Village = settlement/ community which relies on self-sufficient farming. The community also builds its own dwellings/ houses and the people are united by uniform culture and traditions.
Peasant = agricultural worker who produces food to sustain his family and his community. Peasants constituted the engine of economy as they provided the most basic resource – food. The fertile soil of the historic principalities of modern-day Romania provided the biggest source of wealth prior to the XXth century and the economy relied mainly on exports of cereals.
The notion of peasant has been distorted to signify “poor”, a simple agricultural worker who delays economic development. But the term peasant also included middle-class farmers who owned large strips of land and produced for themselves, and for their community or external markets. The class of middle-class farmers, the most solid structure within farming communities, has been dismantled within the last century.
In the XIX century, with the Industrial Revolution which gave birth to a capitalist culture, the structure of society began to change. Cities began absorbing large numbers of farmers who became workers in the new industries. Britain became the world’s first urban society.
After WW2, the US and UK lead the massive industrialization of Western Europe. The communists forcefully industrialized eastern Europe, pushing peasants out of their villages in the collectivization program.
Romania has widespread High Nature Value farmland – good agricultural soil and low-intensity farming which helped conserve the biodiversity of the natural habitat. In the opposite pole is the concept of intensive farming, which uses chemical nutrients for increased production and profit. On the long term, it damages the environment and there is ongoing debate on whether the artificial fertilizers are healthy.
the evolution of the Romanian rural community, and the economic and historic circumstances that influenced their existence until today
Photographic collection showing Romanian rural communities
Henri Stahl, Romanian sociologist who dedicated his life to the study of rural communities, concluded that Romanian villages developed from medieval communities made up of free peasants where the land was organized on the basis of freedom and equal property rights.
The structure of early Romanian society was rural and egalitarian. The character of unity and freedom of these joint-property rural communities lies in the ancient Dacian tribes, which were organized in free “obști”. The archaic communal villages were made up of confederate forms (consisting of ensembles of villages), which initially had a defensive purpose. The autonomous status of these communities was recognized during the reign of Ștefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), who allowed them to keep the old forms of social organization and autonomy in exchange for loyalty to the throne.
This middle-class structure was later maintained by “moşneni” (local families who owned and worked their own land).
A feudal system (“later serfdom”) was introduced later from the West. Western Europe, as opposed to other parts of the world, had a strong hierarchy of power which was imported to other societies.
Towards the XXth century, the middle-class peasants gradually lost their rights to the lands due to the new foreign regulations imposed first by the Ottoman empire, and later by Western regulations imposed after the Crimean War. The communist reforms dismantled the middle-class peasantry and reduced the peasant to a basic laborer.
The peasantry around the world suffered under capitalist and communist ideologies, both of whom transformed peasantry into the urban proletariat; a self-sufficient society became a consuming industrial urban society.
Nicolae Iorga noted the self-sufficiency of the peasants “Our peasants are able to produce for themselves goods for which, in other societies, there are specialized workers“.
See global map here. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Romania’s plains belong to the Chernozem belts (Black Earth belts). There are 2 Chernozem belts in the world – one stretches from East Europe to Russia, and one in the Canadian Prairies. Chernozem and mollisols are closely related.
Due to political circumstances, Romanians lived divided for centuries in 3 historic principalities: Transylvania, Moldavia and Vallachia. Though representing the ethnic majority, the Romanians of Transylvania and Bessarabia fell under foreign administrations in different periods, who acted as colonizers denying Romanians the right to be involved in politics and administration. Moldavia and Vallachia were under under indirect rule of the Ottoman Empire as tributary states and its inhabitants maintained internal independence in exchange for annual tribute.
The original structure of the Romanian society was made up of free peasants who owned and worked the land together with family – they were called răzeşi or moşneni.
Serfdom was introduced by the Hapsburg, the Ottoman and the Russian empires. Europe used the manorial system where large landowners had serfs or peasants. A serf, by default, had obligations towards his landlord but at the same time enjoyed rights, distinguishing him from a slave. The boyars role was resumed to collecting tithes (compulsory taxes) and labor service from villages.
Due to the new foreign pressures, in the XVI and XVII centuries răzeşii (moşneni), the traditional Romanian landowners, slowly lost their land to boyars and monasteries.
1. free peasants
2. serfs (not entitled to land and obliged to work the land of the free peasants, or of the boyars)
3. free tenants (free peasants with no land of their own). The peasants of Transylvania had the status of “tolerated nation” despite being the majority ethnicity, and therefore their social/ economic rights were even limited.
Serfdom was diminished in western Europe from the XIV century onward since the agricultural demands were satisfied through increased exports from central-eastern Europe. Serfdom was borrowed in central-eastern Europe at a later time from the West, and maintained by boyars who controlled cereal exports and control of international trade flows.
The Ottoman Empire
In the XVI century, after several wars with the Ottomans, the Romanian principalities became tributary states. Serfdom was introduced in Vallachia and Moldavia, dividing the peasant communities into serfs and free peasants.
In the Ottoman Empire, the Romanian principalities enjoyed internal autonomy. In exchange, an annual tribute together with other pecuniary duties were payed (most of them with military destination). The Ottomans held the trade monopoly over cereal exports which were directed towards the West. The Danube river and the Black Sea ports were the main commercial routes for exports of the Ottoman, Russian and Austrian empires. The Ottoman empire was a major commercial partner of the West.
The Romanian desire for independence maintained conflicts between the Romanian principalities and the Ottoman empire; in the XVIII century, the Ottomans replaced the insubordinate Romanian princes with Phanariote rulers (Hellenic nobles). As traditional Greek merchants, the Phanariote’s main goal was economic profit through excessive taxation which lead to the impoverishment of the peasants. A positive change to the system was brought by Phanariote Constantin Mavrocordat in mid-XVIII century, whose reforms modernized the judicial, financial and administrative system of Vallachia and Moldavia; he issued new laws regarding serfdom, however the new laws were not applied by the administrations that succeeded him and the economic exploitation continued.
In 1821, Tudor Vladimirescu lead a revolt against Phanariote rule, which although unsuccessful, prepared the ground for the liberation which took place two decades later. After the weakening of the Phanariote system, a part of the Greek nobility became fully integrated. In 1848, the reform started by Mavrocordat was finalized and serfdom was officially abolished.
Transylvania and the Hapsburg (Austrian) empire
Around year 900, the Uralic tribe called Magyar migrated to Pannonia and the Carpathian basin present-day Transylvania; a warrior tribe of horsemen, they made their way in Europe through raids and conquest. In 1001, the Kingdom of Hungary was consolidated. During the XII century Mongol invasion of Europe, Hungary was hard-hit with its population being almost exterminated. In an attempt to preserve Hungary, Ladislau II initiated a plan of colonization and various people were welcomed – Cumans, Avars, Saxons, all of whom received special privileges in exchange for magyarization.
In 1437, the Romanian and Hungarian peasants of Transylvania revolted against the Hungarian nobility who had imposed burdening financial obligations and had limited their right of movement; the Romanians asked for recognition as integral part of the state. To counteract the peasant threat, Unio Trium Nationum (Fraterna Unio) was created – an agreement that recognized the military union of Saxon, Hungarian and Szekelers against the majority Romanian peasants (which also affected the poor Hungarian peasants).
A regime of serfdom was introduced – the only ones being exempt from serfdom being the Hungarian nobility and the Saxons. Although the Unio Trium Nationum also involved defense against the Ottoman threat, the Romanians of Transylvania actively participated in the battles against the Turks.
In 1600, prince Michael the Brave united the 3 Romanian principalities but was soon assassinated at the order of his ally Austrian general Basta, and the union was dissolved.
When Hungary fell under Austrian rule in the XVII century, the power of the Hungarian nobility in Transylvania was strengthened as Austrians feared Romanian nationalism. Schools, public administration, the justice system etc used the Hungarian language as the only official language, once again excluding Romanians. As a result, the majority of ethnic Romanians remained concentrated in villages until World War One. Serfdom was officially abolished after the 1848 revolutions, however ethnic Romanians only enjoyed full rights after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918.
Austria made use of Transylvania’s natural resources in the Carpathians such as wood, gold, silver, salt and other minerals. It order to facilitate transportation of goods to the Empire, a railway system was developed throughout Transylvania.
1784 peasant revolt lead by Horea, Closca and Crisan, the 3 Romanian peasants who lead the fight against the feudalism of Transylvania. The revolt was joined by other ethnicities but it maintained its national character.
After 2 months, the 3 peasant leaders were captured, executed and their dismembered remains were exposed in the public.
Closca’s memorial house
Alba Iulia monument in the memory of Horea, Closca and Crisan
Bessarabia and the Russian Empire
After the Russo-Turkish war of the early XIX century, eastern Moldavia (Bessarabia in the Russian Empire) was ceded to Russia by the Ottoman empire. Cereal production grew and the exports went to the Russia’s largest cities and to Western Europe. Bessarabia became top wine producer within Russia, assuring over 50% of the national production. Bessarabia suffered a massive deforestation process whose consequences are still felt today. No investment was made in the development of industries, the only industry remaining the extraction industry.
Moldova’s cities had a Russian/ Jewish middle-class who lead the administrative, justice, financial and cultural fields. Since Russian language became mandatory in education and administration, most Romanian peasants remained illiterate but at the same time avoided the russification process (source www.1812.md). After losing the war in Crimea, the Russian empire imposed a series of social, judicial and administrative reforms which included Bessarabia as well.
During the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the Russian military units were driven out of Moldova.
Moldova was reunited with Romania in 1918, and Bessarabia began major administrative reforms to rebuild the infrastructure. The reforms came to a halt when the Soviets invaded Moldova after the secret 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. Briefly freed by Romanian-German troops, it was again occupied by the Soviets in 1945 and the USSR state of Moldova was born. Besides adopting the new communist policies, Moldova also fell under Soviet economic monopoly.
With the loss of Bessarabia, Romania lost 1/4 of its arable land.
For more on Bessarabia under Tsarist rule and the reunification with Romania, see Bessarabia – Russia and Roumania on the Black Sea, by Charles Upson Clark
REFORMS – 1864, 1921, 1945
XIX century – New Order of the Modern World
The Industrial Revolution in the British Empire, fueled by its slave trade profit and American plantations, changed the entire social and economic system. It was preceded by the British Agricultural revolution, which was made through the enclosure of small peasant landholdings to create large farms. The enclosure, done by force, left the peasantry landless in favor of the bourgeoisie class. While entrepreneurship developed, the peasantry was dismantled and became dependent to employment in order to survive. The English peasants became the mass labor in the Industrial Revolution – the proletariat. By removing a large mass of peasants from the rural environment, an abundance of urban laborers was created for industries and corporations.
Great Britain’s urban population grew from 20% in 1830 to 70% in 1900. In Romania, 70% of the population was rural in early XXth century. Agriculture remained the largest component of the Romanian economy until early XXth century, followed by the oil and timber industries. Europe remained fundamentally agricultural until World War II.
The XIX century urban population growth in Great Britain caused by the Industrial revolution lead to a grain shortage. In response, the Corn Laws in Great Britain were cancelled, which gave free way to imports. The agriculture of the whole world became commodity for the needs of industrially-advanced countries. The rich cereal production of the Romanian principalities, together with its Danube transportation routes, made it into a spot of geo-political interest for the West.
Traditional agriculture and the new industrial world
Liberals gained major influence during the XIX century revolutions of Europe when the Industrial Revolution of Britain also reached its peak. Liberals regarded peasants as an obstacle to “revolutionary development” and they created the idea of a “peasant problem”.
“The Peasant Problem”
The Industrial Revolution changed the substratum of social and economic structure in Great Britain. Peasants lost their land and became cheap laborers in new emerging industries, which caused a growth of urban population.
However, the removal of peasants was a challenge in other countries. Peasantry did not disappear in Western Europe until the XXth century following the Second World War.
A campaign against the peasantry was born. Neoliberal writers, backed by capitalist entrepreneurs, spread the notion that a prosperous society is be based on the laborer and the mass industry while dismissed peasants as poor, stagnant and underdeveloped, an undesirable element of society.
Arthur Young compared the French tenurial system with the English counterpart. He associated the french farms with “misery and bad agriculture”, while praising prosperity in England on its industrial farming.
The anti-peasant campaign spread as far as China. Myron Cohen criticized the negative Western use of the term “peasant” for distorting the economic realities. Western writers were accused of creating a “peasant problem” where there wasn’t one, in an attempt to kill off peasantry.
In the words of Hugh Seton-Watson in 1945: “only by raising the purchasing power of the masses, and in particular of the peasantry, could the Eastern European governments hope to lay the foundation of a healthy industrial system”. Therefore the problem did not lay in the peasantry but in the desire for profit through mass industrialization and integration into the world capitalist system.
Virgil Madgearu, reputed Romanian economist, insisted on mechanization of agriculture, state subsidies and development of rural communities while opposing corporate control of agriculture and the complete transformation of peasants into urban laborers.
Liberalism vs. peasantry
Liberalism and mass industrialization, which promoted individual interests and mass production, did not sympathize with the rural commune mentality and its ancestral traditions where sustaining the community overrides personal profit. Liberals encouraged the replacement of the traditionally strong community ethos of European communities – with capitalism, which marked individualism, personal profit, “laissez-faire” tradition and a weaker communitarian spirit. Industrialization promoted movement from the countryside to the city, where workers were met with harsh labor conditions (child labor, lack of basic rights for workers, subsistence wages).
Entrepreneurs consolidated their businesses into massive corporations which forced out competition and gained control of markets. The replacement of men and animals with machine power was meant to ease the work and improve life for all individuals, but instead it was used to maximize output and corporation profit with little regards for sustainability. Liberals and businessmen asked for the market to be allowed to seek profit without government restrictions in the concept that it regulates itself naturally. When in fact it was the corporations that were setting up labor rules (low wages) and (high) product prices. Hyperconsumerism developed, with cities like Paris and London becoming symbols and promoters of brands and corporations.
While farming required periods of work alternating with rest, the factory system was set up to follow maximum profit with constant labor (12-16 hours/day).
The transformation of farmers to laborers increased the need for food since families were no longer self-sufficient. As a result from mid-XIX century Romania’s cereal exports to the Western markets grew three times over. The Romanian peasants saw a transition to a capitalistic system where their work was exploited for profit. Between 1830-1860, the number of petty nobles increased. Through bribery and various fees, fraudulent certificates of noble descent were obtained. Within a short period of time, numerous families were raised from common to noble status, many of them of foreign origin.
Union of Romanian principalities and the 1864 reform
In 1859, the Romanian principalities were united into the Romanian state under the leadership of prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza. A goal sought by Romanians for centuries, it was aided by the Western Powers who had economic interest in the Black Sea and Danube maritime routes and cereal production.
The union was followed by Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza’s major reforms which shaped and modernized the Romanian society and state structures. The “dedicated monasteries” which had become a financial source for Greek and Jerusalem shrines, were secularized. Following the expropriation of the vast monastic assets which included land, almost half a million peasants received land. The feudal system was dismantled which made the bourgeois class discontent with the loss of their privileges and land entitlement.
Thus they conspired to remove prince Cuza from the throne; he was replaced with a German king from the Hohenzollern dynasty who reinstalled their privileges.
The transition continued from the feudal system into a modern capitalist system, which in many regards became modern colonialism as it exacerbated the exploitation of the peasant. The new constitution granted full citizenship rights to all ethno-religious minorities. The ethnic minorities privileged under the former Austrian and Russian imperial orders (mainly Greek, Germans and Jews) who were high status minorities, became dominant in the urban population. A new middle-upper class developed in the cities; the new unified elite caused a wider gap between Romanian peasants and the small wealthy class. The foreign middle-class represented the main key to Western commercial trade and therefore was protected by Western consuls in Bucharest.
Romania in the Western Hemisphere
After the removal of both the Russian competition from the area and the Ottoman monopoly, the Romanian principalities unified and the new Romanian state fell in the economic sphere of Western interests. The European Commission of the Danube was born and the Danube navigation channel became an international water route. Towns like Galati, Sulina and Constanta became cosmopolitan centers, and control over trade and exports went from the Ottomans to British and Jewish merchants.
In agriculture, new farming machinery was introduced, and with it, crop production and cereal exports increased considerably. The new Romanian state became a major cereal exporter, while the situation of the peasantry remained far from satisfactory as production was orientated solely towards exports.
Over 50% of the arable land was redistributed to a few large landlords, while 80% of the population remained subdued to the landowners who organized themselves in major trusts (such as the Mochi Fischer trust in Moldova). The anti-Fischer trust revolt of 1907 – which grew into a national peasant revolt – began in a village ironically called “Flamanzi” (translated “The hungry ones”).
Romanian poet and journalist Mihai Eminescu noted in his Timpul articles May-June 1879: “Today, the peasant status decreases as the days go by, and the landlord, whose interests used to be identical with the peasants’, does not exist anymore as the entire merchandise fell in foreign hands. We might as well buy a piece of land in Mexico where we can start over when we wont have anything left in Romania anymore. “(Mihai Eminescu, Frază şi adevăr, Timpul, 23 december 1877)
The Great Peasant Revolt and a new reform
The exploitation of the peasants, which increased in the XIX century with the development of a new foreign middle-class, eventually lead to the Peasant Revolt of 1907 – a revolt directed mainly against large landowners.
Illustrations from London News 1907 of the Romanian peasants revolt
The constant social/ economic turmoil of the late XIX century exploded into the 1907 Peasant Revolt of Romania. The revolt began in Moldavia as response to the exploitation done by local Jewish lessors, and spread to the rest of the country. Over 10.000 peasants were killed and another 10.000 were imprisoned at the order of King Carol I who protected the interests of the bourgeois class. Despite attempts to cover it up, the peasant issue had become too obvious and an emergency law was introduced. World War I which followed soon after, lead to the drafting of a new agricultural reform.
1921 reforms and the interwar period
In 1918 following the first World War the Austro-Hungarian empire was dissolved. Transylvania, with a Romanian ethnic majority and Hungarian and German minorities, was incorporated into Romania. In Transylvania, over 50% of the land and forests were owned by the Hungarian nobility who were the large landowners, the rest being divided equally between Romanians and Germans as small-scale farmers. The reunion was followed by the major 1921 agricultural reform, one of the biggest land reforms in Europe at the time.
The reform lead to the percentages reversing, with 60% of the landowners being Romanians. With the new land, the owners were obliged by law to make use of it following a production plan set for each farmer. A debt problem developed with owners of up to 10 hectares, which the state took upon itself by issuing the debt conversion act in 1934 through which the state payed half of the debt. Peasants began to organize themselves in associations similar to agricultural cooperatives. Romania turned from a country of large properties to small and medium-sized arable lands.
The reform continued until 1939 when the threat of war halted the reform.
Up until WW2, over 2.500 agricultural cooperatives had been created following the free association of peasants. Peasants were slowly becoming both producers and entrepreneurs. The farm associations together with farms larger than 10 hectares could provide part or full-time employment, producing marketable surpluses.
Given its magnitude and complexity, the reform was still ongoing in 1945 when it came to an abrupt end.
Virgil Madgearu, reputed Romanian economist of the interwar era, argued that small rural holdings were more profitable than large-scale industry. He suggested development of infrastructure in agriculture but dismissed the interference of corporations in production, and instead suggested state-support for small and middle-scale producers.
Madgearu supported integrated and sustainable development of rural communities and traditional agriculture – against industrial agriculture and production. He argued that by supporting farmers, their migration to cities or foreign countries would be diminished, which also eliminated the possibility of overcrowded cities with high unemployment. Madgearu insisted on the necessity to concentrate state resources in the modernization of agriculture, and on the elimination of dubious pawnbrokers or bank credits who exploited the peasants since mid-XIX century.
1938 documentary on the Romanian peasants of Apuseni mountains, western Carpathians (also known as “moti”)
A present-day view at a few villages in Apuseni. At 10:30 – empty village with an old lady as its last remaining inhabitant. The traditional houses, part of the historical heritage, are falling apart. The community avoided collectivization but the inhabitants were impoverished by losing access to natural resources.
In recent times, 3 major events shaped the social-economic structure: 1949 – communism, 1990 – fall of communism, 2007 – European Union admission and liberalization of markets.
Communism and forced collectivization
After the 1945 Yalta Conference, Europe was divided for half a century by the Allied powers into 2 separate blocks: the Western Bloc, with a liberal democracy controlled by Western Europe and the United States (US); and the Eastern Bloc, with a totalitarian system controlled by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Though taking place in apparently two different worlds and two opposite ideologies, the Communist Collectivization program very much resembled the Farm Security Administration program from the the United States – both programs moved individual farmers into larger government-owned farms, apparently for the benefit of the citizens but in reality for the benefit of the government and/or corporations, where the farmer lost his independence. The photography program of the FSA also resembled the communist propaganda taking place during collectivization.
The movement of farmers and the land grabbing still continues today, though under other political terms.
War against the peasantry. The years of collectivization 1949 – 1962
1945 – Communism was a social and economic macro-experiment created and developed in the late XIX century/ early XX-century, and forcefully implemented in societies weakened by recent conflicts/ revolutions. Communism brought the collectivization program which lasted until 1962 in Romania. This process was facilitated by the presence of the Soviet army in Romania from 1945.
Lands larger than 5 hectares were confiscated and high cereal quotas were imposed. The technical installations in factories and the agricultural machinery were confiscated by the state. The economy was further affected by war reparations payed to USSR – forced upon in the Paris Peace Treaty, reparations which were payed for almost two decades (see SovRom goods). Romanian railways, aviation, navy, the industries and the agriculture were stripped of equipment, materials, machinery etc by Soviet troops.
Decree-law no. 187 on land reform, published on March 23, 1945 – see text here (Romanian language). dictated by Marxist-Leninist theoreticians from Moscow. The text was almost identical to the law drafted in east Germany.
NKVD directives for occupied countries of eastern Europe – June 4, 1947
A secret documented unearthed in 1981 showcases the directives from Moscow regarding the manner in which occupied countries of eastern Europe shall be treated. The document was elaborated by Laurent Beria, head of the NKVD (today’s KGB), and was released on June 2, 1947.
According to the Yalta agreement signed by US president Truman, UK prime-minister Churchill and Soviet leader Stalin, the agreement did not imply occupation of eastern Europe countries. The document says otherwise.
The directives targeted the weakening of education, health, culture, the impoverishment of citizens, the destruction of the self-sufficiency of farmers, the creation of an engineered dependency on imports, the liquidation (execution) of citizens who posed a threat to the Soviet presence. The document mentioned that all government, public administration bodies and factories were to be run by secret agents from Kremlin or by secret collaborators.
Directive no. 12 and 13, which target the farmer, are quoted below:
12. Pressure will be made on public services so they do not provide documents related to land ownership.
13. The policy towards the small peasant must make the private household unprofitable. Afterwards, collectivization must begin. In the case of resistance from the peasants, their means of production will be reduced while increasing their cereal quotas. If these policies do not bring results, the national agriculture must be organized in such a manner that it cannot ensure the country’s food supply, forcing it to turn to imports.
The kulak – the enemy of the state
Mechanized and modernized farms, owned by chiaburi (kulaks in Russian), were confiscated. These were medium-sized farms with 20 hectares or more that provided part or full-time employment to other peasants and had production surpluses which they sold on the market.
These entrepreneurs were called “the natural allies of the urban working class” or “the enemy of the state”. By vilifying the peasant – the core of Romanian economy – the communists tried to create a new society based on the urban worker instead of the farmer.
Victor Metea with mother – medical student and “chiabur”. His family was arrested while he was hounded, captured after 10 years of hiding in the mountains and sentenced to death at the age of 29. Click here for more Partisans – the anti-communist resistance
1951 mock trial of “chiabur” Vasile Bourceanu who refuses to give up 50 hectares of land. He is refereed to as enemy of the people, a criminal and other derogatory names. He is sentenced to years of hard labor.
“In our village” – 1951 propaganda movie, the first movie about collectivization. Peasants want to create a collective farm but are met with strong opposition from “chiaburi”
Almost one million hectares became the state’s property. Small landowners and landless peasants received a maximum of 5 hectares. Though confiscated from the owners without compensation, the new beneficiaries were obliged to pay for the land. With high state quotas to pay and without means of production and state subsidies, the peasants were forced to work for the state’s cooperative (state farm) in order to survive. This was a mechanism used to facilitate collectivization. The profit was directed solely towards the state, with peasants receiving a small share in exchange for their work.
Collectivization was a long and difficult process which went on for over a decade. Peasants resisted collectivization and communities organized revolts but their opposition was futile in front of the growing Communist Security police, which turned to increasing pressure and violence in order to control the masses (see Romanian partisans).
In the early 1960’s, politics and economics throughout eastern Europe saw a relaxation from the grip of USSR, with a series of reforms enforced by governments to distance themselves from Stalinist ideology. The reforms maintain certain limits due to the threat of Soviet military invasion (see 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Prague Spring). Romania’s collectivization ended and the war reparations to USSR reached their final payment. With the economy seriously weakened, the new leader Ceausescu took on the task of reviving it. He concentrated on developing the industries and a significant portion of the rural population was resettled to the new industrial cities.
In agriculture, over 5.000 state farms controlled 3 quarters of the arable land resources. A huge irrigation system covered 3 million hectares of arable land. Agriculture was mechanized, every county having its own “mechanization stations” (SMA). Agriculture saw a growing production in the following two decades, although the state concentrated the capital obtained from agriculture into other segments of the economy, mainly in the heavy industry. The percentage of industrial investment per GDP went up from 18% in 1951, to 34% in 1971-1975. Economy experienced growing sophistication in engineering, high-end wood processing, and electronics. The agriculture production was satisfactory but its output was used to finance national industrial development.
Despite having a strategic economic advantage in agriculture due to fertile soil and good climate, Ceausescu concentrated on industrialization which was also encouraged by Western partners as a key to prosperous economic development.
Nicolae Ceausescu – “Darling of the West”
Due to the anti-Soviet policy and rapid industrial growth, Ceausescu became a favorite of the West. Praised by Ronald Reagan, Romania was given a “most-favored- nation“ status in 1975 through which it received credit and trade benefits. On these terms, it was offered new international loans for further industrial development by the IMF. In a few years, the West shifted its stance drastically and Ceausescu was made out to be a dictator and violator of human rights. With new economic sanctions and restrictions, and with new high interest rates imposed by IMF, Romania plunged into deep sovereign debt. Forced to apply drastic economic measures to repay its debt, it brought big social costs which created tension within the population. See more about Ceausescu’s Romania.
Bessarabia and the USSR
Communism gave a severe blow to the peasants of Bessarabia (eastern Moldavia), forcefully incorporated into USSR. The “chiaburs” were deported to Siberia and Kazahstan in what was called “Operation Iug”.
During collectivization, the food was confiscated from the peasants as the grain quotas set by the Soviet administration were impossibly high. As a consequence, a severe wave of famine followed and collectivization was facilitated, as peasants turned to work for the state’s cooperative in order to survive. Blamed on drought and devastation of war, the famine was in fact engineered by the Bolsheviks in similar manner to the induced famines of 1921 in Russia, and 1933 in Ukraine (the Holodomor).
Engineered famines throughout Romania during the Soviet occupation were confirmed by US journalists in 1947 – see archived article “Starvation by design in Romania”
The famine induced by the Bolshevik regime was, among other things, a form of repression against the strong anti-communist feeling.
1990 post-communist reforms
1990 – After Ceausescu’s regime payed off the IMF debt in early 1989, a new IMF agreement was signed by the post-communist government in order to include Romania into the international market economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the European Development Bank (of the European Union) imposed structural changes in the economy through “conditional lending”.
Criticized for compromising the economic and political sovereignty, the structural reforms established with the IMF and World Bank involved elimination of subsidies, severe cutbacks, liquidation of major factories, state enterprises etc. and the privatization of large public utilities and national assets: gas, oil, energy etc. In some cases, a 60% privatization rebate was offered which meant state companies were sold at less than half their price. Instead of modernizing the old agrarian class and structure, the World Bank sought to dismantle it.
Industry accounted for 35% of the GDP. The mass privatization caused a drastic decrease in national production, which together with the loss of trading partners, UN sanctions against export markets such as Iraq and Yugoslavia and the dissolution of CMEA (trading system between Eastern European countries and Russia) – transformed Romania from net exporter to net importer. Severe inflation and deficits followed.
The government lead by Prime-minister Vacaroiu opposed certain privatization steps refusing to alienate national resources but was soon accused of nationalism by the IMF.
Agriculture – the European Union pressured the Romanian state to reduce protective tariffs and subsidies even though these were being strengthened in the western part in Europe. The tariff protection of domestic producers, which protected them from cheaper imports, was lifted and they could not compete with foreign products which flooded the domestic market. Sold at below-market price in a procedure called “dumping”, the foreign products sought to eliminated the local competition. Though an illegal and unfair procedure, “dumping” is very common and is being used by the EU and US – the world’s largest agricultural exporters. As a result, the machinery and the large irrigation system lost their subsidies which lead to lack of maintenance and deterioration; the peasants were left with small pieces of land, no equipment and minor state subsidies. Without subsidies, they were unable to buy inputs. ROMCEREAL (the state grain board) was divided and privatized in 1996 before any similar structure could replace it, and so farmers lost storage facilities for their crops.
Given the favorable quality of the soil and climate, the Trade Policy Review of 1992 gave special attention to the development of cereal export. Export bans and quantitative restrictions that had been introduced in order to reserve domestic production for the Romanian market – were eliminated as of 1 January 1998.
During land privatisation and the establishment of property rights, the land was restored to former owners or their heirs; property rights remained unclear for landowners with more than 50 hectares, who couldn’t regain their land since a specific law hadn’t been drafted. As a consequence, land was restored only to small owners, which lead to high fragmentation of agricultural land and therefore a subsistence agriculture.
The interest rates were again increased by international banks, which caused heavy debt and further affected the national economy. Farmers were prevented from borrowing.
The IMF imposed the reduction of national grain reserve (necessary in case of calamities and such) from 3.500.000 tones to 350.000 tones – in a country of 20 million people. The years of drought forced Romania to import grain, which profited private traders and affected local producers. This measure was common in the IMF agenda – in Malawi, the reduction of grain reserves made at IMF’s pressures caused the 2002 famine (see here), after which the country became a major importer of US fertilizers.
Romania countryside – woman in traditional clothing. To view more click here
The generations which were resettled decades earlier from villages to industrial cities were displaced once again following the industrial collapse caused by privatization. Agricultural industry became in only a few years a subsistence agriculture. The impoverished peasants became cheap labor in the new capitalist system, in similar fashion to the displaced XIX century English peasants who provided the base for the Industrial revolution.
Interview with an elderly man who experienced both communism and post-communism:
“One day (in 1949), they came into my yard and took everything away. They took all the animals. All the carts, plows, all our instruments, large or small. They took all the seeds and everything in store. They took even the mill I was using for grinding corn. They took it all to the collective farm. And since that day, unless I wanted to starve, I had to work for them. “
“And in 1990 when you regained your land?” “In 1990? They gave me back the land! But they gave it back with no tool (or money) to work. I had to start from scratch again. But now I was 45 years older, I was no longer young.“
The European Union
The enlargement of the European Union into Eastern Europe increased EU’s agricultural land by 40% (source).
With the new EU free market conditions, farm programs such as farm subsidies, cheap credit policies etc intended to help the farmer and to maintain stable prices – were eliminated. Without state interventions, spike in food prices became a common reality in Romania.
The guiding role of the IMF and the World Bank has been complemented by the European Union’s structures, whose line of reforms follows the same path (see EU Pushing for Privatizing Natural Resources). While the new EU members from the East were required to impose liberalization on their imports, the older EU members have import restrictions and export subsidies to protect their farmers.
The admission into the European Union was preceded by preparatory programmes such as SAPARD, which are meant to adjust the structures of post-communist countries into the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) – the single market of the EU.
CAP is an european program which offers subsidies to both small and large farms. Large government subsidies go to large industrial farms against which the small farm, which receives the same percentage, stands no chance of competition since industrial farms produce larger quantities in shorter period. In return for the CAP subsidies, the European farmers have to comply with European directives on the quantities they produce – which stand at industrial quantities.
Both the CAP and SAPARD have been criticized for favoring large businesses against other farms, and for leaving little room for national priorities (see ex. from Czech republic, Hungary, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s report “Dumping on the poor”).
From 2005, law 247 gave right to restoration that included real estate, massive agricultural and forest lands; too often, thousands of hectares of forest or arable land were restored to dubious , while the owners are still awaiting two decades later. The massive deforestation issue that Romania started to develop after 2005.
2007- After Romania became a EU member, the access of foreign investors to land acquisition was eased since tariffs, tolls and customs barriers were removed.
By liberalizing and lifting tariffs and taxes, the European Union’s food imports flooded the national markets. The local producers lost not only export opportunities, but also access to the domestic market which was flooded by cheaper EU imports with whom they couldnt compete. Food retail chains (marketplace for EU products) flourished and, at present, food imports in Romania are close to 80%. The largest supermarket chains come from France, Germany and Belgium with products traded from all over the EU. Tens of hectares, once covered by industrial complexes, are now occupied by large shopping malls (see largest mall in Transylvania). The largest commercial center in the country is currently being built in the middle of a park, destroying the tightening green space of Bucharest. The floor of foreign imports distort the nation’s balance of trade and devalue its currency.
The agricultural farmers – producers of cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products – were affected unanimously. Foreign investors and land speculators flooded the market, bought the land cheap from impoverished peasants and later sold it at higher price for profit. Land was also illegally pulled from the agricultural circuit, declared “unproductive” and transferred to real estate. Similar methods were used in the distribution of forests in order to be exploited for deforestation and expansion of tourism in the detriment of environmental protection.
January 2014 – the law on pre-emption rights gave EU citizens and companies the right to acquire and use land without restrictions, leaving free way for large-scale land acquisitions. The land-grabbing policy is criticized as having a negative impact on local communities throughout the world.
WWII and industrial agriculture
In 1850 artificial fertilizers were first released. With the exception of Great Britain and the US, Europe avoided intensive farming and stuck to traditional agriculture. By 1936, US Senator Duncan Fletcher complained in the Senate document 264 about the depletion of american soils and the health and obesity issues resulted from intense farming.
These issues were ignored as the Second World War came about. After the war, Europe underwent rapid post-war transformation with the help of the US and their Marshall Plan. Industrial agriculture was introduced by the US with high mechanization and, most importantly, with the use of chemicals.
The US had built 10 large-scale nitrate factories for bombs; after the war, they were used to produce nitrogen fertilizers for the weakened economies of Europe and Japan. The science of industrial farming, though imported by Americans, was based on German know-how (see Carl Bosch and Fritz Haber). The cereal production of Western Europe grew significantly in the 1970’s due to introduction of technology based on nitrogen fertiliser and modern fungicides.
The US introduced its plans for industrial agriculture to Asia, Middle East and South America through the Point Four program – the first “international economic development program”. Through the Marshall plan (for Europe) and Point Four, the US government, in cooperation with the Rockefeller corporation, paved the way for easy access to world markets and resources.
The war was beneficial for the US economy. WWII lead to a war-induced economic recovery which brought it out of the Depression. The end of the war was the starting point of industrial agriculture on world-wide scale, and the US became its ambassador. See more – WWII Causes a Revolution in Farming
Today, industrial farming continues to spread – Africa, the last virgin land, is seeing its last days as various development programmes are used to implement large industrial farming and encourage massive land-grabbing – the Land strategies – worldbank.org. Guardian article – World Bank and aid donors accused of enabling land grabs.
Industrial agriculture – more quantity, less quality
Industrial agriculture = large, highly-specialized farms which run like factories, with large inputs of fossil fuels, pesticides and other chemicals, and with synthetic fertilizers derived from oil which makes it a wasteful industry that puts pressure on natural resources.
The Green Revolution (GR) = world-wide industrialization of agriculture after WWII, funded by the Rockefeller corporation. The revolution started the trend of genetically modifying farm crops. It promoted the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for increased large-scale production, which resulted in profits for multinationals, agro-chemical companies and oil companies.
With the help of the Rockefeller corporation, the US government debuted the program in Mexico as an experiment. It extended to countries like India and Philippines, using the panel of “modernization”. Attempts have been made to introduce it to Africa but the lack of infrastructure and involvement of governments brought it to a halt. The 2002 Malawi famine (caused by IMF’s conditional lending – see here) is now being used as a positive miracle example in order to push fertilized mass-agriculture onto the continent.
2008 article from The Nation (New York) explains the long-term failure of the Green Revolution in Mexico, Philippines, India etc – which transformed them into net food importers, and how IMF/ World Bank structural reforms ruined Africa’s agriculture. “How to manufacture a global food crisis : lessons from the World Bank, IMF and WTO”
The Green Revolution is presented as a success for the growth of national yields and exports. However, the production is usually concentrated on exports and therefore on corporation profit, leaving aside the local needs.
See report on Why the “Green Revolution” Was Not So Green After All
In their perversion of hiding use of chemical fertilizers behind ecological methods, the United Nations created the Conservation Agriculture (CA) concept, which covers a few main principles for eco-friendly agriculture, one of whom involves use of pesticides and fertilizers. Field crop researchers criticized this theory in 2014 – “Fertilizer use should not be a fourth principle to define conservation agriculture” (see more on sciencedirect.com).
Pluses of the industrial agriculture
– high yields per acre obtained in shorter period.
– profits for large businesses (industrial farms, fertilizer and pesticide manufacturers, oil companies).
– lower prices for products.
– chemical fertilizers offer increased production and can induce nutrients into poor quality soil.
– less human labor is required, while output is extremely high.
– removal of competitors due to the lower prices (an advantage for the large businesses).
Minuses of the industrial agriculture
– toxic herbicides and insecticides accumulate in ground and surface waters, leading to pollution.
– the low prices of industrial products remove all other competitors including local farmers, giving birth to unfair competition and monopoly.
– high use of fossil fuel, water and topsoil at unsustainable rates.
– highly dependent on oil, the spike in oil prices affects the food price as well.
– monoculture = one single crop planted on large fields for mass production (as opposed to multiple crops in the way traditional farmers). The single crop is no longer useful after a few years, therefore a new variety must be created using genetically-altered crops.
– monoculture facilitates the spread of diseases. Pesticides must be used, harmful to the quality of the product and to the soil.
– in time, pests become resistant and new pathogens emerge.
– chemical fertilizers are used not only for increased production, but also for poor quality soil. They infuse nutrients into soil but also deplete other nutrients and minerals that are naturally found in truly fertile soils. Chemical fertilizers also run into water systems, damaging ecosystems and killing fish.
Chemical fertilizers, the very base of industrial agriculture, were proven by medical research to be causing human diseases. See Too Much of a Good Thing? Nitrate from Nitrogen Fertilizers and Cancer
An example of the failure of industrial farming is the soil erosion in the American and Canadian prairies. Part of the chernozem belt of North America, its soil was extremely fertile despite the climate due to native plants that helped preserve humidity. After having removed the Native Americans from the area in the XIX century, the US government switched from sustainable dry farming methods practiced by the Natives to a highly mechanized agriculture that eroded the soil in a few decades. They hunted the native American Bison (buffalo) to near extermination and brought in European cattle that overgrazed the land and added to the soil erosion. The 1930’s Dust Bowl caused by intense farming devastated the region and the economy. Despite an apparent recovery after the 1950’s, recent studies show that the soil has been permanently affected – Survey reveals ‘amazing’ soil loss in Great Plains region.In the process of being wiped out, buffalos were also used to produce fertilizers for Western Europe in the XIX century. Historical photo of buffalo skulls to be used for fertilizers. (source)
Industrial agriculture in Romania
The Monsanto corporation supplies most of Europe’s genetically modified organisms and crops, which help obtain increased output of lesser quality. Monsanto has unprecedented control over Romanian food production. While cereal production and exports are increasing (Romania is one of the biggest corn exporters and wheat exporters in the world), the country continues to import genetically-modified vegetables, fruits and other products for domestic consumption.
After 25 years, the statistics show that despite reduction of arable land, corn and grain output grew thanks to the introduction of chemical fertilizers, while fruits and vegetables saw a dramatic fall. Production is concentrated on export cereals, while other crops like tomatoes, potatoes, fruits etc and livestock have decreased and, as a result, are being imported (source).
Corporate agriculture, unfair competition of cheaper foreign products, lack of consistent state subsidies for the small farmer – all lead to the elimination of traditional farmers in favor of large factory farming – see From Food Crisis to Food Sovereignty.
Mass fertilized production increases the output artificially and therefore less human labor is required, which leads to a surplus of labor. Today, foreign investors ask the Romanian state to reduce employment in agriculture from 40% to 10% in favor of industrialization and they openly promote a growing urbanization. The removal of farmers off their land paves the way for massive land-grabbing and large industrial commodity farms.
A reduction of 30% labor input in agriculture also means that over 5 million Romanian peasants will be pushed into unemployment.
Foreign investors say further urbanization in Romania equals development. In a time where unemployment is a stringent issue, further urbanization leads to over-packed cities with more people looking for work. The growing numbers of urban consumers, who are totally dependent on other food producers, will favor industrial farming.
From the series of EU regulations which destroy the local farmer – a decision introduced on April 1, 2015 lifted the milk quotas as a step of further liberalization. The measure benefits the Irish Republic, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany but affects all small farmers throughout Europe, Romania’s industry being particularly hard-hit. The €900 million milk market in Romania is threatened with collapse as cheaper milk imports will remove local products from the market. The farmers at risk were told to “re-orientate” by Bruxelles officials in order to make room for the imported milk.
End of milk quotas: how will eastern Europe cope? By Laetitia Nourry – 30 years after its setting up, the milk quota system is coming to its end. Europe is returning to unlimited production of milk where the benefits go to industrial farming. Another stab for the slowly disappearing peasant farmer. (read more)
The ECVC denounces the European milk industry and the end the milk quota system which threatens thousands of European dairy farmers with bankruptcy. (read more)
The industrial agricultural – map of new Europe
The lifting of milk quotas opens the (northern) European dairy sector to the european and the international market from Asia and Africa, whose markets have higher production costs than those of Germany, Netherlands and Ireland.
A 2014 study concluded that the European Union follows a corporate scheme where Northern European countries are to be concentrated on milk production. Romania and its eastern neighbors are targeted for mass export of cereals.
With its enlargement into Eastern Europe, the EU gained 40% additional good-quality agricultural land. While the new EU members were forced into liberalization reforms which affected local farmers, the older EU members maintained import restrictions and export subsidies to protect their farmers.
The Northern European Plain, once covered in forests, is now used only for commercial farming with little natural vegetation remaining.
France has specialized its regions to produce for exports and half of its output goes to other countries, making is the second largest food exporter after the US. Every year, France receives €11 billion in EU subsidies through the CAP, which makes it the biggest beneficiary. Netherlands is the world’s third largest food exporter. The country, small in size and with poor soil, assures its high productivity through agro-food technology and intensive farming. After WWII, Germany‘s farms were reduced to less than half, and the German agricultural policy is entirely controlled by the EU. Italy was heavily industrialized; italian agriculture is concentrated solely on fruits and vegetables, the other foods being mostly imported. Spain, one of the biggest countries in the EU, has unsuitable soil and climate yet its one of biggest agricultural exporters of vegetables, fruits and oil due to intensive irrigation/ industrial farming. Agriculture in the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway) is minimal given the inappropriate soils and climate; most of the land is devoted to forestry. Denmark is an exception, with equal percentages involved in agriculture, forestry and livestock farms. Intensive industrial farming is the norm and the reason behind its high productivity. Though a small country, Denmark receives €1.5 billion in subsidies. United Kingdom agriculture is concentrated in the south and British farming is intensive and highly mechanized but yet not enough to cover food needs, and 40% of food produce is imported. UK farming depends on EU subsidies, which stand at €4 billion.
More about industrial agriculture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – “Continuing the Green Revolution: The corporate assault on the security of the global food supply”
Report from GRAIN organization – “Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland”
The World Bank’s War on Peasants
Full article here: www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-World-Banks-Long-War-on-Peasants
Founded at the historical seam between World War II and the birth of the Cold War, the World Bank’s purpose — then as now — is to spread capitalism across the globe. Correspondingly, it has long promoted capitalist agriculture, alongside other rural extractive industries, at the expense of peasants, indigenous, and community-based food systems.
World food shortage hysteria
Population growth has been blamed for famines since the XIX century, which in exchange justifies the promotion of industrial agriculture. Economists and social analysts contradict the “world-wide food shortage” theory by stating that there is enough food to feed the global population. Throughout centuries, populations adjusted to various natural circumstances and it was mainly man-made conditions (war, politics, economic mismanagement) or epidemics that cause uncontrollable famines.
- It’s not population growth that puts a strain on food resources, but “urban” population growth. Rural areas are self-sufficient, whereas growing urban environments depend on other food producers and consume more resources.
2. Food is being wasted by large companies. Corn, wheat, sugar beat, potatoes etc. are being transformed into biofuel and plastic, most of which go into industrial farming – which requires high use of resources. Global business is taking away food to transform it into non-recyclable products.
3. Productive land is being misused for non-productive use (ex: real estate, growing flowers for mass exports etc).
4. Increasing emphasis on export-oriented agriculture, following the neo-liberal notion of measuring agricultural productivity by the size of its exports and the profits it creates. Increasing export-oriented agriculture leads to declining food consumption locally- populations starve or live off imported food while their countries make massive food exports.
The idea that overpopulation leads to food shortage absolves the wealthy, the financial institutions and the governments of any responsibility for the plight of the poor, and offers justification for the development of corporate agribusiness worldwide – bringing the most vital resource (food) under the control of a few corporations.