Roumania—The Deciding Factor in the Near East

Alfred Stead in Fortnightly Review December 1 1908

Roumania—The Deciding Factor in the Near East

Alfred Stead in Fortnightly Review December 1 1908

Roumania—The Deciding Factor in the Near East

Alfred Stead in Fortnightly Review

AMONGST the smaller European States there is none of such importance as Roumania, geographically, ethnically, economically, and because the kingdom of King Charles represents the one stable element in the unrest of Southeastern Europe from Budapest to Constantinople, Roumania is the decisive factor in the Near Eastern question, not only because the Roumanians have steadily fitted themselves to fulfil that role, but because they are in a national position to draw the full benefit from their geographical situation. Since the Russo-Turkish War, when Roumania first appeared on the international horizon as a factor, the Great Powers have realized that, from that 4th of April, 1877, Roumania has developed rapidly and vigorously, and has continually shown that she was not inspired with ambitions and vain projects, but with a calm and practical spirit, penetrated with the general needs of Europe ; she has never troubled the peace, necessary first of all to herself, and has given proof, under all circumstances, of a wisdom which has earned for her the confidence of all the States.

The potential value of Roumania was early recognized by the shrewdest statesman of Europe, and Bismarck, in 1879, said of Roumania : “An independent Roumania has a very great weight in Eastern questions. Roumania has 50,000 square miles and five million inhabitants. It might have ten million—and what a Power it would then be! To-day its debts are heavy, but with ten millions what could Roumania not do? Turkey falls to pieces: nobody can help her up again ; Roumania has a great role to fulfil, but for this it is needful that she be wise, foreseeing, and firmly established.” Actually Roumania possesses a population of seven millions, so that it would seem that Bismarck’s ten millions are only a question of time. About the same period Prince Charles Antoine of Hohenzollern wrote to King Charles : “Roumania has proved that she exists, and

that she is a factor in the liquidation of European accounts.”

The Roumanian statesmen had already grasped the fact that there was future greatness before them, and in 1875 Bratianu declared that “Europe has already recognized that we are a people destined to fight and to triumph through freedom. Our place is marked among the nations which constitute the Republic of Europe. It is for us to conquer it” ; and in the words of another Roumanian, though Roumania would “have to work alone in order to emerge from the difficulties, Roumania has taken her place in Europe, and the conviction is everywhere established that, in the question of the Orient, Roumania is a factor to be taken into consideration.” Nor was British recognition wanting, for we find that Lord Salisbury gave the following advice to the Roumanian envoy in the early days : “Increase your resources, draw the

full benefit from the sacrifices you impose upon yourself, fortify yourself, put yourself into a position to oppose by yourself, not an impassable barrier—Roumania cannot aspire so high—but a serious obstacle to the perils which you fear.” The thirty odd years since then have shown that Roumania has developed along the lines indicated, and must now be reckoned with as a permanent important factor in the questions affecting Europe. She is the most easterly of European States—there can be no mistaking the fact that Roumania is a European State, and not a Balkan kingdom. The Roumanian political horizon extends through all the points of the compass, whereas those of Bulgaria and Servia do not include the north. Geographically, Roumania occupies one of the most favorable positions in the world, being situated exactly on the route which leads from the West of Europe towards Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, and forming a link on the direct route to India. Roumania, also, as the granary ancj the market for the Central European Industries, becomes a not unim-

portant member of a future Central European tariff union. But greatest of all reasons for the assertion of Roumanian value as an international factor is the confidence which exists between the rulers and Governments of the great European States and the ruler and Government of Roumania. It has become the custom to consult Bucarest about matters of European concern, and the past year has given special proof of this, Monsieur Sturdza, the Prime Minister, having interviews with Baron Aerenthal, Monsieur Isvolsky, Monsieur Clemenceau, and Prince von Bulow during his annual holiday. The fact that the rulers of Bulgaria and of Turkey compete energetically for an alliance with King Charles is another proof that those who are the most concerned have no doubts where the balance of power lies. It is all a striking demonstration of the value of the national policy of systematic self-development without any entangling alliances or dependence on any outside Power. Roumania has fully attained the place she deserves among European Powers, in that she is the friend of all, and possesses the confidence of all. Baron Aehrenthal, speaking before the Delegations this month, said of Roumania, dealing with the question of the Danube : “In regard to this the Government is conducting a confidential exchange of views with Roumania, with which nation we are united by ties of close friendship.” And this expresses the views of all European States, for friendship with Roumania has a meaning, as Roumania is certainly not a State built upon the sands, a creation of yesterday, but gathers her strength and inspiration for the present from that time when, centuries ago, the Roumanian nation stood amongst the foremost of civilized States, and played a great role in the shaping of Europe. The history of Roumania has been one long series of struggles for the preservation of the autonomy and of the national character of those two former principalities of the Danube, Moldavia and Wallachia, which formed for centuries the rampart of Christianity and Occidental civilization against the invasions of the Turks and of the Tartars.

The Western nations of Europe owe indirectly a debt of gratitude to Roumania, since they were enabled to work quietly in the development of their civilization, while Roumania, though reeling under the first

shock of the Oriental advance, kept it at bay. It was in these conflicts and perils that the warrior blood of Trajan’s legions, the founders of the Roumanian people, proved that time had not sapped its vitality nor diminished its valor. For it must not be forgotten that Roumania was the scene of the exploits of the Emperor Trajan, the ruins of whose bridge over the Danube remain a sign of the national heritage of the Roman settlement. Roumania’s early history stands chiselled in undying figures on the Trajan column at Rome. Not only did Rome’s warriors traverse and inhabit the country, but on the shores of the Black Sea, where now there flourishes the great seaport of Roumania, Constantza, Ovid lived in exile. The many vicissitudes of the past have purified Roumania as by fire, and produced a nation which has found itself and which has learned the meaning of true patriotism. Roumania to-day with her 50,700 square miles (only a little less than the area of England), and her population of seven millions, is a constitutional monarchy in the best sense of the term, with all the rights and privileges of the Roumanian subjects amply guaranteed. Nor is the strength of Roumania only derived from within. In a speech addressed to the Roumanian Senate in 1903, Monsieur Sturdza pointed out that the strength of the kingdom of Roumania rests on two foundations. In the kingdom we constitute a uniform homogeneous nationality, amid which are here and there scattered a few inhabitants only of alien origin, as, indeed, is everywhere the case. The second foundation on which our strength rests consists in the fact that beyond our political frontiers the kingdom is girdled round by Roumanian communities. That is a consideration of the greatest moment. For we are thus less directly exposed to pressure from foreign and antagonistic nationalities, nay, rather the efforts of these hostile nationalities are thereby in some measure weakened. The stronger the resisting forces of the Roumanians beyond the kingdom, the safer is the position of the kingdom itself, no one being able to attack it directly. In other words, the danger comes from that side of the kingdom where the national life of the Roumanians beyond the kingdom is imperilled. This additional source of strength must not be overlooked, since it might well play an important part in future develop-

ments, while for the moment it enables the kingdom to decide on its best policy insulated from undue foreign influence. It is largely, thanks to the excellence of her army, that Roumania has been left to enjoy peace and development, undisturbed by foreign aggression. King Charles has ever been at heart a soldier, and his work in connection with the Roumanian army has proved not only his enthusiasm, but his military ability. His work during the early years created a solid administrative foundation for the army, which was tested and found good in the fields before Plevna. There, in 1877, the young Roumanian army saved the Russians, and gained their country's independence, and to-day, with some quarter of a million men on a war footing, and 86,000 in time of peace, the Roumanians are ready and able to play a decisive part in the history of Europe, should their country and their King demand it. The moral of the troops is so good as to call forth the admiration of the foreign attaches, and their arms and equipment, notably those of the artillery, are equal to those of any other country. Roumania is a maritime State in so far as she possesses a considerable coast line on the Black Sea, and for the protection of her interests in these waters there exists a small fleet of secondary war vessels—cruisers and torpedo craft. Roumania also possesses in the Danube a waterway not only of great commercial importance, but forming her frontier with Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Servia.

This great European stream is an international highway, and should be subject to international supervision and control. Save, however, for the mouth of the Danube, which is under the jurisdiction of an international Commission, the river has been controlled either by individual powers, or entirely neglected. By the creation of a special river fleet for the Danube, Roumania has given the most satisfactory assurances that she takes very seriously to heart her duty of adequately policing the Lower Danube, that is to say, that part of the river which stretches between the jurisdiction of the International Commission and Hungary. The systematic supervision and regulation of the Lower Danube has an international significance which cannot be ignored, since the success of this undertaking must inevitable affect the question

of the control and supervision of the river above the Iron Gates. In other words, it may eventually mean the realization of the true international idea of a free Danube. It is the mastery of the mouths of the Danube which has helped Roumania to attain her present position in the comity of nations ; it has proved a spur to progress, since, in the words of one statesman, “Even if the Great Powers have left us masters of ourselves they have, nevertheless, their eyes fixed upon our future conduct, because great European interests are bound up in the destiny of Roumania ; it is sufficiently proved that these interests will not permit them to allow the mouths of the Danube to be in the hands of a nation disorganized, dismembered, enfeebled, and, in consequence. very far from being the powerful bulwark for the creation of which the guarantor nations have spent their blood and their gold.” Roumania has contributed much to enable the great work of the International Danube Commission to accomplish the greatest good. “It is especially.” says M. Sturdza, “the countries watered by this fine river who profit most from the work of improvement at the mouth of the Danube. Thus the constant and always increasing interest of the Roumanian Government for the great work accomplished is natural enough.” So adequate, indeed, is the Roumanian river fleet for the task of maintaining an efficient supervision of the Lower Danube, that, in the unlikely event of the dissolution of the International Commission, its duties could be carried on by Roumania alone. With reason did King Charles exclaim, on the occasion of the Christening of the Fleet at Galatz: “The

war for our independence, making us, as it did, masters of the mouth of the Danube, gave to our navy a serious existence. We have, therefore, the duty of enlarging and strengthening our naval forces, in order to be able to fulfil the high mission which has fallen to us on this great river.” Besides its international importance, the Roumanian fleet on the Danube is a notable development of the defensive force of the countrv. Indeed, no other European Power possesses such a powerful river flotilla. This flotilla would be of great value should ever the peace be broken. M. Kogainiceano, when Foreign Minister in T875, said: “The despatch of a war fleet to the waters of the Danube, and especially to that portion of

the river lying between Servia and Roumania, might exercise a great influence on the determination of the rights and obligations which touch Roumania as a neutral country, because it might well happen that, owing to unforeseen eventualities, her neutrality would be impossible.” But military and naval strength alone do not suffice to make a nation powerful, or a serious factor in international affairs. . Financial stability and resources are as indispensable nowadays as rifles and cartridges. Roumania is especially fortunate in this respect, and her financial standing is most satisfactory. The Roumanian State revenues, which in 1875 amounted to £4,000,000. have now reached the sum of £16.000,000. In the last six financial years, there have been surpluses varying from £800,000 to £2,000,000, and it is by means of these surpluses that the public works in course of construction have been provided for. At the same time, the foreign trade of Roumania is extremely prosperous, and in all the normal years, that is to say, when there was at least an average harvest, the exports surpass the imports. Thus the total commerce of Roumania was. in 1906, £36,491,750, of

which the imports represented £16.862.740, the exports £19,654.404, which gave a balance in favor of Roumania of £2,791,664. The National Debt of Roumania, both internal and external, amounts at the present moment to £56,000.000. which is equivalent to a sum of £8 per head of population (in the United Kingdom in 1907, the National Debt amounted to £16 per head of population). The greater part of the Roumanian National Debt has been used for the purchase and construction of railways, which expenditure represents nearly £32,000.000. The total length of railway lines in Roumania is 2,000 miles, or 24 miles of line per 1.000 miles of area. This gives about 3.000 inhabitants per mile of line. The State railways, besides being an asset of great intrinsic value, produce annually a net profit of more than £1,250.000. a revenue which is increasing every year. The rest of the Debt has been spent upon the construction of roads, ports, public buildings, military works, and other necessary national undertakings. Although Roumania has never had to offer any spe-

cial guarantees, the National Debt is amply secured, not only by the flourishing condition of the Roumanian finances—which, for the last seven years at least, have produced an annual surplus averaging eleven per cent, of the revenue—but by the property owned by the State : the railways, the forests, the great oil-bearing lands, the fisheries, the immensely rich and practically inexhaustible salt mines, etc. Another very satisfactory point is that all the loans issued by Roumania have been subscribed without any special guarantee of the State being given.

The main source of wealth in the country in the past has been agriculture, and Roumania still continues as one of the great grain-exporting countries. But it must ever be difficult to build up a flourishing and great State with only agriculture as a foundation. And thus the development of the great petroleum resources of Roumania is of paramount national importance, for the most valuable and important of the mineral resources of Roumania is petroleum. The petroleum zone in that country extends 'to the foot of the Carpathians, with a length of nearly 350 miles, and a width of about 12 miles. The total area of the Roumanian petroleum fields is thus computed to be about 1,800,000 acres, and it is estimated that the petroleum resources of Roumania amount to no less than 4,000 million tons, which, at a net price of 12s per ton. represents a value of £2,400.000,000. In view of the growing substitution of petroleum fuel for coal on board many ships of the British Navy, it is interesting to note that the port of Constantza is situated within easy distance of several British coaling stations, while Roumania stands alone among countries in having resisted all attempts on the part of the Standard Oil Company to monopolize the oil industry. This alone should make it a valuable source of supply to the British fleets, far too vital a defence for this country to have to rely upon an unscrupulous American Trust. 'And it is interesting to note that the Roumanian Government, in the treaty recently concluded with the United States, reserves to itself complete liberty of action with regard to the industry and commerce of petroleum.