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CHAPTER XXII

COLLAPSE OF THE BESSARABIAN REPUBLIC

So the new independent Moldavian Republic had a brief opportunity to try and make its way alone, under Roumanian tutelage. It proved unable to raise taxes, create militia, borrow money or enforce its decrees. Its agrarian legislation had alienated all the land-owners and moneyed interests of the province; these hoped that the Roumanian troops (whom the Russian propaganda had represented as merely agents of the boyars and international money-lenders) would undo the confiscatory legislation of the Sfatul Tzarii; but there also they were disappointed. Thus the Diet found itself unpopular on every side; the trained men of the old Russian regime were discredited or had fled, the new elements were without political experience, there was no budget, the difficulty of laying taxes was enhanced by the rapid depreciation of the ruble, the deficit was growing by leaps and bounds. Furthermore, the centralization of the old Russian administration had proved its own undoing. The Moldavian peasants of Bessarabia had been kept in ignorance and isolation; what little local government had been permitted was of recent introduction, and had taken slight root among the native population; and when the central government up in Russia collapsed, this remote province was left in suspense, at the mercy of populistic demagogues.

It was all in vain that the Odessa Rumcerod secured a promise from the Roumanians that they would evacuate Bessarabia within two months, as indeed all their assurances indicated; events were too strong for them, and showed that the Imperial Russian administration of Bessarabia for a century had been sterile; nor could the new democratic regime in Russia-if we may call it democratic for even a brief moment-find elements in Bessarabia with which to work. Had there been a, Russian middle class in Bessarabia of any political training, or even a Russian peasantry, Bessarabia would today be as Russian as Podolia or Cherson; the Roumanian military occupation would have been merely an episode of a few weeks or months. But the inarticulate Moldavian peasants discovered kinship in the Roumanian soldiers whose coming they had been led to fear; the Jews, who constitute the great majority of the business classes, found in them saviors from the pogroms then raging in the Ukraine; the boyars had little choice, after all; in Russia proper they would have lost their lives as well as their lands; and they soon discovered that in Roumania itself their fellow-boyars were having to submit to the same inexorable expropriation. Thus events marched rapidly and inevitably toward annexation.

The new Bessarabian Republic was invited to send delegates to sign the Peace of Bucharest between Roumania and the Central Powers, and Inculetz, Halippa and Ciugureanu went over into Roumania Feb. 26, 1918, being received with special distinction. They learned from Gen. Averescu, then (as in 1926-7) Premier, and a Bessarabian by birth, that he had stood up for the independence of the Republic, against a proposal of the Austrians for a division of Bessarabia between Austria and Roumania; indeed, Austrian forces occupied the north of Bessarabia till late in 1918. The Roumanians received also at this time a very significant document, presented by a commission of former high officials in Bessarabian public life0-P. Sinadino, former member of the Imperial Duma and Mayor of Kishineff, V. Anghel, ex-president of the Orhei Zemstvo, M. Glavce, ex-president of the Kishineff Zemstvo, D. Semogradoff, ex-president of the provincial Zemstvo, and many others of distinction in the province. This memorial states:

"We have considered that it would be well to have an accurate resume, supported by data, to make known the real political and agrarian situation in Bessarabia, for only in this way can it be seen how well founded is the view of those who by virtue of their intellectual, cultural, moral and material situation have the right and duty of defending Bessarabia against the attacks of those who are eager to take advantage of its disorganized condition, and are trying to secure personal advantages, to the detriment of the country's present and future well-being. As will be seen, the present administration and the so-called Provincial Diet are an adventitious creation of adventitious politicians and adventurers, who, profiting by the Bolshevist revolt (for MM. Erhan and Inculetz came from Petrograd to Kishineff as Bolshevist delegates), have proclaimed an independent republic and have seized control of the situation, promising the masses the confiscation of estates and property, to be turned over to them without any compensation, the destruction of the bourgeoisie, and the grant of an anarchic liberty, without respect for the taws, rights and lives of their fellow-citizens.

The Roumanian Army, alarmed by this revolution, created by these politicians under these circumstances, has intervened and calmed the disorders which had arisen. The administration, which at the beginning was desirous of opposing the Roumanian Army, seeing the impossibility of this, changed its attitude and has been trying to make it appear that it received the coming of the Roumanian Army with pleasure; but beneath the surface it continues to conduct a revolutionary campaign, and is even trying to make the Roumanian Army seem opposed to the fulfilment of its promises, viz., the distribution to the peasants of the boyars' property without compensation. These machinations are however preparing future disorder, and constitute a danger not only for Bessarabia but also for the Roumanian Army, exposed to this dissolving medium. The present administration is doing nothing but live by makeshifts day to day without the establishment of any organization. This state of affairs cannot last long. It endangers both the future of Bessarabia and its tendency toward union with Roumania. It is impossible for an administration to last which has as its goal disorder, illegality and arbitrariness.

We therefore beg, on the basis of what will be shown later, that our protest may seem justified, and that Roumania (with which country we, without any reservation, desire to be united) may give us speedily support, counsel, and moral and material assistance, to do away with a revolutionary status organized by a bogus administration and a bogus Diet."

This petition, of which we have translated the opening paragraphs, shows the state of mind of many of the important land-owners and former officials. Numerous other petitions came in; on March 3, the Zemstvo of Baltz voted in favor of union with Roumania, and on March 13, the same action was taken by a, convention in Soroca, composed of representatives of the Zemstvo, the city government, clergy, land-owners, teaching staff, etc.

The Diet was of course unfavorably affected by these and similar actions; and the members of the Russophile agrarian group fought all the more bitterly with the Moldavian representatives, who were gradually veering around toward union. This movement was powerfully aided by new activities of the Ukraine; their Premier, Golubovitch, sent delegates to Berlin to claim part of Bessarabia. The matter came up in the Diet on March 16; Ciugureanu read the memorial presented at Berlin by the Ukrainians, and it was finally decided unanimously to send a protest to Berlin, in the lack of armed forces with which to repulse Ukrainian troops, in. case they should come over the border.

Nor did the situation in Roumania itself fail to have its effect here also. On March 20, Inculetz and Ciugureanu visited Jassy, and found that the new Roumanian ministry, under Marghiloman, was determined to sign a peace with the Central Powers at once, and felt that annexation to Roumania was the only way of saving Bessarabia from being dismembered. Marghiloman informed them that he was going to accept the petitions from Baltz and Soroca, and the manifesto signed by Sinadino and his associates, but that he hoped that the Diet would take similar action. Ciugureanu was strongly in favor of this course; Inculetz became convinced of its wisdom only after consultation with the French Ambassador and other dignitaries at Jassy. On March 23rd, Constantine Stere, the Bessarabian editor of the pro-German paper Lumina in Bucharest, joined Ciugureanu and Inculetz in their return to Kishineff to lay the matter before the Diet; and on the 26th, Premier Marghiloman himself arrived.

March 27, 1915, saw the valedictory of the Independent Moldavian Bessarabian Democratic Republic. Marghiloman opened the session with an eloquent address, pointing out the necessity of union from the international standpoint. Then he and the other Roumanians withdrew, and left the Diet to its debates. Stere, who (however he may be execrated for his course during the war) is one of the greatest of the Roumanian orators, then delivered an impassioned and moving speech, which we reproduce in full: "In the life of a man, and in the history of a people, there are not many moments like this. I am proud and happy that you have given me the opportunity of taking up the struggle for the rights and the freedom of Bessarabia, whose son I am (applause). Imprisoned in Siberian dungeons by a tyrant, I return today to the soil of my native land under the bright light of the freedom which you have gained by your own blood. We are called today to make an historic decision, for which we need a clear mind and a clear conscience. The iron will of history has laid a responsibility on your shoulders which you cannot put aside. None but you can speak, and have the right to speak, in the name of Bessarabia (applause). We are called here in that elemental process which pulverizes Bastilles and creates new life. The Revolution brought us here (tumultuous applause). You have here lighted a torch which has burned all the feudal parchments, which has annihilated all the privileges of caste, and you remain. a people whose foundations rest on nothing but the farm and intellectual labor (appl.). You must even carry that torch over yonder, to consume dry rot and injustice, to defend the whole Roumanian people in this, the most critical moment of its history (appl.). Today we proclaim the rights of the Revolution for Roumanians (appl.). I thank you for the honor you have done me. It is a heavy burden for me; but though I have reached the sixth decade of my life, I am still eager to dash into the struggle with the same energy and faith as in my youth, when the gates of the dungeon opened before me (ovation)."

After speaking thus in Roumanian, Stere turned to the Russian members and, in Russian, tried to still their fears of Roumanian domination. Indeed, he reexpressed the hope that Bessarabian radicalism would profoundly affect Roumania itself. Alluding to the statement of one of the Russian deputies that if Bessarabia joined Roumania, the Russian intelligentsia would leave Bessarabia, he remarked: "How slight must be the bond which unites such a man with this country! He is not like a Roumanian Bessarabian, born and brought up here . . . . We are from here, we have nowhere else to go, and no one has a right to drive us out."

The Secretary of the Diet then read the following resolution:

"The Democratic Moldavian Republic of Bessarabia, within its boundaries of the Pruth, the Dniester, the Danube, the Black Sea and the former Austrian frontier, torn by Russia over 106 years ago from the body of Old Moldavia, by virtue of historic right and of the rights of nationalities, and basing itself on the principle that each people should decide its fate, from today on and for ever joins its mother country, Roumania.

This union takes place on the following conditions:

1) The present Diet continues in existence for determining and carrying into effect the agrarian reform according to the needs and demands of the people; these decisions shall be recognized by the Roumanian Government.

2) Bessarabia retains her provincial autonomy, having a Diet, to be elected in the future by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage, with an executive organization, and its own administration.

3) The Diet shall have jurisdiction: a) over the voting of local budgets; b) the control of the executive organs of the zemstvos and municipal administrations; c) the nomination of all local administrative organizations through its own executive organization, while high officials are confirmed by the government.

4) The recruiting of the army is in principle to rest on a territorial basis.

5) Current laws and organizations (zemstvo and municipal) remain in power and may be changed by the Roumanian Parliament only after participation of the Bessarabian representatives in the discussions.

6) Respect for the rights of the minorities.

7) Two representatives of Bessarabia are to enter the Roumanian Council of Ministers; they shall be named now by the present Diet, but in the future shall be taken from among the Bessarabian representatives in the Roumanian Parliament.

8) Bessarabia shall send to the Roumanian Parliament a number of representatives in proportion to her population, chosen on the basis of universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage.

9) All the elections in Bessarabia for the villages, volosts (communes), cities, zemstvos and parliament shall be based on universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage.

10) Personal liberty, freedom of the press, of speech, of belief, of assembly, and all common liberties, shall be guaranteed by the Constitution.

11) All illegal acts perpetrated for political motives during the recent troublous times, are pardoned.

Upon Bessarabia joining Roumania, like a daughter her mother, the Roumanian Parliament shall decide the immediate calling of a Constitutional Convention, in which shall take part a proportionate number of Bessarabian representatives, chosen by universal, equal, direct and secret suffrage, to decide together with the rest the inscription in the Constitution of the principles and guarantees mentioned above."

Gypsy Family En Route, July 19, 1837

When brought before the Diet, this resolution was promptly accepted by the leader of the Moldavian Bloc; Tziganco, representative of the Peasants' Soviet, declared that his group would refrain from voting, since they considered this a matter for a Constitutional Convention, and furthermore felt that the only admissible terms for union with Roumania would be in a federation. von Loesch, the German representative, stated that his group also would abstain from voting, since they had no authorization to take any such step; they would call a congress of Bessarabian Germans, and bring the matter before them. As a matter of fact, this Congress was soon held, under the chairmanship of Rev. Dr. Haase, later a representative in the Roumanian Parliament, and the union with Roumania was sanctioned. The Bulgarian representative, Misircoff, stated that he would refrain from voting, since he also felt that this was a matter for a Constitutional Convention to decide; and the same declaration was made in the name of the Ukrainian members. The Polish leader, Dudkevitch (Dutkiewicz) said (in Russian): "It is very hard for me, gentlemen, on this great day, an occasion without a peer, it is very hard for me to talk in the language of the people who for so many years have oppressed the spirit of the Roumanian people of Bessarabia, as they have oppressed the Poles. I should like to speak in my own language, Polish, but you gentlemen would not understand it; I should like to speak in your language, Roumanian, but I do not know it. In the name of the Polish nationality I support the project of union as the Moldavians propose it." The Russian leader, Greculoff, felt, like the Bulgarian, that a Constitutional Convention should first be held. This desire for a convention was partly genuine, partly a move for delay, to preserve independence or to bring about union with Soviet Russia.

After a brief recess, the representatives of the Peasants' Soviet members announce that after consultation they have decided to support the project of union as outlined in the resolution. The President calls for a vote; all but 13 members of the Diet are present. The resolution is adopted by a vote of 86 for, 3 against, 36 present but refraining from voting, for the reasons given above; see pp. 151-7 for the list. Bessarabia, by the vote of its sole constituted authority, however makeshift, is now a part of Roumania.

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