Title


CHAPTER III

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

The Russians never encouraged industry in Bessarabia; but efforts are now being made to establish woollen-mills and canneries, the raw material for both of which abounds in the country. The largest industry, employing perhaps 5000 workmen, is that of the flour-mills; but there are only a score of modern establishments; less than a hundred use steam-power, some 700 have water wheels, 300 are driven by horses; there are nearly 5000 wind-mills, groups of which nestle on the edges of the hills overhanging the villages. The Roumanian tobacco monopoly has built a large manufactory in Kishineff; there is one sugar mill, at Zarojani (Hotin), which utilizes the beets of that region; and when one catalogues a few saw-mills, furniture factories, tanneries, soap works, brick-yards, breweries and distilleries, one exhausts the industrial achievement of the province up to date; the size of the establishments is shown by the Russian figures of 1910, which listed 6941 industrial concerns, employing on an average 1.2 workmen apiece 1 There are still many craftsmen in the villages—potters, weavers, rug-makers, wheelwrights and the like—with eight or ten trade-schools serving their needs for apprentices.

But the worst legacy of Russian rule, after the astounding illiteracy, is the lack of means of communication. Here Bessarabia is precisely in the condition of our western prairie states before the coming of the automobile. My automobile expeditions in Bessarabia brought back to me prairie shooting-trips in Dakota 35 years ago; dirt roads or trails stretch across country, sometimes plowed completely through by some ambitious farmer, and often paralleled (as in Macedonia) on either side by tracks worn when the main road is impassable with mud; indeed, just as it was in Dakota, if you don't like the road, you turn in on the prairie itself. In fact, in the muddy season the Bessarabian peasant habitually takes the hind wheels off his farm wagon, shortens it up and lets the main pole which connects the axles, drag in the mud.

The Russians built only four paved roads in all Bessarabia-13 miles from Kishineff to Hanceshti, 50 miles from Kishineff to Orhei, with a branch to Criuleni, 7 miles from Kishineff to Vorniceni and Nisporeni, and about 20 miles from Nona-Sulitza (Czernowitz) to Hotin. During the war, stretches were built also of the roads connecting Barlad, Zorleni and Basarabeasca, and from Baltz to Ungheni. The Roumanian engineers are working on a project for about 1200 miles of paved highway connecting Kishineff with the main centers, and these latter with the nearest points on the Moldavian highway system. There is to be one north and south highway from Hotin to Ismail via Kishineff; another along the Dniester; a transversal from Jassy in Moldavia through Kishineff to Bender; three running east from the Moldavian centers of Dorohoi, Botoshani and Jassy; one from Copaceni to Soroca, and from Glodeni via Baltz to Floreshti; three in the south connecting Cahul, Bolgrad, Ismail and Galatz; two in the north connecting Baltz and Soroca with Orhei and thus with Kishineff ; one in the south beside the lakes, from Akkerman to Bolgrad; one from Akkerman to Bender; one along the Pruth ; and various connecting highways; 700 miles are classed as "urgent." It is hoped to finish this project within five years, with an expenditure of a billion lei; that is based on an approximate expenditure of 400,000-$00,000 lei per kilometer; but in the south, where hard rock and gravel have to be brought in from great distances, I was told by competent authorities that it costs about a million lei per kilometer (about $7500 a mile). The appropriation for Bessarabian highways in the 1925 budget was 150,000,000 lei; but the distress into which the country was plunged by the terrible crop failure of 1925, coming after the drought of 1924, led to much emergency work, and the program is being speeded up, particularly between Orhei and Baltz, Bolgrad—Ismail, Bolgrad—Reni and Soroca—Baltz. Within a few years, Bessarabia will be as well provided with highways as the other Roumanian provinces.

The Russians discouraged the building of highway bridges across the Pruth, and in 1918 the Roumanians found only a few inefficient bridges of boats. Their highway engineers at once determined on the construction of ten bridges, at Cuzlau, Lipcani, Sherpenitza, Badragi, ShtefAneshti-Branishte, Badarai-Moara Domneasea, Tzutzora, Sarata, Bumbala-Leova, Targ-Falciu and Cahul-Oancea. Of these, four are already finished—those at Cuzlau, Lipcani, Sarata, and Targ-Falciu. Roumania is just on the verge of the automobile epoch; although the country is %s as large as California, it possesses only about 20,000 automobiles,, half of which are in or about Bucharest. The highways and bridges, even in Bessarabia, will usher in this epoch, not follow in its train, as they did in our West, which Roumania so much resembles.

The railway situation in Bessarabia in 1918 was especially difficult. In the first place, railway mileage was pitifully inadequate—only 1060 kilometers ( = 657 miles); in the second place, the main lines converged on Russia, and were broad gauge; and finally, both rolling stock and right of way were in bad shape. There were about 400 locomotives, less than a hundred being fit for use; 290 passenger coaches, plus 33 more out of repair; and out of 4530 freight cars and 187 tank cars, only 1389 and 103 were usable. The first task of the Roumanians was to reduce the gauge to normal—4 ft. 81/2 in.—so that through cars could be run to the rest of Europe. My first trip to Bessarabia, in 1919, fell in the midst of this process; the old Russian equipment was still in use; then a third rail was laid, so that normal gauge cars and engines could also use the lines; now, all is standard gauge, except for an English narrow gauge line, the status of which has been in the courts for some time; through sleepers run from Kishineff to Czernowitz and to Bucharest.

Map of Bessarabia

A glance at the map will show that the few railroads in Bessarabia were designed to connect the province with Russian centers, and for strategic purposes. The Roumanians are now working on new lines, to connect Bessarabian centers with each other, to provide important towns now isolated, like Orhei, with railway service, and to connect the interior with the sea and with Moldavia. One important line, that from Kishineff south to Sacaidac (Sahaidac), on the road from Bender (Tighina) to the Danube, is now finished; this eliminates the long detour over to Bender, dangerous also on account of possible Russian raids over the border.

Before the war, a Russian company provided water transport on the Pruth, Dniester and Danube, with some 25 or 30 tugs and motor-boats, and quite a fleet of barges; they carried some 16,000 car-loads annually, mainly grain. Commerce is picking up again on the Pruth and Danube, but the Dniester remains closed, pending an arrangement with Soviet Russia.

Business in Bessarabia is almost altogether in Jewish hands; of 242 registered manufacturers, two were Poles, three Bulgarians, four Ca-reeks, fifteen Roumanians, eighteen Russians, and 197 Jews. Wholesale and retail business and money-lending are also mainly in their hands. When Kishineff was still Russian, pogroms occasionally took place; one of the older residents of Jassy told me they always knew in the old daps when a pogrom was about to occur, by the influx of Jews from Kishineff. Since the Russian Revolution, there has been a constant Jewish immigration from the Ukraine into Bessarabia. While Roumania has never devised a quota system so as to keep out Jewish immigration, this inrush has been in the highest degree embarrassing these last few years, particularly in Bessarabia, where business conditions were bad; in Baltz, e. g., the population has risen from 22,000 in 1922, to over 50,000 in 1926, the increment being almost entirely Hebrew. Nevertheless these incoming Ukrainian Jews were given circulation permits, with which they could move about Roumania like natives, and obtain passports for abroad. It is calculated that over 60,000 entered Roumania and are now resident there. I had occasion in 1919, 1921 and 1925 to admire the relief and educational work done in Kishineff and other centers for these Jews, by Hebrew relief organizations and the Roumanian Government; I was impressed, at a service on March 21, 1925, in the chief synagogue at Kishineff, to hear a patriotic address by the chief rabbi, expressing their gratitude to the government; the whole congregation joined heartily in the Roumanian national anthem. Lawless elements in Roumania, with large help from outside, have fomented anti-Semitic feeling the past two years; such incidents as those of Teleneshti (in Jane 1926) have received wide publicity; but that this feeling is not deep is shown by the testimony given by Morris Gest, quoted in the New York Times of August 14, 1921— "There (i. e., in Kishineff ) he did not find the discrimination which before the war had existed against the Jew. All nationalities enjoy political freedom and social equality. The people are thrifty and hard working, and are making a good fight against the depression and havoc of the war." In the same way, Dr. Henry Moskowitz, in his report on Jewish Reconstruction (1926), while deploring the vogue of political and social anti-Semitism, bore witness to the efficiency evident in the Jewish trade-schools of Kishineff, Bender and Orhei, and the progress of Jewish agricultural development; he reported that three gold medals were awarded in the Kishineff Exposition of 1925 to the Jewish relief organization, the "Ort," and that Queen Marie had personally thanked the officials. The Roumanian character is naturally tolerant (see p. 219; , as is shown by the fact that Roumania, unlike France, Poland and Jugoslavia, did not disturb the notoriously disloyal church authorities in the annexed territories; and the recent wave of anti-Semitism, still so rampant in Hungary, seems subsiding in Roumania. It arose, curiously enough, in the medical schools. No discrimination exists in the Roumanian universities against the Jews, who form a very large percentage of students,, especially in the profession: schools, which have been overcrowded since the war. Anti-Semitic students suddenly demander that Jewish corpses be provided for dissection in proportion to the number of Jewish students The rabbis forbade such use of Jewish bodies, and the battle was on. It led to excesses, and has been regrettably exploited by clever politicians. Nevertheless the status of the Jew in Bessarabia has improved enormously since the Russian days of the province; one has only to read Cyrus Adler's book, or a few anecdotes in Prince Urusoff's. They give a vivid picture of the wretched condition of the Bessarabian Jews a generation ago.

The banking situation in Bessarabia, as in the other new provinces, was completely upset by the change in government; the chief banking institutions were branches of the great Russian banks, and it has taken years to wind up their affairs. At the present day, Bessarabia is served by branches of most of the leading Bucharest institutions; incidentally, they handle huge sums transmitted from the United States; many Bessarabian Jews who have found new homes over here, send much money back to their relatives; one Kishineff banker told me that this American money was a saving factor in the general business depression. There is complaint, as generally in Roumania, of tight money, particularly for business expansion, which is an attractive field in this little-developed country; and high rates, up to 3 and 4% a month for well-secured accommodation, are not uncommon. The Roumanian banking authorities have set their faces like flint against inflation, and depreciation of the currency; perhaps they have erred a bit in making legitimate accommodation rather difficult. But with the funding of the Roumanian debt by M. Titulesco in December 1925, American capital will doubtless flow into Roumania, where it has an attractive field, and Bessarabian needs will be met. Under the Russians, in 1912, there were 65 banks and other credit institutions doing business in Bessarabia, with total assets amounting to 85,368,953 rubles (@ 50¢) ; there were also several mortgage-loan companies for the large land-owners, a government land bank for the nobility, one for the peasantry, and the Cherson Zemstvo-Bank. It is a commentary on the character of the Russian land-owners that 70% of all the large estates were mortgaged; loans totaling 111,000,000 rubles had been made on 3,190,000 acres of land, worth about 186,000,000 rubles; and this money was largely spent in extravagance, not used for improvements.

From 1904 on, there was rapid development of cooperative societies in Bessarabia, together with savings banks and loan offices; in 1911, there were165 loan societies, 117 savings banks, 43 professional savings and loan societies, and 8 Zemstvo loan offices; these had assets of nearly 10,000,000 rubles. There were also 89 government savings banks, with deposits of 9,000,000 rubles. Today, there are toward 500 of these cooperative institutions; these are divided between popular banks, with a paid-in capital of some six million lei, a reserve fund of over twenty million lei, and deposits of over 25,000,000 lei. The rapid depreciation of the leu, which now hovers at about 1/2¢, was a great blow to these institutions; and in the enormous need of capital in the new Roumania, Bessarabia has been slighted. I was given, as a typical case, that of Mireni (Kishineff), a town of some 5000 people, where the town cooperative had a capital of 300,000 gold rubles before the war, and has only 200,000 paper lei today.

They have to deal further with the difficulty of finding trained personnel at the low salaries they offer and complain that politics has found its way into that field also. Nevertheless these cooperatives have a bright future, being already installed in a country where the farmers now own the land, and stand on the edge of that expansion which has changed our own West so completely during our lifetime. Doubtless American capital will flow into this course also, by way of Bucharest or the big banks in Kishineff, with their close New York affiliations.

Next Chapter

Previous Chapter




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents