5. Modern Period to 1866

In 1821 the Greek revolution, striving to create an independent Greece, broke out on Rumanian ground, supported by the princes of Moldavia and Muntenia. Of this support the Rumanians strongly disapproved, for, if successful, the movement would have strengthened the obnoxious Greek domination; If unsuccessful, the Turks were sure to take a terrible revenge for the assistance given by the Rumanian countries. The movement, which was started about the same time by the ennobled peasant, Tudor Vladimirescu, for the emancipation of the lower classes, soon acquired, therefore, an anti-Greek tendency. Vladimirescu was assassinated at the instigation of the Greeks; the latter were completely checked by the Turks, who, grown suspicious after the Greek rising and confronted with the energetic attitude of the Rumanian nobility, consented in 1822 to the nomination of two native boyards, Jonitza Sturdza and Gregory Ghica, recommended by their countrymen, as princes of Moldavia and Wallachia. The iniquitous system of 'the throne to the highest bidder' had come to an end.

The period which marks the decline of Greek influence in the Rumanian principalities also marks the growth of Russian influence; the first meant economic exploitation, the second was a serious menace to the very existence of the Rumanian nation. But if Russia seemed a possible future danger, Turkey with its Phanariote following was a certain and immediate menace. When, therefore, at the outbreak of the conflict with Turkey in 1828 the Russians once more passed the Pruth, the country welcomed them. Indeed, the Rumanian boyards, who after the rising of 1821 and the Turkish occupation had taken refuge in Transylvania, had even more than once invited Russian intervention.[1] Hopes and fears alike were realized. By the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) the rights of Turkey as suzerain were limited to the exaction of a monetary tribute and the right of investiture of the princes, one important innovation being that these last were to be elected by national assemblies for life. But, on the other hand, a Russian protectorate was established, and the provinces remained in Russian military occupation up to 1834, pending the payment of the war indemnity by Turkey. The ultimate aim of Russia may be open to discussion. Her immediate aim was to make Russian influence paramount in the principalities; this being the only possible explanation of the anomalous fact that, pending the payment of the war indemnity, Russia herself was occupying the provinces whose autonomy she had but now forcibly retrieved from Turkey. The Reglement Organique , the new constitutional law given to the principalities by their Russian governor, Count Kisseleff, truly reflected the tendency. From the administrative point of view it was meant to make for progress; from the political point of view it was meant to bind the two principalities to the will of the Tsar. The personal charm of Count Kisseleff seemed to have established as it were an unbreakable link between Russians and Rumanians. But when he left the country in 1834 'the liking for Russia passed away to be replaced finally by the two sentiments which always most swayed the Rumanian heart: love for their country, and affection towards France'.

[Footnote 1: Sec P. Eliade, Histoire de l'Esprit Public en Roumanie , i, p. 167 et seq.]

French culture had been introduced into the principalities by the Phanariote princes who, as dragomans of the Porte, had to know the language, and usually employed French secretaries for themselves and French tutors for their children. With the Russian occupation a fresh impetus was given to French culture, which was pre-eminent in Russia at the time; and the Russian officials, not speaking the language of the country, generally employed French in their relations with the Rumanian authorities, French being already widely spoken in Rumania. The contact with French civilization, at an epoch when the Rumanians were striving to free themselves from Turkish, Greek, and Russian political influence, roused in them the sleeping Latin spirit, and the younger generation, in constantly increasing numbers, flocked to Paris in search of new forms of civilization and political life. At this turning-point in their history the Rumanians felt themselves drawn towards France, no less by racial affinity than by the liberal ideas to which that country had so passionately given herself during several decades.

By the Treaty of Adrianople the Black Sea was opened to the commercial vessels of all nations. This made for the rapid economic development of the principalities by providing an outlet for their agricultural produce, the chief source of their wealth. It also brought them nearer to western Europe, which began to be interested in a nation whose spirit centuries of sufferings had failed to break. Political, literary, and economic events thus prepared the ground for the Rumanian Renascence, and when in 1848 the great revolution broke out, it spread at once over the Rumanian countries, where the dawn of freedom had been struggling to break since 1821. The Rumanians of Transylvania rose against the tyranny of the Magyars; those of Moldavia and Muntenia against the oppressive influence of Russia. The movement under the gallant, but inexperienced, leadership of a few patriots, who, significantly enough, had almost all been educated in France, was, however, soon checked in the principalities by the joint action of Russian and Turkish forces which remained in occupation of the country. Many privileges were lost (Convention of Balta Liman, May 1, 1849); but the revolution had quickened the national sentiment of the younger generation in all classes of society, and the expatriated leaders, dispersed throughout the great capitals of Europe, strenuously set to work to publish abroad the righteous cause of their country. In this they received the enthusiastic and invaluable assistance of Edgar Quinet, Michelet, Saint-Marc Girardin, and others.

This propaganda had the fortune to be contemporaneous and in agreement with the political events leading to the Crimean War, which was entered upon to check the designs of Russia. A logical consequence was the idea, raised at the Paris Congress of 1856, of the union of the Rumanian principalities as a barrier to Russian expansion. This idea found a powerful supporter in Napoleon III, ever a staunch upholder of the principle of nationality. But at the Congress the unexpected happened. Russia favoured the idea of union, 'to swallow the two principalities at a gulp,' as a contemporary diplomatist maliciously suggested; while Austria opposed it strongly. So, inconceivably enough, did Turkey, whose attitude, as the French ambassador at Constantinople, Thouvenel, put it, 'was less influenced by the opposition of Austria than by the approval of Russia'.[1] Great Britain also threw in her weight with the powers which opposed the idea of union, following her traditional policy of preserving the European equilibrium. The treaty of March 30, 1856, re-incorporated with Moldavia the southern part of Bessarabia, including the delta of the Danube, abolished the Russian protectorate, but confirmed the suzerainty of Turkey - not unnaturally, since the integrity of the Ottoman Empire had been the prime motive of the war. By prohibiting Turkey, however, from entering Rumanian territory, save with the consent of the great powers, it was recognized indirectly that the suzerainty was merely a nominal one. Article 23 of the treaty, by providing that the administration of the principalities was to be on a national basis, implicitly pointed to the idea of union, as the organization of one principality independently of the other would not have been national. But as the main argument of Turkey and Austria was that the Rumanians themselves did not desire the union, it was decided to convene in both principalities special assemblies (divans ad hoc ) representing all classes of the population, whose wishes were to be embodied, by a European commission, in a report for consideration by the Congress.

[Footnote 1: A. Xenopol, Unioniştii şi Separatiştii (Paper read before the Rumanian Academy), 1909.]

To understand the argument of the two powers concerned and the decision to which it led, it must be borne in mind that the principalities were in the occupation of an Austrian army, which had replaced the Russian armies withdrawn in 1854, and that the elections for the assemblies were to be presided over by Turkish commissaries. Indeed, the latter, in collaboration with the Austrian consuls, so successfully doctored the election lists,[1] that the idea of union might once more have fallen through, had it not been for the invaluable assistance which Napoleon III gave the Rumanian countries. As Turkish policy was relying mainly on England's support, Napoleon brought about a personal meeting with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, at Osborne (August 1857), the result of which was a compromise: Napoleon agreed to defer for the time being the idea of an effective union of the two principalities, England undertaking, on the other hand, to make the Porte cancel the previous elections, and proceed to new ones after revision of the electoral lists. The corrupt Austrian and Turkish influence on the old elections was best demonstrated by the fact that only three of the total of eighty-four old members succeeded in securing re-election. The assemblies met and proclaimed as imperatively necessary to the future welfare of the provinces, their union, 'for no frontier divides us, and everything tends to bring us closer, and nothing to separate us, save the ill-will of those who desire to see us disunited and weak'; further, a foreign hereditary dynasty, because 'the accession to the throne of princes chosen from amongst us has been a constant pretext for foreign interference, and the throne has been the cause of unending feud among the great families of this country'. Moreover, if the union of the two principalities was to be accomplished under a native prince, it is obvious that the competition would have become doubly keen; not to speak of the jealousies likely to be arousal between Moldavians and Muntenians.

[Footnote 1: The edifying correspondence between the Porte and its commissary Vorgorides regarding the arrangements for the Rumanian elections fell into the hands of Rumanian politicians, and caused a great sensation when it appeared in L'Etoile du Danube , published in Brussels by Rumanian emigres .]

Such were the indisputable wishes of the Rumanians, based on knowledge of men and facts, and arising out of the desire to see their country well started on the high road of progress. But Europe had called for the expression of these wishes only to get the question shelved for the moment, as in 1856 everybody was anxious for a peace which should at all costs be speedy. Consequently, when a second Congress met in Paris, in May 1858, three months of discussion and the sincere efforts of France only resulted in a hybrid structure entitled the 'United Principalities'. These were to have a common legislation, a common army, and a central committee composed of representatives of both assemblies for the discussion of common affairs; but were to continue to form two separate states, with independent legislative and executive institutions, each having to elect a prince of Rumanian descent for life.

Disappointed in their hopes and reasonable expectations, the Rumanians adopted the principle of 'help yourself and God will help you', and proceeded to the election of their rulers. Several candidates competed in Moldavia. To avoid a split vote the name of an outsider was put forward the day before the election, and on January 17, 1859, Colonel Alexander Ioan Cuza was unanimously elected. In Wallachia the outlook was very uncertain when the assembly met, amid great popular excitement, on February 5. The few patriots who had realized that the powers, seeking only their own interests, were consciously and of set purpose hampering the emancipation of a long-suffering nation, put forth and urged the election of Cuza, and the assembly unanimously adopted this spirited suggestion. By this master-stroke the Rumanians had quietly accomplished the reform which was an indispensable condition towards assuring a better future. The political moment was propitious. Italy's military preparation prevented Austria from intervening, and, as usual when confronted with an accomplished fact, the great powers and Turkey finished by officially recognizing the action of the principalities in December 1861. The central commission was at once abolished, the two assemblies and cabinets merged into one, and Bucarest became the capital of the new state 'Rumania'.

If the unsympathetic attitude of the powers had any good result, it was to bring home for the moment to the Rumanians the necessity for national unity. When the danger passed, however, the wisdom which it had evoked followed suit. Cuza cherished the hope of realizing various ideal reforms. Confronted with strong opposition, he did not hesitate to override the constitution by dissolving the National Assembly (May 2, 1864) and arrogating to himself the right, till the formation of a new Chamber, to issue decrees which had all the force of law. He thus gave a dangerous example to the budding constitutional polity; political passions were let loose, and a plot organized by the Opposition led to the forced abdication of Cuza on February 23, 1866. The prince left the country for ever a few days later. No disturbance whatever took place, not one drop of blood was shed.

A series of laws, mostly adapted from French models, was introduced by Cuza. Under the Education Act of 1864 all degrees of education were free, and elementary education compulsory. A large number of special and technical schools were founded, as well as two universities, one at Jassy (1860) and one at Bucarest (1864). After the coup d'etat of 1864 universal suffrage was introduced, largely as an attempt to 'swamp' the fractious political parties with the peasant vote; while at the same time a 'senate' was created as a 'moderating assembly' which, composed as it was of members by right and members nominated by the prince, by its very nature increased the influence of the crown. The chief reforms concerned the rural question. Firstly, Cuza and his minister, Cogalniceanu, secularized and converted to the state the domains of the monasteries, which during the long period of Greek influence had acquired one-fifth of the total area of the land, and were completely in the hands of the Greek clergy (Law of December 13, 1863). More important still, as affecting fundamentally the social structure of the country, was the Rural Law (promulgated on August 26, 1864), which had been the cause of the conflict between Cuza and the various political factions, the Liberals clamouring for more thorough reforms, the Conservatives denouncing Cuza's project as revolutionary. As the peasant question is the most important problem left for Rumania to solve, and as I believe that, in a broad sense, it has a considerable bearing upon the present political situation in that country, it may not be out of place here to devote a little space to its consideration.

Originally the peasant lived in the village community as a free land-owner. He paid a certain due (one-tenth of his produce and three days' labour yearly) to his leader ( cneaz ) as recompense for his leadership in peace and war. The latter, moreover, solely enjoyed the privilege of carrying on the occupations of miller and innkeeper, and the peasant was compelled to mill with him. When after the foundation of the principalities the upper class was established on a feudal basis, the peasantry were subjected to constantly increasing burdens. Impoverished and having in many cases lost their land, the peasants were also deprived at the end of the sixteenth century of their freedom of movement. By that time the cneaz, from being the leader of the community, had become the actual lord of the village, and his wealth was estimated by the number of villages he possessed. The peasant owners paid their dues to him in labour and in kind. Those peasants who owned no land were his serfs, passing with the land from master to master.

Under the Turkish domination the Rumanian provinces became the granary of the Ottoman Empire. The value of land rose quickly, as did also the taxes. To meet these taxes - from the payment of which the boyards (the descendants of the cneazi) were exempt - the peasant owners had frequently to sacrifice their lands; while, greedy after the increased benefits, the boyards used all possible means to acquire more land for themselves. With the increase of their lands they needed more labour, and they obtained permission from the ruler not only to exact increased labour dues from the peasantry, but also to determine the amount of work that should be done in a day. This was effected in such a way that the peasants had, in fact, to serve three and four times the number of days due.

The power to acquire more land from the freeholders, and to increase the amount of labour due by the peasants, was characteristic of the legislation of the eighteenth century. By a decree of Prince Moruzi, in 1805, the lords were for the first time empowered to reserve to their own use part of the estate, namely, one-fourth of the meadow land, and this privilege was extended in 1828 to the use of one-third of the arable land. The remaining two-thirds were reserved for the peasants, every young married couple being entitled to a certain amount of land, in proportion to the number of traction animals they owned. When the Treaty of Adrianople of 1829 opened the western markets to Rumanian corn, in which markets far higher prices were obtainable than from the Turks, Rumanian agriculture received an extraordinary impetus. Henceforth the efforts of the boyards were directed towards lessening the amount of land to which the peasants were entitled. By the Reglement Organique they succeeded in reducing such land to half its previous area, at the same time maintaining and exacting from the peasant his dues in full. It is in the same Act that there appears for the first time the fraudulent title 'lords of the land', though the boyards had no exclusive right of property; they had the use of one-third of the estate, and a right to a due in labour and in kind from the peasant holders, present or prospective, of the other two-thirds.

With a view to ensuring, on the one hand, greater economic freedom to the land-owners, and, on the other, security for the peasants from the enslaving domination of the upper class, the rural law of 1864 proclaimed the peasant-tenants full proprietors of their holdings, and the land-owners full proprietors of the remainder of the estate. The original intention of creating common land was not carried out in the Bill. The peasant's holding in arable land being small, he not infrequently ploughed his pasture, and, as a consequence, had either to give up keeping beasts, or pay a high price to the land-owners for pasturage. Dues in labour and in kind were abolished, the land-owners receiving an indemnity which was to be refunded to the state by the peasants in instalments within a period of fifteen years. This reform is characteristic of much of the legislation of Cuza: despotically pursuing the realization of some ideal reform, without adequate study of and adaptation to social circumstances, his laws provided no practical solution of the problem with which they dealt. In this case, for example, the reform benefited the upper class solely, although generally considered a boon to the peasantry. Of ancient right two-thirds of the estate were reserved for the peasants; but the new law gave them possession of no more than the strip they were holding, which barely sufficed to provide them with the mere necessaries of life. The remainder up to two-thirds of the estate went as a gift, with full proprietorship; to the boyard. For the exemption of their dues in kind and in labour, the peasants had to pay an indemnity, whereas the right of their sons to receive at their marriage a piece of land in proportion to the number of traction animals they possessed was lost without compensation. Consequently, the younger peasants had to sell their labour, contracting for periods of a year and upwards, and became a much easier prey to the spoliation of the upper class than when they had at least a strip of land on which to build a hut, and from which to procure their daily bread; the more so as the country had no industry which could compete with agriculture in the labour market. An investigation undertaken by the Home Office showed that out of 1,265 labour contracts for 1906, chosen at random, only 39.7 per cent, were concluded at customary wages; the others were lower in varying degrees, 13.2 per cent. of the cases showing wages upwards of 75 per cent. below the usual rates.

Under these conditions of poverty and economic serfdom the peasantry was not able to participate in the enormous development of Rumanian agriculture, which had resulted from increased political security and the establishment of an extensive network of railways. While the boyards found an increasing attraction in politics, a new class of middlemen came into existence, renting the land from the boyards for periods varying generally from three to five years. Owing to the resultant competition, rents increased considerably, while conservative methods of cultivation kept production stationary. Whereas the big cultivator obtained higher prices to balance the increased cost of production, the peasant, who produced for his own consumption, could only face such increase by a corresponding decrease in the amount of food consumed. To show how much alive the rural question is, it is enough to state that peasant risings occurred in 1888, 1889, 1894, 1900, and 1907; that new distributions of land took place in 1881 and 1889; that land was promised to the peasants as well at the time of the campaign of 1877 as at that of 1913; and that more or less happily conceived measures concerning rural questions have been passed in almost every parliamentary session. The general tendency of such legislation partook of the 'free contract' nature, though owing to the social condition of the peasantry the acts in question had to embody protective measures providing for a maximum rent for arable and pasture land, and a minimum wage for the peasant labourer.

Solutions have been suggested in profusion. That a solution is possible no one can doubt. One writer, basing his arguments on official statistics which show that the days of employment in 1905 averaged only ninety-one for each peasant, claims that only the introduction of circulating capital and the creation of new branches of activity can bring about a change. The suggested remedy may be open to discussion; but our author is undoubtedly right when, asking himself why this solution has not yet been attempted, he says: 'Our country is governed at present by an agrarian class.... Her whole power rests in her ownership of the land, our only wealth. The introduction of circulating capital would result in the disintegration of that wealth, in the loss of its unique quality, and, as a consequence, in the social decline of its possessors.'[1] This is the fundamental evil which prevents any solution of the rural question. A small class of politicians, with the complicity of a large army of covetous and unscrupulous officials, live in oriental indolence out of the sufferings of four-fifths of the Rumanian nation. Though elementary education is compulsory, more than 60 per cent. of the population are still illiterate, mainly on account of the inadequacy of the educational budget. Justice is a myth for the peasant. Of political rights he is, in fact, absolutely deprived. The large majority, and by far the sanest part of the Rumanian nation, are thus fraudulently kept outside the political and social life of the country. It is not surmising too much, therefore, to say that the opportunity of emancipating the Transylvanians would not have been wilfully neglected, had that part of the Rumanian nation in which the old spirit still survives had any choice in the determination of their own fate.

[Footnote 1: St. Antim, Chestiunea Socială în România, 1908, p. 214.]