semites Krushevan and Purishkevitch were in Kishineff, and that the Krupenskys and other wealthy and reactionary land-owners were important in the province, while they had no confidence in the Moldavians, whom they suspected of coquetting with the Roumanians. So they had agitators for the Revolution sent out through Bessarabia; Kerensky ordered to Kishineff one of his most trusted lieutenants, Sokoloff, who arrived on May 19, the very day of a congress of the peasants of Bessarabia. As a consequence of his report to headquarters, there was sent a group of 40 agitators from St. Petersburg, with orders to fight anti-Semitism, reaction and separatism, and to make the principles of the Revolution triumph; evidently the Bessarabians were not sufficiently enthusiastic. This commission arrived on June 1. Not long afterward the venerable I I Grandmother of the Revolution," Mme. Breshko-Breshkovskaia, visited Kishineff, and was given an overwhelming welcome. Erhan, one of the St. Petersburg delegates, in his address to her, said: "The intellectuals are asleep, they are doing nothing for the Revolution." "Babushka" interjected: "But what of the 40 commissioners?" and krhan had to confess that the local authorities would not furnish them with transportation, and that some had been arrested in the villages. She visited the Moldavian Teachers' Convention, and urged them to spread the principles of the Revolution in Roumanian among the peasantry. Indeed, there was a sudden flowering forth of Moldavian literary effort, in the translation and adaptation of revolutionary and even communistic pamphlets.

The Church was least of all affected in Bessarabia, largely due to the tact and conciliatory efforts of the Archbishop, Anastasius. He opened a gathering of the clergy, teachers and village authorities, on April 19, which was the first representative convention. This favored a democratic republic, the self-determination of peoples, and a united Russia. It pronounced for various church innovations, like the election of the priests by their parishioners as in Transylvania, and church autonomy, with a metropolitan and two bishops, who should know Moldavian. Soon afterward, the church authorities allowed priests to use their hearers' language, Moldavian, in chants, prayers and sermons. At last the majority of the Bessarabians were allowed to worship God in their own tongue.

On May 28 was held the Congress of Moldavian Teachers, 350 in number. This was a remarkable occasion. Both Russian and Roumanian were used in the speeches. The delegates were addressed by a delegate of the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers and Soldiers, for Russia one and indivisible; a delegate of the Seventh and Eighth Armies, and of the 300,000 Moldavian soldiers in the Russian Army; others representing the Ninth Army, the Moldavians in the Russian Navy, and the Soldiers' Soviet of Odessa. Sentiment was overwhelming for the printing of Roumanian school-books, with Latin, not Cyrillic, characters, and for the establishment of a Roumanian school system. There was no question of separating from Russia, and only one member voiced a fear that Bessarabian Moldavian autonomy would sooner or later mean union with Roumania.

Meanwhile the Russian Army on the Roumanian front (see "Greater Roumania," p. 203) was rapidly disintegrating; and the Bessarabian civil authorities were completely at sea. The official report of the Government Commissary at the end of June 1917, says: " The situation in Bessarabia is melancholy, the villages are disorganized, here and there are agrarian disorders; . . . the administrative machinery is destroyed, the existing organizations are weak." The Provisional Government, realizing that the agrarian question was, for the peasants, the chief theme of the Revolution, had sent out instructions "to create land commissions, and turn over to them the land which was not utilized by the owners." Already in March, in the district of Soroca, the peasants took possession of land belonging to the monastery of St. Spiridon in Jassy, which was leased to a sugar beet company. In April, similar occupations of land by the peasants took place in the districts of Kishineff, Soroca, Orhei and Baltz; bands of soldiers began plundering wine-cellars, with resulting disorders; and later murders, as of S. Murafa, Hodorogea, and the Rev. D. Baltaga, all well known in the Moldavian nationalist movement, opened people's eyes to the serious condition of affairs. The authorities were powerless. Luckily, the peasants confined themselves to taking land not already planted.

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