Carl Joubert.

Russia as it really is online

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryCarl JoubertRussia as it really is → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

directs their steps — and they have faith in both,
and hope for the future that is before them ; and
all that they have to love goes with them.

These poor colonists are generally drawn from
South Russia, Donetz District, Don Cossack Settle-
ment, &c., starting from Kharkoff, embracing
Ekaterinoslaif, and as far as Vladikavkas.

About three years ago I was at the railway-
station at Ekaterinoslaif with a friend, an English-
man, who had come from Kharkoff to see me. He
was travelling in Russia for a couple of months, and
was anxious to see as much of the country as possible
in the time.

I left my friend drinking his glass of tea in the
first-class portion of the station and went to see


what was going on in the third-class. I soon
returned to him, and told him if he wanted to see
something of Russian life he had better drink up his
tea and come with me. Then I took him to the
third-class station.

It is a large hall, with wooden benches round the
walls. The whole building was densely packed with
humanity of all ages, and in every degree of filth,
discomfort, and misery. There were over one hun-
dred families of them lying on the bare floor, or
huddling together on their sacks, or on the top of
one another. They were colonists waiting for their

There were old men leaning painfully on their
elbows with long -suffering faces, wondering, per-
haps, whether there may not be a better and a
kinder world than theirs. There were women
suckling their little ones, poor, feeble mites who had
not yet begun to suffer, and were happy in the
knowledge that they had something to draw on, and
cared for nothing else. There were children more ad-
vanced in years, who whimpered pitifully or scratched
their tormented bodies with convulsive fingers.

So thick upon the ground were they that it would
scarcely have been possible to walk among them
without treading on their limbs or heads. Some
slept uneasily ; others looked with wistful eyes at
the last crust of black bread which some more
fortunate neighbour devoured greedily. An old
crazy woman, with dishevelled hair and mumbling
gums, crooned a weird song to herself, rocking from
side to side.


I have never seen humanity in a guise so abjectly
miserable and revolting.

My friend gasped at the sight of them.

" What are they ? And what are they doing
here ? Is it possible that they are human ? "

At the word " human " my heart sank within me.

"Yes," I answered, "just as human as you or I.
They never asked to come into the world, and this
is how it treats them. They are the employees
of the firm of Nero, Herod, and Co."

" What company is that ? "

I pointed to the icon with its little lamp.

" That is their trade-mark," I said. " Nero is the
Tsar and Herod is the Procurator. It is an old-
established firm."

"I don't care if we miss our train," said my friend,
" I shall stay here until you have told me all about
these people."

For an Englishman deliberately to miss his train
was a great concession to philanthropy. And so I
told him all I knew of them.

The gorodovoy on the platform outside passed and
repassed the entrance to the hall with steady per-
sistency. Every time he passed he looked at us
invitingly, as though he would say :

" You might take pity on me, too, for the value of
a stakan of vodka."

I gave him twenty-five kopeks to leave us un-
disturbed, and began to question some of the men,
translating their replies for the benefit of my friend.

" Well, brothers, where do you all come from ? "

A man put himself forward as spokesman.


" From the Don Cossacks district, Bareen."

" And where are you going ? "

" To some district in Manchuria ; we do not
know the name of it."

" And how long have you been on the road ? "

" This is the fourth day, Bareen."

" Four days from the Don Cossacks district to
Ekaterinoslaff ! " I exclaimed. "Why, I went to
Yusoffka yesterday and back again to-day ! "

"Yusoffka is in Don Cossacks district, a few hours
journey by train from Ekaterinoslaff."

At the mention of Yusoffka a dozen people
jumped up from the floor crying : " That is our
town ! "

We know that it is not far," said the spokesman,
" but yesterday morning we were told to change our
train, and no other has come for us yet."

" So you have been here like this since yesterday
morning ? " I said, indicating with a wave of the
arm the appalling condition of the people around us.

" Yes, Bareen; we may leave sometime to day."

" Who told you so ? "

'* The gorodovoy."

Whilst I was talking to them an official in a red
pancake-shaped cap came up. He was the station-
master, and, therefore, a man of great authority.
An old man with a long, white beard scrambled to
his feet and approached him humbly.

" Surely, Bareen, it is not possible that the Holy
Mother will let us starve to death before the train
comes to take us on?" he pleaded. "Let us go
back to our homes where we may get food, and wait


for a through train. We shall die if we are left

The station-master drew himself up, and assumed
an air of outraged authority.

" Keep silence, thou diseased dog ! " he shouted at
the venerable moujik. " What do you mean by
speaking to me ? To hell with you ! You dog's
son !

He used many other expressions which are quite
unprintable, though common on the lips of all classes
in Russia.

The old man sank back abashed. But, I confess,
it was with difficulty that I could restrain myself
I looked at my English friend, I could see the glint
of suppressed fury in his eyes — and he had not
understood the words which the station-master had
used. I thought it better not to translate them
to him.

But I was not going to let the station-master
escape. I intercepted him as he was leaving the
hall, and there I questioned him on the rules of
etiquette to third-class passengers and old men.

He looked me up and down critically — I had
nothing to fear from him in point of size and weight,
and he recognised the fact.

My friend, seeing the threatening aspect of affairs,
came to my side.

I had a few more words to say to the station-master
of a denunciatory character; and then I produced from
my pocket a letter of introduction to the Governor-
General of Kieif, and pointed to the address.

" That is to whom I am going, my friend," I said,


" and I shall take the opportunity of acquainting him
with this affair."

The man's face fell at once.

" I admit I was a little hasty," he said. " Is that
enough ? "

" By no means," I answered. " You have insulted
and outraged an old man, and therefore you will
apologise to him."

It was a severe trial to his amour 'propre, and he
took some minutes to think over it. Perhaps he
thought that we would take our departure and not
molest him further. But seeing that we still
remained with the unfortunate colonists he pre-
sently came back, and going up to the old man
kissed him on both cheeks and asked his forgiveness.
The old man thought that he must be crazy, and
began to cross himself vigorously.

The station-master having done penance as pre-
scribed by his self-appointed confessor, called me

" You will not now mention the affair to the
Governor of Keiff ? " he whined.

I assured him that I would not, and he returned
to his office satisfied.

When we returned to the hall, for my friend had
accompanied me outside with the station-master,
the poor people fell upon us and began kissing our
hands and, I regret to say, even our feet, thinking
that we were great officials in disguise.

Then it occurred to the practical mind of my
friend that kisses would not fill empty stomachs.
So we chartered a sleigh and drove into the town.


We bought up all the bread and hams in Ekaterino-
slaff. I remember there were fourteen sacks of white
bread. Some blankets and shawls we also managed
to procure, and a few bottles of vodka.

And when, at last, our train arrived, we were
speeded on our journey with the blessings of those
unhappy colonists, delivered from their knees.

For some minutes after the train had left the
station we were both silent.

" Well, what are you so quiet about ? " I asked at

" I was thinking," he answered laconically, and
then after an interval — " I did not know that such
treatment of the human race was possible ; I have
learnt something."

He drew his travelling rug round him and began
to smoke. I could read his thoughts through the
mist that veiled his eyes. Dear, great soul of his !
I could Avell understand what his feelings were, and
I did not disturb his thoughts until the train came
to a standstill at our station.

Such is the Tsar's patent system for populating
provinces. As I have said before, Nero, Herod,
and Co. have the sole right to the patent. They
have employed it successfully at Stambov, Irkutsk,
Tomsk, Vladivostock, Port Arthur, Dalni, Nieu
Chwang, Mukden, and Harbin ; and though the
firm have infringed the rights of many other nations
in the exercise of their patent, yet Japan is the only
one who has had the courage to cry " Stop ! "



In telling the naked truth about Russia I am not
actuated by any feeling of animosity against her
people. My endeavour has been to show that the
failings in the national character are due entirely to
the system of government under which Russia

In my travels through Russia I have met in every
Government men not less enlightened, unselfish, and
noble than the best of the civilised world.

The learned man, the thinker, the philanthropist,
the theologist, of Russia is never a surface man, for
three reasons. First, because no man who is not
really in earnest would devote his life to the study of
sciences so dangerous to his liberty. Secondly,
because the material for investigation, aftbrded by
the appalling condition of his own country, is so vast
that he cannot explore it in a lifetime of hard work.
Thirdly, because there are no means to his hand for
the study of any of these sciences, and no teachers of
them. In civilised countries we can be spoon-fed on
all the sciences, if we desire it ; but in Russia a man
must discover them for himself

The thinker must never let his thoughts find an
outlet beyond his own door ; hence he is a very quiet


man with little to say. But nevertheless the police
have a strict eye on him.

Once I had an opportunity of questioning a high
official, in whose house I was a guest, on the subject.
I asked him why the police should trouble them-
selves so much on account of men who were known
to be as single-minded as they were learned.

At first he was not inclined to answer me, but
knowing me well he replied at last :

" My friend, we are obliged to do our duty, and to
carry out the instructions we receive."

He then went on to tell me of the case of a man
he had known for twenty years. He was a botanist,
and devoted his whole life to the study of that
science. He was also a man of tender heart and
devoted to children. But one day he disappeared
from the town and he had not since been heard

The official paused in his narrative, and though
that- might well have been the end of it I could see
that he had something more to say.

*' I understand that when you leave us you are
going to Vladikavkas," he continued presently ;
" and if that is so, I am sure you could find him
there. The Government does not send prisoners to
Siberia now."

Under the promise of secrecy he gave me his
name. But when I arrived at a particular town in
Vladikavkas three months later, I found that the
old botanist had been dead for two years.

What his crime was no one knows. No record is
to be found of his trial or sentence in any of the


Tsar's books. He was spirited away to Vladikavkas,
and died there. " The rest is silence."

The uncertainty of liberty from day to day — which
arrests such as the foregoing create in the minds of
men in Russia who wear civilian's clothes — has left its
stamp on the faces of the people. They are morose
and suspicious in expression, and usually quite
devoid of mirth.

The civilian will always give a wide berth to the
uniformed official. If he is on the pathway he will
move into the middle of the road to let the Uryad^iih
pass. He avoids him whenever he can lest he should
one day fall into the clutches of the law, and be no
more heard of in his home.

The practical sciences in Kussia are almost
neglected. On her railways, in her manufactories
and laboratories, the engineers and experts are
almost without exception foreigners. France, Bel-
gium, England, and America supply nearly all the
brains for her great industries. The reasons for this
are not far to seek. The Universities and Polytech-
nics where young Russia ought to acquire proficiency
in the sciences, are perpetually being closed, because
the students are supposed to be disaffected towards
the Government. Under these circumstances con-
tinuity of scientific training is an impossibility. In
cities such as St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kharkoff,
Odessa, Kazan, or Riga, where the educational estab-
lishments are kept open and constantly guarded by
soldiers and police, it is possible that training in the
practical sciences may be obtained, but the students
who attend at these institutions are nearly all the


sons of rich men, who do not adopt any profession
when they leave the universities. The military
schools are the only technical educational establish-
ments which are always in full swing.

One of the most deplorable results of the constant
interruption and neglect of scientific training is to
be found in the ignorance of the medical profession
in Russia. The very best doctors know about as
much of surgery and medicine as an Edinburgh medi-
cal student who has passed the first examination. It
can be imagined then how much the Russian medical
student knows of ''Materia Medica" or practical
surgery, not to mention the knowledge of diagnosis
of any particular ailment.

And yet, only the other day — nth February,
1904 — the Tsar issued a special ukase that all the
medical students at the universities were to receive
their diplomas as doctors of medicine without any
examination whatever ! They are being sent to the
war to attend to the sick and wounded.

It is possible that those doctors of medicine will
be as harmless to the Tsar and his Government in
Korea or Manchuria as they would be in Siberia or
Vladikavkas, whither he delights to send medical
students ; but what about the army ? Will they be
harmless to that, too ?

That a monarch can make a knight, or a baron, or
even a duke from a common man there Is no doubt ;
but he cannot make him a gentleman. He may
create a viscount, but he cannot make him a
violinist. He may raise up a prince, but he cannot
make him a physician. Yet the " God on Earth," by


liis holy will and ukase makes a boy wlio hardly
knows the names of physiology or botany a full-
fledged doctor of medicine !

Therefore, let the " slackers " of the University of
Edinburgh rejoice, and the students of Harvard and
John Hopkins University be glad ! No more need
they fear the terrors of the examination room, nor
await with quaking hearts the verdict of the
examiners. They have but to go to Holy Russia and
the Tsar will create them doctors of medicine.



There is no lack of printed matter in Russia.
Nearly every town of fifteen thousand inhabitants
and upwards has its newspaper. There are daily
papers, weekly papers, and monthly magazines.
They are published in various languages, according
to the locality, in Russian, German, and even in
Yiddish and many other dialects, excepting, of
course, in the Polish language, which is prohibited.
But at the bottom of the front page of every publi-
cation there are two words printed, '* Dozvoleno
Tchensuroyu," which is by interpretation, "With the
permission of the Censor." No editor would dare
to issue his paper without those words upon the
front page.

As with the newspapers so it is with all books.
The pious divine of the Greek Church who writes a
commentary in the most orthodox fashion must see
that the title-page of his book is adorned with the
mystic words Even the one-syllable spelling-book
must have them, though they are too long for the
reader's intelligence.

The censorship in Russia has a Government office
to itself; and it is the most expensive of all the
Government offices. Each Gubernii has its head


censor and beneath him a host of under-censors, all
of whom can presumably read and write. Then,
there are censors for all the foreign languages and
for the foreign press. Generally speaking the duties
of the press censors are as follows :

(i) To see that no news shall be printed, from
foreign countries especially, dealing with certain
political views.

(2) That no newspaper shall copy from the foreign
press any matter that would tend to the enlighten-
ment of the nation.

(3) That no publication shall be copied from any
country having a Constitutional Government or a

(4) That all foreign newspapers entering Russia
shall have articles and paragraphs dealing with
Russia blocked out with ink.

The censorship of books and other publications is
equally arbitrary and oppressive. That blood-thirsty
ruffian, Nicholas I., was responsible for many of the
more stringent rules of censorship in his efforts to
keep Western ideas out of Russia. Had he con-
fined himself to strangling literature and the press
his name would have gone down to history as the
srentlest of Tsars. But it was Nicholas I. who
ordered the massacre of the Poles, and the ruthless
destruction of Roman Catholics and Jews, his
soldiers sparing neither women nor children from
dishonour and death. It was Nicholas I. who
tortured the Jewish children to convert them to the
Holy Church of Russia. It was Nicholas I. w^hose
butcher's bill amounted to over 200,000 souls.


But even in Russia ideas have advanced a little
in the half-century which separates Nicholas I. from
Nicholas 11. , though this advance cannot be attri-
buted to any relaxation of the censorship. But in
spite of the censorship the press and literature of
the civihsed world have invaded the dominions of
the Tsar, and brought a little light beneath the
official cloud of darkness.

This flicker of light has been admitted through
the old channel of official corruption — a strait
through which any barque may pass on payment.
A rouble on either eye and a rouble across the mouth
will efiectually prevent the Russian official from
seeing or speaking. The traveller in revolutionary
literature from the West knows the formula well.
What is more, there are officers stationed on the
lines of the frontier who will even help the tired
traveller with his contraband of forbidden fruit ;
but that costs more. The poor Rittmaister, who is
in charge of the customs officials, does not have it
all his own way, for he has to divide with the officers
who are off duty — and it cuts up very small.

The method of procedure is this. The purveyor
of undesirable literature having arrived on the
frontier, at a point some distance from the railway,
approaches the Rittmaister and arranges matters
with him. The Rittmaister sees him and his cart-
load of books safely into the land of the Tsar and
directs him to Shavli, or some other small town near
the frontier. Then the Rittmaister raises the alarm
and calls his men to horse ; and they start off in pur-
suit of an imaginary smuggler in another direction,


firing into the air to show their zeal in the dis-
charge of their duties.

So the books of the traveller are distributed
through Russia, and find their way even to the
Winter Palace of the Tsar in St. Petersburg and to
the Kremlin in Moscow, and to the Palaces of the
Holy Metropolitans, and to M. Pobyedonostseff, the
Procurator. And so the light of civilisation is dis-
tributed in spite of the extinguisher of the censor.
As yet its lamps are not so numerous as those which
burn before the icons ; but the little flames are
illuminating the minds of many in Russia, and
Western ideas prevail among the educated classes.

It is a light which the Tsar with his Cossacks is
unable to quench, and he knows it and trembles,
because by its beams he can read the " Writing on
the Wall."

The thinker in Russia laughs at the censor, and
thanks God that he cannot blue-pencil his brains.

But Russia has her own literature. What shall
we say of Lomonosov or Keraskov, Kostrov, Bog-
danovitch, Dershaven or Alexander Pushkin ?

They were men of talent, some of genius, and
some of great imagination. But their genius was
hampered by the exigencies of their times. They
dared not write what they knew to be the truth.
They mortgaged their brains for life and liberty,
and who shall blame them ? The Empress Catherine,
Paul, and Nicholas I. were not monarchs with whom
to trifle. An indiscretion on the part of an author
meant indefinite incarceration within the solid walls
of a fortress.


But Nicholas II. Is not Nicholas I. with the best
will in the world. And, therefore, there Is to-day
In Russia a man who writes, and who has the
courage of his great-hearted convictions. That man
is Leon Tolstoi. There are in Russia thousands of
men of the same stamp as Leon Tolstoi, but none
like him. They prefer to mark time whilst he
leads the way. They keep silence whilst he cries
" Forward ! " They remain in hiding whilst he
stands forth alone.

Another writer with the courage of his opinions
is the man who Is known by the name of " Maxim
Gorky." He draws with brutal force life as he has
found It, and it is a hideous spectacle. He is known
to me personally — a man of scarcely any education
and unable to use more than two hundred words of
his own language. But he needed no Oxford educa-
tion to enable him to put on paper, in his straight-
forward, savage Russian language, what his own eyes
had seen and his heart had suffered. Much of his
work has found its way into the censor's oven,
unpublished and unpralsed.

But "Maxim Gorky" and Leon Tolstoi are two
and not one. " Maxim Gorky " is a poor ti:amp and
a thinker, and some day he will end his democratic
thoughts in Siberia.

But not so Tolstoi.

Who dares to injure a hair of his noble gray
head ? What Okrusnoi Sud of Holy Russia can
judge him ? He Is far above the courts, and fears
neither them nor the Synod. He has openly defied
the Metropolitans. He has even written a letter to


the " God on Earth " Himself, exhorting Him to lift
Himself above His Holy Fathers. And the Tsar's
answer was the Peace Congress at the Hague.

Then, why do not the Metropolitans proceed to
further extremities than excommunication agfainst
Leon Tolstoi ? Why not banish him to Siberia ?
Thousands have journeyed thither in chains for less
than he has done.

But the Tsar knows well, and the Metropolitans
know well, that should they lay a hand upon Leon
Tolstoi or injure a hair of his head, then the
thousands who are marking time in Russia would
advance. They can read it by the light that has
been smuggled into Russia.

And Nicholas I. turns in his sarcophagus and
mutters, " Jalha ! Jalka ! chto Nicholi speat ! "
(What a pity that Nicholas sleeps !).

I was once present in court when a young man
was brought before the judge for something that he
had done which did not please the authorities. The
case was going against him, and it was evident that
he would be convicted. At this juncture Tolstoi,
dressed in the red ruhaschka and long boots of a
peasant, walked into the court-house and stood
before the judge.

"Sir," he said, "you must release this man. In
committing the offence with which he is charged he
was acting on my instructions. I am here to take
the responsibility. You can sentence me, but no
other shall pay the penalty for my deeds."

The judge looked coldly at the dignified old man,
with his long gray beard.


** I hear what your Excellency says," he answered.
" The case against the prisoner is dismissed, I shall
refer the matter to my superior in St. Petersburg."

" If I am wanted," said Tolstoi, placing his shljapa
on his head, "you know where I am to be found."

And he turned and walked out of the court-house.

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryCarl JoubertRussia as it really is → online text (page 5 of 18)