Saturday, 21 December 2013


(From the Vienna correspondent of the Times.)


Roumania is quite a different country from Servia and Bulgaria. The latter are  Democratic States with Slav populations who are beginning to value national independence, and who look upon Russia as an enemy. In Servia and Bulgaria there is no national Russian party, except that which Russia subsidises and recruits from the criminal classes or from the ranks of desperate political malcontents. In Roumania the Slav population does not exceed 90,000, in a total of 5,500,000, and yet in this country there is a very strong Russian party ; it may in fact be said that the whole of Roumania would now be Russophil if Russia had not committed the mistake of taking from her, after the war of 1878, that portion of Bessarabia which had been allotted to the Danubian Principalities after the Crimean War. The Dobrudja, ceded in exchange, was a perfidious gift, intended to keep a perpetual cause for quarrels between Roumania and Bulgaria. About twelve miles below Silistria the Danube makes a bend, and runs northwards for 100 miles to Galatz, where it again turns eastwards, and runs for another 100 miles towards the Black Sea. . . .

Bucharest, the "City of Joy," is at an hour and a half by tram from Giurgevo on the Danube. Passengers who arrive at this place on the steamer from Rustchuk have to give up all the fruit or vegetables which they carry with them—an arrangement which the Bulgarian vendors of these eatables omit to notify to their customers The Roumanians live in dread of the phylloxera, and the sight of grapes—of which the finest sorts are  grown near Rustchuk—has an especially terrifying effect upon their Customhouse authorities ; but these officials in their flight have been known to seize and destroy packages of tea and bouquets of flowers is likely to propagate the fatal vine disease. At Giurgevo one gets into the Orient express which travels to Paris, and here passenger who are going straight through ought to be cautioned against the little tricks of money changing practised by the servants of the Sleeping Car Company dining their transit through countries having four different currencies. . . . Yet most things, except the bare necessaries of life, are very dear. House-rent, hotel prices, furniture, and clothes cost as much as in St Petersburg. Bread, meat, and vegetables are cheap, and so are horses, and this keeps cab fares surprisingly low, although the Bucharest droschkis or two-horse victorias are probably the smartest in Europe. Most of them are driven by Russian refugees of that peculiar religious sect who practise self mutilation. These big, sleek, beardless fellows, with shrill voices, dress showily in long kaftans of black velvet or light blue cloth, with silver buttons, and wear sashes of bright coloured silk—scarlet, blue, or green. They are capital coachmen, who take a great pride in the good grooming and harnessing of their horses, and in the proper varnishing of their carriages, and they drive at a bewildering pace. Then charge for a course being only 1f, without pouiboire, they are in constant request ; and it has become so much the practice of the Bucharester to drive over the short distances which the Londoner would do walking that cabs must be reckoned among the necessaries of his existence. The number of these vehicles and then dashing speed lend considerable animation to the new boulevards of the city and to the principal street, which leads to the Town Wood.
Of the Bucharest which stood twenty years ago little now remains. In Prince Gouza's day it was nothing but a big muddy village, it has now several good streets and a great number of nice looking mansions and villas standing in the gardens It is said that 500 millionaires have then winter residences in the town, and this explains why the place is so different from Belgrade and Sofia. Roumania has a great many large landowners, and by a recent law these gentlemen have to pay 10 per cent. on then incomes if they live out of the country. In old times the Moldavian and Wallachian boyards were fond of taking up their quarters in Vienna or Paris ; but being obliged now to patronise their own capital they make the best of it, and have converted it into an extremely gay city. There is a handsome opera house, a couple of theatres, two or three famous restaurants and besides this an amount of hospitality which makes the winter season highly pleasant. The furnishing of private houses is carried to is great a point of refinement as in London or Paris while as regards dressing, ladies appeal to think nothing of buying silks and velvets which have had to pay 50 per cent ad valorem duty. There is moreover among all classes of the people a vivacity, amiability, and eager desire to please and dazzle, which render intercourse with them delightful. 

The Romanians claim to descend from a Roman colony which settled in Dacia under the reign of Trajan ; but the race is very mixed, for the country was during centuries the battlefield of Hungarians, Poles, and Turks, who by turns took possession of it and left descendants there. The language, however, is three fourths Latin, and it is surprising to hear how the use of it has be come generalised since the country obtained its independence. Formerly it was spoken only by the people, who adulterated it with a variety of local idioms ; and Greek used to be the language spoken at the Court of the Hospodars When Prince Charles of Hohenzollern came to reign he set himself to study the language, spoke it in his addresses to the Chambers, and has made it completely the official tongue. The adoption of the Latin alphabet in place of the Cyrillian has helped further to detach the Roumanian from the Greek and Slav languages, and has thus been a step of some political importance. It is now desired to discard the Julian Calendar, which would be a further step in the severance from Russia. It is only a pity that the opportunity for doing this was missed three years ago; for, as this year and last Easter of the Eastern and Western Churches fell on the same dates, the transition could have been effected without provoking too much ecclesiastical opposition.  German is less studied in Roumanian society than might be expected from the neighbourhood of Austria, and from the fact that a German prince sits on the the one-the rival French is preferred for intercourse with the outer world, and is so commonly known among the educated classes that two French newspapers in Bucharest are able to keep up a flourishing circulation. The elegant k├ępi of the Second empire, which the French themselves have put away for a heavier head-dress, is still worn; it is only in the iron helmets of the gendarmerie that one sees the choice of a Hohenzollern. The King has had the chief hand in the making of the army. Its organisation and discipline its armament equipment and tactics in the field are all of the first rate German models, and as the country grudges no money to the War Budget the effective strength of the army and reserve which could be mobilised for a campaign reaches the imposing figure of 200,000 men and 400 pieces of artillery. But one must not give the King unreserved praise, for he might have done more for the country if he had not spent his whole energies on the army. The strength of a nation does not depend on the number of men whom it can dress up in blue. It is a reproach to a country with a soil so rich as Roumania's that it should have no factories to prevent the waste of natures products. Roumania possesses petroleum springs but no refineries ; it has countless thousands of cattle, hogs and horses, but it has no establishments for tinning meat, or for boiling down fat into stearine for candles ; no tanneries of importance, no factories for turning hogs' bristles into brushes, and no depots for the sale of horsehair. The land yields fruit without stint, but much of it goes to rot because there is no home-manufactured sugar for making preserves; and there is no sugar because nobody has thought of utilising the beetroot winch can be here grown to the greatest perfection Agriculture is in the most backward state, and much of the wine which the excellent grapes might produce is spoilt by clumsy methods of vintage. A fraction of the money and some of the zeal which have been expended on the army might have done a good deal towards making Roumania industrially independent ; but the Roumanians do not seem to understand this and talk as if factories could only be set up with foreign capital. The inducements offered to foreign investors certainly look very tempting. One is constantly told that if Englishmen would bring money into the country, they would get free grants of land for factories, reduction of taxes, remission of duties on imported machinery, and bounties on exports. English capital is shy, however, because the Roumanian's appeal is much like that of a man who, squandering money on luxuries, begs of a distant friend for food and clothes. What the country asks others to do she could do for herself ; and once she begins to work for herself she will quickly get assistance without having to pay fancy prices for it. Meanwhile, the political preoccupations which have raised a large army against Russia are too likely to suggest that Austria-Hungary's protection must be bought by a renewal of commercial treaties which would bring Roumania no sort of advantage. Free-trade would be immeasurably more productive than a system of commercial conventions which will keep the country a close market for Austrian goods. Until this fact is grasped the fine Roumanian army will have to mount guard over squalid villages, unprosperous towns, badly-tilled fields, and a pauper peasantry.

The economical errors and misfortunes of Roumania account for some of the discontent which exists among the squirearchy, especially in Moldavia, and which attaches these persons to the Russian party. Although Roumania has a Liberal Constitution which recognises no nobility, the two old Principalities swarm with boyards, who sport coronets on their linen and call themselves princes or counts when travelling abroad. The descendants of the ancient Voiwodes and of the Phanariot Hospodars who misruled the country from 1732 to 1822 are an innumerable progeny. Five years ago it was computed that there were 3000 boyards' in Moldavia and about ten times that number of self-styled noblemen of lesser degree, while in Wallachia the proportion of noblemen was one to every twenty five inhabitants. Until Prince Couza's reign the boyards were owners of serfs, though not so absolutely as in Russia, for they could only exact a certain amount of unpaid service from the moujiks on their estates. In 1860 the peasants were emancipated, and received allotments of their masters' lands, the latter being indemnified with Treasury bonds bearing 10 per cent interest. These bonds were soon sold ; and the money, which should have served to buy labour, having thus been lost, the boyard found nobody to work in his fields. Then the estates were mortgaged, the manor houses fell into decay, and tho boyard began to lead a wretched grumbling life. Remembering the days when he was rich, because he had unpaid workmen, and forgetting how he had squandered the money which had been paid him in compensation for serf-labour, he cursed the independence of his country as the cause of his misery, and yearned towards Russia as a land where there is abundance of Government posts for lazy noblemen in distress. Some of the boyards who had the sense to accommodate themselves to the new order of things cut out careers for themselves in the public service ; but this was only the more irritating to the others who had not the talent to do this and, therefore, affected to despise what was out of their reach. By way of venting their ill-humour, these magnates took to persecuting the Jews to whom they had mortgaged their substance ; and, as they got the improvident and indebted among the peasantry to join them in this sport, they at least had the satisfaction of causing serious embarrassment to a Government which they detested. There is not much to be said for the Jews of Roumania or Russia, but disreputable, spendthrift boyards have made them what they are. It is not on the estates of the careful landlord who sets a good example to his tenantry that the usurer is seen. He comes like a rat into houses that are going to ruin, and if rapacious Jews have swarmed in Roumania so that the Government has now and again been helpless to prevent their being driven out by the exasperated peasantry, this is simply because the boyards for a long time did all they could to bring the Jews in. It is only natural that among men who have sold everything they possessed—including their honour pretty often—there should be plenty willing to sell their country, and accordingly one hears of a good many bankrupt boyards who are Russian agents or pensioners. Happily, the mass of the nation is on its guard against them, so that at Parliamentary elections the Russian party always sustains crushing defeats.

It is numerically strong, but its forces are scattered. It has the power of making mischief and noise, but not that of catching votes. The ten years duration of M. Bratiano's Liberal Ministry testifies to the steady predominance of honest, independent feeling in the country, and the recent explosion of popular sympathies in favour of Bulgaria showed how rightly the Roumanians have perceived that the cause for which the Bulgarians are struggling is also their own. The Servians, on their side, have been moved by tho same right instinct, and thus the confederation of the Balkan States, which many statesmen have treated as a chimera, has somehow been formed without treaties or protocols.

 The Brisbane Courier 13 January 1887,

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