1907 Romanian Peasants' revolt

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A cavalry patrol sabring the rioters in the streets of Comănești (Illustrated London News)
Infantry escorting prisoners through Piatra Neamț (Illustrated London News)

The 1907 Romanian Peasants' revolt took place in March 1907 in Moldavia and it quickly spread, reaching Wallachia. The main cause was the discontent of the peasants about the inequity of land ownership, which was in the hands of just a few large landowners.

Background[edit]

Most large landowners preferred to live in the cities and did not want to bother with the administration of their properties. Therefore, they leased their domains to intermediary lessors, in exchange for a fixed rent. The lessors in turn would administer the land and try to make a good profit in a short time. At that time, peasants formed up to 80% of the Romanian population and about 60% of them owned small crops, or no land at all, while the large landowners owned more than half of the arable land.

The blame for the revolt was initially put on Jewish intermediaries, given that many of the lessors were of Jewish background, especially in Northern Moldavia. The revolt quickly spread southward, losing some of its anti-Semitic character and becoming basically a protest against the existing system of land tenure.[1]

Course of events[edit]

A cavalry patrol watching the burning of farmhouses by the rioters near Bujeu.

The revolt began on the lands administered by one lessor, Mochi Fischer, in the village of Flămânzi due to Fischer's refusal to renew the leases of the local peasants. The Austrian-Jewish family of Fischer used to lease about 75% of the arable land in three Romanian counties in Moldavia (the so-called "Fischerland").

The peasants, fearing that they would remain without work and, more importantly, without food, began to act violently. Scared, Fischer fled to a friend in Cernăuți, leaving the peasants without signed contracts. The fear of remaining out of work, combined with the activities of alleged Austro-Hungarian instigators, led the peasants to revolt. The revolt soon spread across most of Moldavia, with several landowners' properties destroyed and many lessors killed or wounded. The Conservative government (Partidul Conservator) couldn't handle the situation and resigned, and the Liberals (Partidul Național-Liberal) of Dimitrie Sturdza assumed power.

On 18 March a state of emergency was declared, and then a general mobilization, with 140,000 soldiers being recruited by 29 March. The Romanian Army began firing on the peasants; thousands of peasants perished and more than 10,000 were arrested.

Casualties[edit]

Peasants[edit]

A vedette waiting on the highway at Brăila for an expected attack by peasants.

The exact number of peasant deaths is unknown, and even the course of events are not clear, because the government, to hide the size of the massacre, ordered the destruction of all documents relating to the uprising.

Historian Markus Bauer mentions a greatly underestimated official figure of 419 deaths,[2] while an unofficial figure, circulated by the press and widely accepted, of about 10,000 peasants killed, has never been proven to be true.[3][4] The same figure of 419 deaths was mentioned by Ion I. C. Brătianu in the Romanian Parliament.[5] The data available to the Prime Minister Dimitrie Sturdza indicated 421 deaths between 28 March and 5 April 1907. Likewise, about 112 were injured and 1,751 detained. Newspapers patronized by Constantin Mille, Adevărul and Dimineața, gave a figure of 12,000-13,000 victims. In a conversation with the British ambassador in Bucharest, King Carol I mentioned a figure of "several thousand".

According to figures given by Austrian diplomats, between 3,000-5,000 peasants were killed, while the French Embassy mentioned a death toll ranging between 10,000-20,000. Historians put the figures between 3,000-18,000, the most common being 11,000 victims.[6][7]

Army[edit]

Only ten members of the Army were killed in the revolt: an officer, Lt. I. Nițulescu, killed in Stănești, two sergeants and seven soldiers. Four others were injured: an officer, Capt. Grigore Mareș, also wounded in Stănești, two sergeants and a soldier. Seventy-five soldiers of the Fifth Dorobanți Regiment ("Vlașca") appeared before military courts and charged with revolt; 61 were sentenced to hard labor for life and 14 to five years in prison.[8]

Reactions[edit]

Many intellectuals, among them Nicolae Iorga, Alexandru Vlahuță, Ion Luca Caragiale, Constantin Stere, Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and Radu Rosetti, protested against the violent intervention of the forces of repression. Others emphasized that the government had a special responsibility for the fate of the peasantry and the country in general, and therefore an urgent solution to the "peasant question" was required.

Octav Băncilă's iconic "1907" painting

Impact[edit]

The events continued to resonate in the Romanian conscience, and were the subject of one of the best novels of the interwar period, Răscoala ("The Revolt"), by Liviu Rebreanu, published in 1932. It also formed the subject of a painting by Octav Băncilă, and of a monumental statue which can still be seen in Bucharest.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Daniel Chirot, Charles Ragin, The Market, Tradition and Peasant Rebellion: The Case of Romania in 1907. American Sociological Association, 1975, Vol. 40, No. 4, pp. 428-444.
  2. ^ "Cauzele și originea răscoalei țărănești din 1907". Bună Ziua Iași (in Romanian). 2 December 2013. 
  3. ^ Leasure, J. William (6 January 1992). The historical decline of fertility in Eastern Europe 8. European Journal of Population. pp. 47–75. 
  4. ^ Betea, Lavinia (14 February 2007). "1907-2007: Revolta fără conducători din Regatul României". Jurnalul Național (in Romanian). 
  5. ^ Dologa, Laurențiu (25 September 2010). "Răscoale românești: Răscoala de la Flămânzi - 1907". Ziare.com (in Romanian). 
  6. ^ Chirot, Daniel; Ragin, Charles (August 1975). The Market, Tradition and Peasant Rebellion: The Case of Romania in 1907 40. American Sociological Review. pp. 428–444. 
  7. ^ Eidelberg, Philip Gabriel (1974). The Great Rumanian Peasant Revolt of 1907: Origins of a Modern Jacquerie. Studies of the Institute on East Central Europe at Columbia University. p. 260. ISBN 90-04-03781-0. 
  8. ^ Sperlea, Florin (13 January 2011). "Armata și răscoala din 1907. Care este cifra reală a celor uciși?". Historia.ro (in Romanian).