18. RUMANIA IN DIFFICULTIES
My window, high up in the dazzling neo-French façade of the Athenée Palace Hotel in Bucharest, looks down on a little park smothered in almost tropical luxuriance of trees and flowers, where busts of minor Rumanian celebrities on marble columns stonily ignore each his marble wreath proffered by the languishing Muse kneeling on the pedestal. You've seen millions like them all over France. To the left lies the Atheneul, combining the functions of the Louvre, the Pantheon, and the Trocadero, and built to suggest the architecture of the Paris Opera. Its baroque dome bears aloft a frieze of gilt lyres, and the names of the great dead in gilt letters: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Pushkin, Camoens, Beethoven, Racine, etc., and two or three Rumanians unknown to the West. Eastward as far as one can see, red-tile roofs and white-stone copings pile up, broken with vivid masses of trees - palaces and mansions and hotels of the most florid modern French style, with an occasional Oriental dome or the bulb of a Rumanian Greek Church. It is like a pleasure city built by Frenchmen in the south, this little 'Paris of the Balkans,' whose Rumanian name, Bucureshti, means literally 'City of Joy.'
At sunset the town wakes from the baking heat of a cloudless summer day. On the right the principal and smartest street, Calea Victoriei, winds roaring between the High-Life Hotel (pronounced 'Hig-Liff') and the Jockey Club building - which might have been bodily transplanted from the Boulevard Haussmann. All the world is driving home from the races down on the Chaussée - a combination of the Bois de Boulogne and the Champs Elysées - where it has seen the stable of Mr Alexandre Marghiloman, chief of the Germanophile branch of the Conservative party, win the Derby as usual - one, two, three. The regular evening parade begins. An endless file of handsome carriages, drawn by superb pairs of horses, trots smartly by in both directions along the twisting, narrow street. The coachmen wear blue-velvet robes to their feet, belted with bright satin ribbons whose ends flutter out behind, so you can guide them right or left by pulling the proper tab. These are public cabs owned communally by their drivers, who are all members of a strange Russian religious sect expelled from their own country; their belief requires that after they have married and had one child, they shall become eunuchs....
Each carriage is the setting for a woman or two women, rouged, enamelled, and dressed more fantastically than the wildest poster girl imagined by French decorators. A dense crowd overflowing from the sidewalks into the street moves slowly from the Atheneul up past the King's palace to the boulevards and back again - extravagant women, and youths made up like French decadent poets, and army officers in uniforms of pastel shades, with much gold lace, tassels on their boots, and caps of baby-blue and salmon-pink - colour combinations that would make a comic-opera manager sick with envy. They have puffy cheeks and rings under their eyes, these officers, and their cheeks are sometimes painted, and they spend all their time riding up and down the Calea with their mistresses, or eating cream puffs at Capsha's pastry-shop, where all prominent and would-be prominent Bucharestians show themselves every day, and where the vital affairs of the nation are settled. What a contrast between the officers and the rank and file of the army - strong, stocky little peasants who swing by in squads to the blare of bugles, excellently equipped and trained! The numberless cafés and pastry-shops spill tables out on the sidewalk and the streets, crowded with debauched-looking men and women got up like chorus-girls. In the open café-gardens the gypsy orchestras swing into wild rhythms that get to be a habit like strong drink; a hundred restaurants fill with exotic crowds. Lights flash out. Shop windows gleam with jewels and costly things that men buy for their mistresses. Ten thousand public women parade - for your true Bucharestian boasts that his city supports more prostitutes in proportion than any other four cities in the world combined....
To look at it all you would imagine that Bucharest was as ancient as Sofia or Belgrade. The white stone weathers so swiftly under the hot, dry sun, the oily rich soil bears such a mellowing abundance of vegetation, life is so complex and sophisticated - yet thirty years ago there was nothing here but a wretched village, some old churches, and an older monastery which was the seat of a princely family. Bucharest is a get-rich city, and modern Rumanian civilization is like that - a mushroom growth of thirty years. The fat plain is one of the greatest grain-growing regions in the world, and there are mountains covered with fine timber; but the mainspring of wealth is the oil region. There are oil kings and timber kings and land kings, quickly and fabulously wealthy. It costs more to live in Bucharest than in New York.
There is nothing original about the city, nothing individual. Everything is borrowed. A dinky little German King lives in a dinky little palace that looks like a French Prefecture, surrounded by a pompous little court. The government is modelled on that of Belgium. Although all titles of nobility except in the King's immediate family were abolished years ago, many people call themselves 'Prince' and 'Count' because their forefathers were Moldavian and Wallachian boyars; not to speak of the families who trace their descent from the Emperors of Byzantium! Poets and artists and musicians and doctors and lawyers and politicians have all studied in Paris -and of late Vienna, Berlin, or Munich. Cubism is more cubic and futurism more futuristic in Rumania than at home. Frenchified little policemen bully the market-bound peasants, who dare to drive across the Calea Victoriei and interrupt the procession of kept women. Cabarets and music-halls are like the less amusing places on Montmartre; you can see Revues based on dull French ones, copies of risqué comedies straight from the Théâtre Antoine, or the National Theatre - which imitates the Comédie Française, and looks like the Municipal Theatre at Lyons. A surface coating of French frivolity covers everything - without meaning and without charm.
If you want to infuriate a Rumanian, you need only speak of his country as a Balkan state.
'Balkan!' he cries. 'Balkan! Rumania is not a Balkan state. How dare you confuse us with half-savage Greeks or Slavs! We are Latins.'
One is never allowed to forget that; the newspapers insist every day that Rumanians are Latins - every day there is a reference to 'our brothers, the French, or the Spaniards, or the Italians' - but really of purer blood than these 'brothers,' for the Rumanians are descendants of Roman veterans colonized in Transylvania by the Emperor Trajan. Some local writers complacently insist that Rumania is the inheritor of the Roman Empire; in a square in Bucharest there is a fountain showing Romulus and Remus suckled by the wolf, and some of the public buildings are adorned with the Insignia, the Fasces, the Eagle, and 'S. P. Q. R.' But those Roman colonists may have been originally drafted into the legions from Tarsus, or the suburbs of Jerusalem or south Germany. Add to that the blood of the native Dacians, a strong Slavic strain, Magyar, Vlaque, and a great deal of gypsy, and you have the Rumanian.... He speaks a Latin language strongly impregnated with Slavic and Asiatic roots - an inflexible tongue to use, and harsh and unmusical to the ear. And he has Latin traits: excitability, candour, wit, and a talent for hysterical argument in critical situations. He is lazy and proud, like a Spaniard, but without a Spaniard's flavour; sceptical and libertine, like a Frenchman, but without a Frenchman's taste; melodramatic and emotional, like an Italian, without Italian charm. One good observer has called Rumanians 'bad Frenchmen,' and another 'Italianized gypsies.' Shopkeepers and cabmen and waiters in restaurants are thieving and ungracious; if they can't cheat you they fly into a ugly rage and scream like angry monkeys. How many times have Rumanian friends said to me: 'Don't go to so-and-so's shop; he is a Rumanian and will cheat you. Find a German or French place.'
It will be said that I have judged Rumanians by the people of Bucharest, and that Bucharest is not all Rumania. But I insist that the metropolis reflects the dominant traits of any nation - that Paris is essentially French, Berlin essentially Prussian, and Bucharest thoroughly Rumanian. Sometimes there are peasants on the street; the men in white linen trousers, and shirts that fall to their knees, embroidered in delicate designs of flowers, the women in richly decorated linen skirts and blouses of drawn work exquisitely worked in colour, chains of gold coins hanging around their necks. They fit into the comic-opera scheme of things. But one hour by automobile from Bucharest you come upon a village where the people live in burrows in the ground, covered with roofs of dirt and straw. The ground their burrows are dug in is owned by a boyar - a landowning noble - who keeps a racing stable in France, and they till his land for him. Two per cent of the population can read and write. There is no school there. Several years ago the proprietor himself built a school for his people, on condition that the government would take it over and support it; for three years now it has been used as a storehouse.
These peasants eat nothing but corn - not because they are vegetarians but because they are too poor to eat meat. And the church provides frequent fasts, which are the subject of laudatory comments on 'frugality and thrift' by satisfied landowners. The peasants are very religious, or superstitious, whichever you want to call it. For instance, they believe that if a man dies without a lighted candle in his hand to guide him through the dark corridors of death, he will not reach heaven. Now many people do die suddenly without the lighted candle; and here is where the church comes in. The country priest charges the dead man's family eighty francs to get him into heaven without the candle, and a certain sum yearly to keep him there. The priest also takes advantage of the vampire legend - a superstition, widely believed in Hungary, the Balkans, and South Russia. If a peasant dies and others from his family or village follow in quick succession, the priest suggests that the dead man's spirit is a vampire. To lay this murdering ghost, the body must be exhumed in the dead of night (for it is strictly forbidden by Rumanian criminal law) and the heart torn out by an ordained priest, who drives a wooden peg through it. For this he charges a hundred francs. Once I went north on a night train which carried the Crown Prince's private car. It was a cold night, with a wind that ate into your bones. Yet all night long we looked from our window upon a line of wretched peasants standing beside the track, one every quarter of a mile, ragged and shivering, holding torches above their heads to do honour to their prince....
Never was a country so ripe for revolution. More than fifty per cent of the arable land is owned by less than ten per cent of the country's landowners - some four and a half thousand big proprietors out of a population of seven and a half millions, seven-eighths of whom are working peasants; and this in spite of the fact that the government has been breaking up the big estates and selling land to the people since 1864. The boyars and great landholders seldom live on their estates. Indeed, it is all they can do to keep up their hotels in Paris and Vienna, their houses in Bucharest, their villas at Nice, Constantza, and Sinaia, their winters on the Riviera, art galleries, racing stables, and general blowing of money in the four quarters of the world. One family I met posed as great humanitarians because they provided mud huts for their people, and paid them twenty cents a day - with the cost of living almost what it is in New Jersey. Add to this hopeless condition of affairs the fact that all voters in Rumania are divided into three classes, on the basis of their incomes, so that about one hundred peasants' votes equal one rich man's vote. There have been several revolutions in Rumania, the last one purely agrarian, in 1907; but since the conscript army system exists, it is easy to order peasants in the south to shoot down their northern brothers, and vice versa. You have only to see the Rumanian peasants, gentle, submissive, with almost effeminate dress, manners - even their national songs and dances are pretty and soft - to realize how frightful the pressure that would force them to revolt.
What is the trend of Rumanian public opinion? There is no public opinion in Rumania. The peasants will fight for whatever their masters decide will give them the greatest country to exploit. It is simply another demonstration of how military service delivers a nation bound hand and foot to ambitious politicians. So one must ask the politicians, and they will reply that Rumania will join the side that satisfies 'national aspirations' - as they call cupidity in the Balkans.
Now the Rumanians came originally from Translyvania, and settled the flat plain north of the Danube which includes Bessarabia, and stretches eastward to the Black Sea. A race of herders and farmers, they spread far; southern Bucovina is full of Rumanians, and they are found in compact groups throughout Bulgaria, Serbia, the Banat, Macedonia, and Greece. The most civilized section, Transylvania, was early drawn into the Hungarian kingdom; Bucovina was a present from the Turkish Sultan to the Emperor Joseph, and Bessarabia, twice Rumanian, was finally taken by Russia as the price of Rumanian independence after the battle of Plevna. And although many people now alive remember the passing of the Russian armies that freed Rumania from the Turk, they cannot forget the two million Rumanians who fell under the Russian yoke. It was partially to make up for the loss of that great province that Rumania stabbed Bulgaria in the back in 1913, and took away Silistria, where there was no Rumanian population. When there is no other reason for territorial conquest, this kind of 'national aspirations' is excused by Balkanians on 'strategical grounds.'
Bessarabia was forcibly Russianized. The upper classes, of course, easily became Russian, but the prohibition of the Rumanian language in schools and churches had the effect of driving the peasants out of both - of making a brutalized and degraded race, who have lost all connection with or knowledge of their mother country.
In Transylvania, the birthplace of the race, and the Banat beyond, there are some three million Rumanians. But there, in spite of the desperate Hungarian campaign to Magyarize the people as the Russians did in Bessarabia, the racial feeling is strong and growing. The Transylvanians are rich and civilized; when the Rumanian tongue was banned in the higher schools and the churches, they fought a stubborn fight, crossing the mountains into Rumania for education, and spreading the nationalist propaganda at home and abroad so thoroughly that every Rumanian knows and feels for his oppressed brothers on the other side of the Carpathians, and you can travel across Hungary as far as Buda-Pesth and beyond without speaking any language but Rumanian.
So the 'national aspirations' of Rumania, on 'ethnographical grounds,' include Bessarabia, Bucovina, Transylvania, and the Banat; and I have also seen a map in Bucharest, coloured to show that Macedonia should really belong to Rumania, because the majority of the population are Rumanians!
All this does not excite the peasant to the verge of war on any side. But there is a mortal wrestling-match going on between pro-Teuton and pro-Ally politicians. How many obscure lawyers are now getting rich in the limelight of political prominence! In the Balkans politics is largely a personal matter; newspapers are the organs of individual men who have jockeyed themselves to be party leaders, in countries where a new party is born every hour over a glass of beer in the nearest café. For instance, La Politique is the organ of the millionaire Marghiloman, lately chief of the Conservative party and only partially deposed. He was once so pro-French that it is said he used to send his laundry to Paris - but the Germans got him. His pro-Ally constituents split off under Mr Filipescu, violently anti-German, whose organ is the Journal des Balkans.... Then there is the Independence Roumaine, property of the family of Mr Bratianu, the premier - who was pro-German at the beginning of the war, but has become mildly pro-Ally - chief of the Liberal party now in power. And La Roumanie, mouthpiece of Mr Take Ionescu, the leader of the Conservative Democrats, who is the most powerful force in the country on the side of the Entente Powers. The Conservatives are the great proprietors; the Liberals are the capitalists; the Conservative Democrats are about the same as our Progressives, and the peasants' Socialist Agrarian party doesn't count. But all internal programmes were forgotten at the question: On which side shall Rumania enter the war?
Two years ago old King Carol summoned a council of ministers and party leaders at Sinaia, and made a speech advocating immediate entrance on the side of the Central Powers. But when a vote was taken, only one man present was with the King. It was the first time his royal will had ever been thwarted, and a few days later he died without returning to the capital. Ferdinand, the present King, is in the same predicament, and, what is more, he has an English queen....
It is a great game being fought over the heads of the King and the people by powerful financial interests, and the ambitions of political jugglers.
Meanwhile, a steady stream of Russian gold has poured into willing pockets, and the methodical Teutons have been creating public sentiment in their own inimitable way. Thousands of Germans and Austrians descended upon Bucharest in holiday attire, their wallets bulging with money. The hotels were full of them. They took the best seats at every play, violently applauding things German and Rumanian, hissing things French and English. They printed pro-German newspapers and distributed them free to the peasants. Restaurants and gambling casinos, dear to the Rumanian heart, were bought by them. German goods at reduced prices flooded the shops. They supported all the girls, bought all the champagne, corrupted all the government functionaries they could reach....A nationwide agitation was started about 'our poor oppressed brothers in Russian Bessarabia' - in order to divert attention from Transylvania and stir up anti-Russian feeling.
To the Rumanian Government, Germany and Austria offered Bessarabia, including even Odessa, and Bucovina would also be ceded if she insisted. The Allies offered Transylvania, the Banat, and the Bucovina plateau north of her frontier. Although there was much talk in the press about 'redeeming lost Bessarabia,' the Bessarabian question was really not a vital one, while the Transylvanian question was burning and immediate. Moreover, the Rumanians know that Russia is a coming nation, and that forty years from now, even if defeated in this war, she will be there just the same, and stronger; while Austria-Hungary is an old and disintegrating empire, whose drive will be no longer eastward.
Three times since the war began Rumania tentatively agreed with the Allies to enter - and three times she drew back: once in the early spring, when Russia was on the Carpathians, and again when Italy entered. The last time was when I saw Mr Take Ionescu at midnight of the day that Bulgaria signed her agreement with Turkey.
'I think Bulgaria has chosen her side,' he said very gravely. 'We are not such babies as to believe that Turkey would give up any territory for nothing. The Central Powers will drive through Serbia - only we can stop that. And I am in a position to tell you that Serbia can claim our help if she is attacked. The Austrians have closed their frontier to us, and four hundred thousand men are said to be massed ready to march on Bucharest. It is a bluff - a bluff to force the resignation of the Bratianu cabinet, and the calling of Mr Marghiloman to form a ministry - which would mean a German policy. Even if the Bratianu cabinet fell - which I doubt, for he is not for war - only he and the King working together could pave the way for Marghiloman. And that is impossible.'
Three weeks later the German drive on Serbia began; but once more Rumania
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