THE DECAY OF RUSSIAN SENTIMENT
No, the Russian days of Bessarabia were over, and the Russians had only themselves to thank for it, as is confessed in an interesting article by L. Sotoff, Letters from Bessarabia, in the "Sovremennia Zapiski," no. 5, 1921, pp. 263-270 (I use the reprint in "Istoritcheskaia Pravda po Bessarabskomu Voprosu," pp. 31-34; there is a partial Roumanian translation by Cazacu, pp. 329-330):
"The longer one or other district remains in the power of a new government, the more do new habits and new forms of social life work themselves out in the masses. It is usual to talk about the inflexibility and invariability of economic bonds and channels, inevitably pushing back a severed member to its former trunk. But in reality if the political situation blocks the old channels, gradually and imperceptibly new ones carve themselves out. Life looks out for itself, and time is on its side. The channels of trade and industrial intercourse change, and in this regard it is not a question of laws but of facts. (Note: As regards economic, material and natural bonds between Russia and Bessarabia, they never existed; all Bessarabian products, whether of the farm or the village, were sent out over the border via Odessa, in place of which they can now go out through natural channels via the Danube. All imports into Bessarabia came either from Poland or over the border.) But what are the facts with regard to the popular feeling toward Russia in Bessarabia? If a road toward union through the popular will lies open before us, what are the prospects for its manifestation?
We can immediately reply calmly to this question: that prospect is unfavorable. In its policy of Roumanizing the country, the Roumanian Government has found fertile soil in the extraordinarily low cultural level of the population of Bessarabia. Having been, up to the Revolution, in the hands of the boyar Black Hundred, this province with its manifold racial elements stood on a very low plane of cultural development. The stupid Russifying and anti-Semitic policy of the autocratic government brought about a situation where the great mass of the Moldavian and Jewish population kept apart from Russian schools, Russian books and in general all elements of Russian culture. Between the Russian intelligentsia and the masses, not only of the Moldavian and Jewish population but also of the purely Russian, there was a great gulf fixed.
The Moldavian population was completely alien, not merely to Russian spiritual culture, but also to the Russian civic administration. Alas, the Russifiers reached the point where the peasant who came into town felt as if he were in a dark and mysterious forest! The Zemstvo was in the hands of the pupils of Crushevan (the anti-Semite), while in the Russian State Duma, Bessarabia had outspoken members of the Black Hundred (the boyars). In every government office, they had the right that he should not understand them. Courts, schools, churches, government offices, all were foreign-language institutions for him; and since over and above all this, there ruled a wild arbitrariness, it can easily be imagined to what degree the masses of the Moldavian population remained alien to Russia, alien to its inherent cultural, historical and political value.
Somewhat closer to Russian culture stood the Jewish element, partly because it was concentrated in the towns. But in the villages, at the fairs and markets, you could see how the bulk of the Jewish inhabitants, small tradesmen and handicraftsmen, could hardly make themselves understood in Russian, or did not understand the language at all, while they expressed themselves admirably in Roumanian.
The Roumanians on this score found the ground fully prepared for them. They came into an environment which understood them and which they understood. A new administration came in which spoke in a language available to the people. All at once in all the government institutions they began talking Roumanian.
Far more serious in the process of Roumanizing the country was the general nationalistic policy of the Roumanians. Its fundamental principle was this-the protection of all national cultures. Do you want a school in Yiddish, in Ancient Hebrew, in Ukrainian, in Polish, in Greek? Go ahead as far as you please. It went so far that the national culture of the various stocks, which had been repressed by the grip of autocratic violence, burst forth into freedom with the coming of the Roumanians.
The population eagerly took advantage of these gifts, and thus the falling away from Russian culture in the intellectual life of the province [goes on rapidly and painlessly], imperceptibly in the case of the bulk of the people, who had previously been strangers to Russian culture, and without interest in its preservation and development. [This process continues without hindrance. The local Russian and Russified intelligentsia assist this process by their boycotting policy, which they adopted from the very coming of the Roumanians. From being an active factor, struggling in protest, which involved sacrifice, they have withdrawn into a state of passive dissolution.] As a genuine social force, the Russian intelligentsia today in Bessarabia does not exist. Subjectively, it is in opposition to the Roumanian government. But that opposition remains buried within it, setting no one on fire, and failing to rouse the dormant Russian sentiment.
Russian patriotic feeling so far is sound only in the Russian intelligentsia (but there it is not active), and among the former Russian boyars; but their opposition is purely due to dispossession from their estates.
Time passes, and together with it Russia is passing out of Bessarabia. That must be said straight out; we must not lull ourselves with any sort of illusions." (Passages in brackets are not in my Russian text, but are in Cazacu's Roumanian translation.)
In connection with this, let me set the eloquent epilogue of Cazacu's "O Suta de Ani de Robie" (A Century of Serfdom), written in 1912:
"The Russians are now holding their celebration of a century of material possession of Bessarabia. But her spirit they do not possess, nor shall they ever possess it. In the celebration of the Russians, the Moldavians have no share except that of deep and painful silence. The whole Roumanian people feels this pain, and does not lose hope that Bessarabia, and with her the Roumanian people, will have a chance to celebrate in her turn the day of salvation. It will come. History repeats itself so often, and the historical maxim remains: Babylon was, the Empire of Alexander of Macedon was, the Roman Empire was, the Byzantine Empire was, and the time will come to say of other empires also-they were. Not so long ago was 1855 with the Crimea, and not so long ago was Port Arthur and Tzushima, and-Great is the Lord God of Hosts!-it will be again, surely it will be again!"
My own observation convinces me that these statements are justified. Kishineff in 1919 seemed quite like any Russian provincial city; the Roumanian element still seemed intrusive, though entirely at home in the country villages. But Kishineff in 1925 was clearly a Roumanian provincial capital, though still with a certain Russian flavor. I was reminded of the change in New Orleans in our generation; thirty years ago, the use of French on the streets was as little noticed as in Montreal. Now when you hear French spoken beside you in New Orleans, you observe it. In the same way, eight years ago you expected to hear Russian on the street in Kishineff; now, you expect to hear Roumanian-though in most cases, what you do (and did) hear is Yiddish. Roumanian has the great advantage (and this is true in Transylvania also) that it is a lingua franca-the language of the nurses and servants, of the handy man about the place, of the farmer who comes in with vegetables; the children learn it, along with their parents' Russian or Hungarian; that explains why, alone of the Succession States, Roumania has not a single Member of Parliament, among the numerous Magyars, Germans, Bulgarians, Russians, Ukrainians, etc., who does not understand his country's official language. Russian will never die out in Bessarabia, especially as a knowledge of the language will be most valuable when trade relations with Russia again become lively; but Roumanian has always been the most widely diffused language in the province, and it is touching to see the eagerness with which parents are sending their children to school; 46% of all the children of school age were in school in 1924, as contrasted with 34% in 1921-both far higher percentages than were reached under the Russians, and remarkable under the difficulties of transportation and of finding suitable teachers; the Roumanians are still using many of the old Bessarabian teaching staff, whose knowledge of the language is quite elementary; but there are no others available (see pp. 292-3).Next Chapter Previous Chapter
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