THE TATAR-BUNAR EPISODE
The last chapter will, I hope, have made clear the events leading up to the "Rebellion of Tatar Bunar," and the atmosphere in which it took place. We have seen that Bessarabia was honey combed with revolutionary organizations, financed and directed from Soviet Russia. These exploited the post-war economic and political difficulties of the country, the mistakes of the new regime, all forms of discontent, intensified by financial stagnation and the drought; and indiscreet or corrupt Roumanian officials and officers played into their hands. Bessarabia has been under martial law ever since the annexation, with censorship and all other forms of government interference with normal life. I think no reader of the last chapter will fail to admit the necessity of these measures; but overzealous or incompetent administrators, both military and civil, have greatly complicated the task. One has only to think of the episode of Good Friday, 1925, when, at Zguritza, 20 miles from Soroca, Deputy Pan Halippa of Soroca, former President of the Diet, and Roumanian Minister, was struck by a lieutenant of gendarmes for alleged unpatriotic utterances; of the testimony in the trial, in November-December 1925, of Lieut. Morarescu, showing much highhandedness and arbitrariness in the army in Bessarabia; of the action of the commandant of gendarmes at Soroca, on April 11, 1926, in keeping out of the, city Pan Halippa and Cazacliu, both former deputies from Soroca; and the arrest and transfer to Jassy of the ex-deputy Ion Codreanu, in June 1926. These and other similar incidents were utilized by the Soviet propagandists in Bessarabia itself, and, often in highly exaggerated form, in the outside world. I was amused to read, in a wireless dispatch from Vienna of Dec. 16, 1925, to the New York Times, a story of the Roumanian commander in the Bessarabian city of Edinitza (Hotin) raising his cap on a pole and forcing everyone to salute it, under penalty of corporal punishment-a story taken from Krupensky and Schmidt's "Summary of Events in Bessarabia" (p. 12), submitted to the Peace Conference in 1919! The Tatar-Bunar episode gave the Soviet authorities an admirable pretext for flooding the world with anti-Roumanian literature, successful in convincing many earnest social reformers that a great injustice was being done innocent Roumanian peasants by an arbitrary and cruel reactionary government. In fact, a group of French Liberals, headed by Romain Rolland, in November 1925, sent a telegram to Bucharest, during the trial, urging the acquittal of the "nearly five hundred innocent defendants"; and the headline "A Roumanian Massacre" appeared in one of the great London dailies. Roumania always has a "bad press," and never more than in the Tatar-Bunar affair.
I was given a circumstantial account of the raid by a Roumanian official in an adjoining district, who went to Tatar-Bunar immediately after the tragedy, and took part in the preliminary investigations. I have checked up this account with the official summary, and with the dispatches in the opposition papers in Bucharest. For a military trial-against which, as an old-fashioned American, I have a strong prejudice-I must admit that much latitude was given the defense, and that distinguished Bucharest lawyers like Costa-Foru and Eliad-RomAnul spoke as boldly and effectively as in the civil courts. Costa-Foru's speech, together with a bitter attack on the Secret Service, was published in 1926, both in Roumanian ("Abuzurile shi crimele Sigurantzei generale a Statului"-The Abuses and Crimes of the State General Secret Service) and in German (at Vienna: "Aus den Folterkammern Rumaniens. Dokumente and Enthiillungen fiber die Verbrechen der Rumdnischen "Sigurantza" . . . von C. G. Costa-Foru, Generalsekretar der Rumanischen Liga fur Menschenrechte"). This brochure, and testimony given at the trial, indicate that the third degree was administered in some cases by the gendarmes, and injustice done in others through the demoralization and panic of the days following the uprising. Nevertheless in general I feel that the dispassionate observer will grant that the Government proved its case, and that the Tatar-Bunar rebellion was simply the most striking example of a Communist raid, engineered from without, like those I have already instanced, and not a local revolution against intolerable conditions due to Roumanian oppression, as it was represented to be by the Socialist press everywhere.
Tatar-Bunar is a center of about 10,000 people, in a hilly country some forty miles southwest of Akkerman. There was a Tartar village here up to 1769; the modern town was settled in 1816, chiefly with Russian and Bulgarian colonists, who built their houses largely with stone from a ruined castle near by; being in the center of a flourishing farming country, it gradually became an important business town, though twelve miles from the railroad. The Roumanian Gazetteer of 1923 credits it with eight primary schools, one higher school and one gymnasium, Orthodox, Lipovan and Protestant churches, two Jewish synagogues, 32 liquor-shops, a dispensary and a pharmacy. Its central location and mixed Russian-Jewish population made it a good headquarters for the Communist campaign in Southern Bessarabia. This was entrusted by the Odessa Central Office to an able organizer, Andrew Kulshnikoff, known as Nenin, and Nicholas Sishman, both revolutionaries since 1918. Nenin went back and forth from Odessa during 1924, and established some 30 Communist centers depending upon Tatar-Bunar, including the cities of Cahul and Ismail. Other centers were established in the smaller Russian villages, each of which had a Communist committee, and a " fighting detachment" of 30 men, for whom arms and ammunition were smuggled in' from Russia. During the summer of 1924, Nenin reported to Odessa that the foundations were all laid, and that military operations might commence. The Central Committee thereupon appointed as Military Commander in Southern Bessarabia, a certain Ossip Poliakoff (known as Platov, Platoff), a Russian Bessarabian fisherman from Valcov, on the lower Danube, and an able and determined man. He issued an order of the day (apparently, in July or August 1924; I can not read the date in the facsimile published in Tataresco's "Bessarabie et Moscou"), stating that all preparations were completed in certain named sectors, and Nenin was organizing others; that all comrades must be ready for a concerted attack; and that he sends a medal of Lenin to each comrade; that the entire program up to the attack will be communicated to them, either by Nenin or himself, who receive them " directly from the center" (i. e., Odessa). Arms and ammunition were brought in by water, and either distributed to the chief conspirators, or held on rafts in the reedy lakes so abundant in the south, to be passed out at the time of the uprising. There was found on Nenin's body a letter from Platov (published by Tataresco in legible facsimile and accurate French translation), which gives an excellent idea of the preparations made "Comrade Nenin! I send some rifles to be distributed in the lowlands of Ismail, Bolgrad and Cahul. I think that 300 bombs will be enough to supply three subsections, and that we shall be able to arrange the transportation to several other points, as need arises. Send the guns to the same destination. I send you three poods (108 lbs.) of explosives and accessories. Distribute them to the proper persons in Reni, Bolgrad and Plashticova; you will distribute the shears to the three subsections, and the keys (kliutchi) to the men in Reni, Bolgrad and Plashticova. Comrade Nenin ! I have received word that at Ismail there are 5000 Roumanian troops. I had asked to have every town and village have its information officer. If as yet they have not been appointed, I ask to have them named without fail and urgently, with instructions to get accurate information, in accordance with my instructions of August 12, 1924. Please send me word about the distribution of the Roumanian troops. I had asked you to come with Comrade Stantzenco to work out plans, but to bring also, when you come, the necessary information, without which it is hopeless to try and accomplish anything. I expect you Sunday evening. If you can meet me at the rendezvous, let me know in ample season. I only ask of you not to hold me here to no purpose. I have disposed of the rifles and am free and ready to travel, but I must work out this plan, and that is why I beg you to hurry and come with all possible information, without forgetting what I mentioned in my instructions under date of August 19, 1924. Military Commander of Southern Bessarabia, I. Platov."
About the beginning of September 1924, the Communists felt sufficiently prepared to try a raid on a small scale, useful to test popular feeling, and also to secure supplies, especially of clothing and food, for the recruits they were hiding in the Valcov and Jibrieni marshes, largely Roumanian deserters of Russian race. They chose Nikolaievca, a little village about 45 miles from Ismail. On Sept. 11, an armed band of about a score, commanded by a notorious Communist, Ivan Bejan (known as Pugatcheff or Koltzoff ), and composed partly of deserters, seized the village, which they isolated by cutting the telegraph and telephone wires, and then looted. They killed the mayor in the town-hall, the bullet passing through his body and killing a peasant behind him; having set the building on fire, they went to his home and killed his wife; meeting a patrol of gendarmes, they shot both of them; requisitioning carts from peasants on their way to market, they filled them with the stock of the various stores; and then Pugatcheff harangued the townspeople, telling them that he had been sent from Russia to inaugurate the Revolution.
Meanwhile Nenin had summoned a council at Tatar-Bunar, which met Sept. 14; Nenin notified his hearers that Russia was ready for war, and that the general attack on Bessarabia was about to commence. The next night, another council was held, arms distributed, and the last orders given; four groups were formed, one of which, under the Communist Gregory Cernenko, attacked the gendarme post, killing the commander and two privates; another went to the town-hall and shot the secretary. The wires were cut and sentinels posted to prevent anyone leaving town; then the bells were rung, signal for a gathering of the townspeople. Nenin requisitioned horses and carts, and issued orders for the mobilization of the contingents of 1920, 1921 and 1922; standing on a table taken from the town-hall, he informed the people that the Moldavian Soviet Republic had been proclaimed in Bessarabia, and that two regiments of Russian cavalry were due at noon, one coming from Bender and one from Akkerman. Red flags were ordered to be hung on all buildings; cash in the tax-office and the post-office was confiscated; the funds found in the latter (128; 000 lei) were divided among the postal employees after a Soviet system, as pay for September-5000 to the postmaster, and 25,000 to each of the subordinates.
Nenin now took steps for the defense of Tatar-Bunar, and for spreading the rebellion. One group went north to Acmanghit, a town of 5000 people five miles away; the commander of the Roumanian gendarme post went to the near-by German village of Sarata and raised a volunteer force of forty Germans, which opened fire early on the 16th, and fought with the Communists for a couple of hours, till word reached the latter that Roumanian troops were coming, and they retired to Tatar-Bunar. Two companies from the garrison of Akkerman were actually on their way, gathering up peasant volunteers as they came, and by the bridge between Tatar-Bunar and Acmanghit shot the Communist agent second in command, Koltzoff. Meanwhile Nenin had gone to Cishmeaua Rusa, a Russian-Ruthenian village of 4000, where much war material had been stored by Andrew Stantzenco, one of the chief organizers. This was already under fire from Roumanian troops, coming from the west; in the early morning of the 17th, Nenin decided to retire to Tatar-Bunar. Hard fighting went on in and around Tatar-Bunar all day Sept. 17th; and at night, Nenin issued orders for his forces, now reduced to about 200 men, to retreat south to the town of Nerusai, where his aide Leonte Tzurcan had been stirring up revolt, with the help of a large stock of concealed weapons.
But no sooner had the dawn of the 18th come, than the sound of heavy cannon was heard, and Nenin gave up the fight. He ordered his men to retreat to Galileshti and try to reach the Black Sea at a point called Volcioc. On the way, a Roumanian frontier patrol of only 20 men had the intrepidity to attack them, and kept up firing till their ammunition gave out and they were captured and disarmed; but a larger detachment of Roumanian troops soon caught up with the Communists, and captured 120 of them. Nenin and his aide Justin Batishtcheff had escaped in an automobile, but beyond Galileshti they abandoned the car and hid in the corn-fields. While Nenin was asleep, Batishtcheff went off with his grip containing 200,000 lei, all that was left of the loot of Tatar-Bunar; when he awoke, he took to the salt-marshes, and on Sept. 19th, a gendarme shot and fatally wounded him.
The "Rebellion of Tatar-Bunar" was over, and the Roumanian government at once undertook the formidable task of ascertaining responsibility, and dividing the innocent from the guilty-a task much lightened by the papers found on Nenin and the other conspirators, and by the secret service records, but which lasted nearly a year. The trial was opened at Kishineff on August 24, 1925, and lasted till December 2nd; the government's dossier contained about 70,000 pages, and the final verdict, 180. At the outset, over 500 persons were arrested and examined, of whom 279 were held for trial. The Soviet Government, while disclaiming all connection with the affair, took a keen interest in it, and as early as June 16, 1925, M. Costa-Foru, lawyer for the defense, received the following telegram from Moscow: "Moscow, no. 116188, 15/6, 15:30. Roumania, Bucharest, Costa-Foru, Aleea Patriarchiei no. 3. The President of the International Juridical Bureau, in the name of the lawyers of the different countries, expresses to you their sentiment of gratitude for your courageous defense of the militant workers of Roumania. We are convinced that in this case organized by the Secret Service against those 500 Tatar-Bunar peasants, you will take the measures necessary for defense, in order to save the lives of those innocent victims of the unprecedented administrative terrorism of Bessarabia. The President of the International Juridical Bureau salutes warmly, in your person, all courageous and honorable representatives of the Roumanian intelligentsia. With fraternal salutations, President of the International Juridical Bureau." This represents the official Russian attitude, which was spread everywhere by their publicity service; Labor Parties all over the world joined in protests, and the Roumanians found themselves as generally execrated as at the time of Bela Kun's invasion of Transylvania.
The final verdict, in July 1926, cleared all but 85 of the defendants, the majority of whom were condemned to prison terms running from 6 months to 6 years; two were condemned to 15 years' forced labor, and Justin Batishtcheff, Nenin's aide who was disloyal even to him, to forced labor for life. None were Roumanians.
It may seem strange that at a time when all official relations between Russia and Roumania are broken off, and such incidents as these occur to embitter feelings, meetings of a mixed Russian-Roumanian Boundary Commission have been proceeding peacefully during that same period. While this commission was instituted with a limited scope, that of trying to eliminate troublesome frontier incidents along the Dniester, it has gradually assumed considerable additional importance, as the only joint body of Russians and Roumanians in constant official contact. It was organized at Tiraspol Nov. 20, 1923, and both the Soviets and the Roumanian Government signed the ordinance creating it, which begins: "The delegations of the Alliance of Socialist Republics (S. S. S. R.) on the one hand, and of Roumania on the other, considering that up to the re6stablishment of relations of understanding between those two countries, the best means for preventing and obviating border incidents along the Dniester, would be the sanctioning of a norm on the basis of which, from today on, each incident should be submitted to an immediate investigation by the competent authorities of each country, etc." According to the ordinance, the Commission is to handle: 1) firing from one bank at the other, and attacks on sentinels, posts or individuals; 2) unauthorized crossing of the Dniester, and cases of smuggling; 3) questions dealing with restoration of, or compensation for, property forcibly carried off; 4) misunderstandings arising in connection with authorized crossing, or import and export, along the Dniester. The Commission has Russian headquarters in Odessa, Roumanian in Kishineff, and holds an annual meeting in Kamenetz-Podolsk, the latest being that of Nov. 15, 1926, which discussed especially the Dniester fisheries. There are six sub-commissions, holding meetings every few weeks, and located at Hotin-Zvanetz ; Atache-Moghileff ; Rezina-Rabnitza ; Soroca-Iampol; Bender (Tighina)-Tiraspol; and Akkerman (Cetatea Alba)-Ovidiopol. Gen. Iovanovici was the Roumanian head till his promotion to the War Ministry in 1926 ; he was replaced by Gen. Petrescu. Inspector-General HusArescu, whose book I have so often quoted, is a member of the Commission.
At the first meetings, almost every subject brought up had to be referred back to headquarters; but in 1925 and 1926, it has been possible to settle numerous problems offhand; e. g., two Russian bandits, wanted by the authorities, had been captured by the Roumanians in Bessarabia, while a well-known Bessarabian bandit had been taken by Russians in the Moldavian Soviet Republic; it was arranged to extradite these criminals, so that they could be tried by their home authorities. Much study has been devoted to the broader questions of navigation along the Dniester, of exchange of refugees, and of intercourse of travelers between the two countries in general, under strict supervision; and the commissions have given such evidence of cordial and honest effort to improve relations that we may hope to see a sensible decision in all these matters this year or the next. It is well known in European diplomatic circles that Italy has been working hard for months to bring about a reconciliation between Russia and Roumania. It is hinted that the pact urged by the Italians would provide for a 20-year non-aggression agreement; reciprocal trade and intercourse, including the use of the Dniester by Roumanian craft, and of the Danube by Russian vessels; and the organization, under Italian auspices, of a through railway system from Trieste to Odessa (see p. 234).
Meanwhile, Italy and Roumania signed a treaty in the autumn of 1926, which apparently made no special mention of Bessarabia-a fact of which the Opposition made much-but which paved the way for further negotiations. In the course of these, Gen. Badoglio, Italian Chief of Staff, visited Bessarabia, and is reported to have expressed pro-Roumanian sentiments at a banquet in Kishineff in November 1926, so strong that Tchitcherin was drawn into a violent anti-Italian interview. Thus Bessarabia enters into the latest cycle of the struggle for the balance of power in Eastern Europe.Next Chapter Previous Chapter
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