Romanian Peasant Revolt Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Peasants in Romania revolted against high rents and lack of personal property. Many of their attacks were against Jewish landlords of gentry-owned land. The army crushed the revolt.

Summary of Event

Romania was formed from the provinces of Walachia and Moldavia in 1858 and gained its independence from Turkey in 1878. At the time of its creation, it was divided among the peasant masses (who constituted 80 percent of the population), the landed gentry (who owned half the farmland), and the urban bourgeoisie. Almost two-thirds of the peasants had no land or inadequate holdings. There were also large numbers of non-Romanians, many of whom were Jews or Roma (also known as Romany, an itinerant group from northern India sometimes referred to as Gypsies). Power was divided between the gentry, who controlled the Conservative Party, and the urban merchants and industrialists, who ran the Liberal Party. Before 1914, the peasants had no voice and little land of their own, and they were forced to work as hired labor or tenants on the great estates that belonged to the gentry and absentee landlords. The gentry leased the land to individuals and corporations that recouped profits by charging high rents. High taxes and the drought of 1906 made conditions worse for the peasants. Revolts;Romania Romanian peasant revolt [kw]Romanian Peasant Revolt (Mar., 1907) [kw]Peasant Revolt, Romanian (Mar., 1907) [kw]Revolt, Romanian Peasant (Mar., 1907) Revolts;Romania Romanian peasant revolt [g]Balkans;Mar., 1907: Romanian Peasant Revolt[01880] [g]Romania;Mar., 1907: Romanian Peasant Revolt[01880] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Mar., 1907: Romanian Peasant Revolt[01880] [c]Government and politics;Mar., 1907: Romanian Peasant Revolt[01880] Sturdza, Dimitrie Alexandru Averescu, Alexandru Kogalniceanu, Vasile Carol I Maniu, Iuliu

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On February 21, 1907, the peasants began a series of large meetings in northern Moldavia, where they drew up petitions of grievances. Peasant movements were growing throughout Eastern Europe, especially in neighboring Bulgaria, where Alexander Stamboliski turned the Peasant Union into the country’s most popular political party. Alongside the peasant parties and associations, a growing cooperative movement appeared in Eastern European economies that sought to eliminate the need for middlemen in business. Romania, which remained in the grip of the gentry and bourgeoisie, lagged behind on both accounts.

The first signs of Romanian rebellion occurred on March 15, 1907, near Botsai. A huge peasant army arose and marched on Iasi, the Moldavian capital. Romanian troops met the peasants but retreated as the masses advanced. Agitators, including Orthodox priests, egged the peasants on, claiming that the rebellion was a holy war between Christians and Jews. (Many of the leaseholders were Jewish.) In one notorious case in several of eastern Romania’s Moldavian counties, three-quarters of the land called Fischerland was leased by the Austrian Jewish Fischer family. In March of 1907, Mochi Fischer Fischer, Mochi refused to sign contracts with his tenants, whose fears that they would be pushed off their farms led them to revolt. In fact, only one-quarter of the leaseholders were Jews, and the peasants attacked all the estates regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the lessee. Shops were vandalized throughout the region, and the revolt rapidly spread through Moldavia and into Walachia.

The uprising was not the first manifestation of peasant discontent. In fact, professors and statesmen had predicted the jacquerie of 1888, and Spiru Haret, the Liberal Party’s minister of education, warned of the political danger of a seething, uneducated peasantry in 1905. The liberal author Constantine Stere from Bessarabia, which was part of Russia at the time, defended the peasant cause in the pages of the journal Viata romanescu. The peasants, he argued, enabled Romania to increase its grain exports by 600 percent, but they were forced to live in bleak poverty and to pay unreasonably high rents and taxes.

Initially, the rioting in Walachia was not as furious as in the east, but teachers and priests urged protesters to demand land reform. Vasile Kogalniceanu, son of the famous statesman Michael Kogalniceanu and an advocate of peasant education and the cooperative movement, became the ideological spokesman for the revolt. He wrote a pamphlet called the Peasant’s Gazette, Peasant’s Gazette (Kogalniceanu)[Peasants Gazette] which outlined a land-reform program and summarized the struggles that had taken place in Moldavia. The publication of the Peasant’s Gazette catalyzed mobilization among the peasants in Walachia, and it inspired revolutionary action and military reprisals that were even greater than those in Moldavia. Anarchist manifestos circulated, and the situation became increasingly complicated for the Conservative government of Gheorghe Cantacuzino Cantacuzino, Gheorghe when his foreign minister, General Alexander Lahovary, died on the fifteenth day of rioting. The prime minister and the party’s parliamentary leader, Take Ionescu, argued over the best way to deal with the situation until Cantacuzino resigned on March 25, 1907.

King Carol I turned the reins of power over to the Liberal Party, appointing Dimitrie Alexandru Sturdza prime minister. Sturdza declared a state of emergency and ordered the army, which was commanded by General Alexandru Averescu, to regain control. Four thousand peasants marched toward the capital, while others burned the estates of some of the greatest landowners in the provinces. Averescu declared that the country was under a state of siege and placed 140,000 troops around Bucharest. He also had guards stationed at the banks. In the parliament, Peter Carp, a renowned author from the gentry and leader of the Young Conservatives, called for the government to take draconian measures against the peasants, and the representatives passed legislation calling for an end to the violence.

Averescu divided the country into military regions and prepared to attack the peasants with rapidly moving flying battalions and mounted artillery. One hundred thousand peasants, armed with guns, axes, scythes, and hammers, engaged the troops in pitched battles. Although the peasant soldiers were reluctant to fire on their own, the officers were quick to take disciplinary measures, and the army was unforgiving in its reprisals. In only three days, whole villages were destroyed and ten thousand peasants were killed. Meanwhile, Austrian and Russian troops assembled on the borders.

The revolt was quelled by the middle of April, but by that time more than eleven thousand peasants had been killed and another ten thousand arrested. In fact, because the king ordered the records destroyed to protect the political leaders, the exact numbers of those killed are unknown. The government arrested peasant advocates such as Vasile Kogalniceanu and the noted historian Professor Nicolae Iorga, and other activists were deported.

The government recognized that the peasants required some measure of recompense, and so the Romanian parliament passed a land-reform bill that distributed four million hectares in lots ranging from one to more than sixty hectares. The gentry and landlords, however, still held three million hectares. The government also introduced laws regulating child labor and minimum wage laws, established a bank that specialized in lending money to peasants, and created district councils with peasant representatives. Still, many considered the reforms to be insufficient, and several of them were made less effective by later legislation.

Significance

The revolt and the inadequacy of the reforms it inspired encouraged the growth of the peasant movement in Romania, especially after World War I, when Transylvania became part of the country, and the charismatic Iuliu Maniu made the National Peasant Party a powerful force in Romanian politics. General Averescu served as prime minister of Romania for two brief periods after World War I. After the war, the government introduced more radical land-reform efforts that took a great deal of land from the Hungarian gentry in Transylvania. This exacerbated the tense relationship between the Romanian and Hungarian governments, and most farmers still had inadequate holdings. The world depression made the peasants’ situation even more desperate.

The anti-Semitism Anti-Semitism[Antisemitism];Romania displayed during the 1907 revolt grew during the period between world wars. While Maniu himself was not an anti-Semite, other anti-Semitic peasant parties appeared, as did the fascist Iron Guard. From 1930 to 1941, this political group operated killing centers in Romania, making it the only country other than Germany that allowed state-sponsored murder. In addition, the government passed various anti-Semitic laws, but since Romania was allied with Germany in World War II, a large number of Jews from Moldavia and Walachia were able to survive and emigrate to Israel. After 1967’s Six-Day War in Israel, Romania broke ranks with the Soviet Union by maintaining diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Revolts;Romania Romanian peasant revolt

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eidelberg, Philip Gabriel. The Great Romanian Peasant Revolt of 1907: Origins of a Modern Jacquerie. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 1974. The best English monograph on the revolt. Concentrates on the causes and circumstances surrounding the revolt rather than the events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ilincioiu, Ion, ed. The Great Romanian Peasant Revolt of 1907. Bucharest, Hungary: Editura Academiei Romane, 1991. A collection of documents and articles on the events.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Klepper, Nicolae. Romania: An Illustrated History. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2002. An excellent study of the country with more than eighty illustrations, maps, and charts. Ideal for students and others interested in learning about Romania. Chapter 8 covers the peasant revolt. The author was born in Romania.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pop, Ioan Aurel. Romanians and Romania: A Brief History. Boulder, Colo.: East European Monographs, 1999. Brief but comprehensive history of Romania from ancient to modern times. Written from a conceptual point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seton-Watson, Robert W. History of the Roumanians from Roman Times to the Completion of Unity. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1963. Classic work provides detailed descriptions of events.

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