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 labor, 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 labor, 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 labor market.
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 was, 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.
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