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CHAPTER VIII

RUSSIA ORGANIZES THE PROVINCE

Bessarabia, as occupied by the Russians in 1812, comprised the Moldavian districts of Greceni, Codru, Hotarniceni, Orhei, Soroca, and parts of Jassy and Carligatura, which lay on both sides of the Pruth; the Turkish sanjaks (raias) of Hotin, Bender, Akkerman, Kilia, Ismail and Reni; and the Budjak or Tatarlyk, just evacuated by the Tartars. It comprised 45,630 square kilometers, and included 5 cities (i. e., towns with fortresses), some 14 or 15 market-towns, and 500-600 villages, with a total population, according to the official Russian figures of July 23, 1812, of 41,160 families, or about 250,000 persons; in 1813, the Russian estimate gives 55,560 families. By 1823, the population seems to have increased to 550,000; in 1829, it had fallen to 412,429; but from then on the official estimates show a constant gain; in 1846, 811,734; 1856, 990,274. We have no accurate knowledge of the population of Bessarabia during the last years of its independence; but we do know from many sources that the Russians had no sooner taken over the province than there was an enormous exodus of the peasantry across the Pruth into free Moldavia; most scholars believe that Bessarabia lost about one-third of its population during the first year or two of the Russian occupation. Gen. Kisseleff himself (Kasso, "Russia on the Danube," p. 211) said: "The inhabitants fled out of Bessarabia, preferring the Turkish regime, hard though it was, to ours." We have a report of Bishop Demetrius Sulima of Bender and Akkerman to the Metropolitan, Gabriel Banulesco-Bodoni, stating (Nov. 9, 1812) that the entire population of the village of Saba (Shaba) near Akkerman had fled, except for three or four families. In their place, by the way, the Russians established French Swiss settlers, whose descendants still occupy this village. Nor is the reason hard to seek. The archives of Kishineff are still full of complaints from headmen of the villages, about exactions and outrages at the hands of the Russian troops; and word had spread among the peasants that the Russian system of serfdom was to be introduced, in place of the mild Moldavian land-tenure. So serious was the danger of depopulation that the Pruth was lined with garrisons to prevent Moldavians from crossing; and the government started a rumor all over Bessarabia that the plague was raging in Moldavia proper, which was not the case.

The first Russian census after the annexation (1816) revealed a province almost solidly Roumanian-of a population of about half a million, 921/2 % Moldavian and Ukrainian, 11/2 % Lipovans (Russian heterodox), 41/2% Jews, 1.6% other races. We know that some Bulgarians had come in about 1770, 1790 and after 1806; and there was a large Bulgarian immigration in the first decade of Russian occupancy. Today, the Bulgarians form one of the most solid elements in Southern Bessarabia, numbering (with the Gagaoutzi, Turkish-speaking Christians also from the Dobrudja) nearly 150,000. Colonization brought in numerous Great Russian peasants, and the Russian bureaucracy imported Russian office-holders and professional men; according to the Roumanian estimate of 1920, the Great Russians were about 75,000 in number (2.9% ), and the Lipovans and Cossacks 59,000 (2.2% ) ; the Little Russians (Ukrainians) came to 254,000 (9.6%). That, plus about 10,000 Poles, brings the total number of Slavs to 545,000 in a population of 2,631,000, or about one-fifth; the Roumanians came to 1,683,000, just above 5/8; the Jews were almost exactly 1/10 (267,000) ; of the other nationalities, the Germans were the most important. They were offered free land and many privileges by the Czars in the early nineteenth century, .and have made much of Southern Bessarabia their own, having prospered greatly. The Union Pacific Railway tempted some of these Bessarabian Germans to emigrate to Kansas, where they were assured of finding land for wheat-raising like that to which they were used in Bessarabia; and today their descendants are flourishing in two counties of Kansas, Hays being the nearest large center.

There are about 10,000 gypsies in Bessarabia. Of the other nationalities, the Greeks are the most important; there are about 5000 of them, almost all engaged in business or banking in the cities. There are also several thousand Armenians and Albanians, and the French Swiss colony just mentioned, at Shaba, near Akkerman, where excellent wine is made. I had the privilege of attending their church service and visiting several of their leading citizens; although their colony is about a century old, they have kept up constant relations with their relatives in Switzerland, and many of the younger members have been educated there. But the collapse of the leu and the rise of the Swiss franc have put an end to that.

Alarmed by conditions in Bessarabia, the Russians proceeded slowly with their organization of the country as a Russian province (gubernia). Gen. Harting, Governor-General from 1813-16, had endeavored to introduce the system at once, but was unfortunate in his selection of officials (Capodistria wrote to his successor, Bakhmetieff: "Send back at once .out of Bessarabia all of Gen. Harting's appointees"), and roused vigorous protests from the boyars. The old Russian Imperial government was never an administrative success, and least of all in Bessarabia. Gen. Kissileff, venting his disgust over conditions under Harting, wrote Alexander I: "Everything there is for sale, everything has its price, and the prefects are obliged to steal more than the rest, seeing that they have paid twenty or thirty thousand rubles apiece for their nominations." As conditions were going from bad to worse, St. Petersburg finally appointed a Viceroy, Count Vorontzoff (1823-44), who remained there during the terms of seven governors. He did his best to improve matters; but we have a letter of Gen. Kisseleff's of June 11, 1833, in answer to one of his, saying "You paint me a very sad picture of Bessarabia. The Moldavians are in a hurry to sell their estates, while in the Bucovina the land-owners pay a 30% tax, but praise the regularity and honesty of the administration. You have been badly served by the governors who keep being changed .at Kishineff, and by those officials who are the dregs of Russia and Moldavia." Even Czar Alexander's rescript speaks of "unsatisfactory officials, undesirable Russians, gathered in haste, in the exigencies of the time." A great curse was the official favoritism at St. Petersburg, by which huge grants of land, or appointments, were made at Bessarabian expense, without regard to Bessarabian advantage; indeed, the plan was in part to supplant the native Moldavian gentry. We find, e. g., that in the district of Akkerman, Count Nesselrode was given 25,000 acres in 1824 and the same amount also in Bender; in 1825, the daughter of Field-Marshal Kutussoff, 15,000; and so on for nearly sixty grants in those two districts alone.

These favorites of the Russian rulers became the new landed aristocracy of Bessarabia; but some of the Moldavian boyars were undisturbed; and some of those dispossessed by Turks or Russians left descendants who have always formed a privileged caste in Bessarabia, the "Mazils" and the "Razeshi." The Mazils kept or secured a certain amount of land and of privileges; they had their organization, with a captain; many had ancient documents confirming their ancestors in their rights. In fact, the Russians found it necessary to recognize the Mazils as a class apart, by a special law of March 10, 1847; and when, after the Revolution of 1905, an effort was made to do away with their privileged position, several villages of Mazils in the districts of Corneshti, Chiscareni and Teleneshti, rose as one man, and the government had to use dragoons to reduce them; their leaders were sent to Siberia, but finally they succeeded in recovering their rights. But the Agrarian Reform has put all on a level in Bessarabia, as elsewhere in Roumania; and the Mazils and Razeshi will survive merely as social distinctions. The Mazils were always intensely class-conscious; they never intermarried with the new-comers, particularly the Russians. The Razeshi were the descendants of Moldavian frontier guards, who had had land given them by the Moldavian princes in return for their services, and who had succeeded in keeping that land in their possession. They were not a caste apart, like the Mazils; the name Razesh simply indicates a form of land tenure; technically their land was the common property of a corporation, but actually each family occupied a certain portion, and the legal status of that land was a constant bone of contention between boyars, other land-owners, and different Razeshi. Below them was the landless farm-hand, whose status we have already pictured.

Unfortunately for the Bessarabians, corruption was not a transitory phenomenon. Prince Urusoff, Governor-General in 1903-4, has written an interesting book on his experiences, in which he says: "Now that mention has been made of illegal exactions, we shall dwell a moment on this subject. Once, with the aid of a prosecuting attorney, familiar with the region, I tried to reckon, in as close an approximation as possible, the amount of graft secured by the police. It came out over a million rubles a year. I became convinced myself that in the Bessarabian police system, graft plays a major role. It is not hard to convince oneself of that, on seeing underprefects of police driving in four-horse carriages, traveling first-class on the trains, buying houses and land, losing hundreds and thousands of rubles at cards. In general outline, this is the state of affairs there are some men who do not take anything; a large number who take bribes within limits which, according to local opinion, are natural and proper, and finally a minority who take all the graft they can on every occasion and from everyone, like common criminals; these are the ones complained of by the Bessarabians, and from time to time governors shift them about or send them into other provinces, to receive in their place sometimes characters of the same type." That is, the Imperial Russian administration in Bessarabia exhibited much the same weaknesses that its historian will find in other remote provinces, relieved from time to time by the appointment of strong or even noble characters, but speedily falling back into the conditions which made the Revolution inevitable.

Bessarabia had also a common experience with the other Russian border countries where language and traditions were non-Russian. Finland, Esthonia, Lithuania, Lettonia (Latvia), the Ukraine, White Russia, Poland, the Caucasus, all were subjected more or less to a process of Russification. Bessarabia went through a similar procedure. When Russia occupied Bessarabia in 1812, the country was overwhelmingly Roumanian in language and sympathies; and the Imperial Government went to work as elsewhere to make Russian the vernacular tongue. It is interesting to follow out this policy, in connection with the administration, political and religious, the schools, periodical literature and books.

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