Part 1, Chapter 4 : The Exiles
Part 1, Chapter 4
On the date referred to in the previous chapter (August, 1908, some correspondence appeared in the Times concerning the numbers of administrative exiles in Siberia and Northern Russia. The Russian Prime Minister, M. Stolypin, in an interview with Mr. Stead, told him that the number of administrative exiles was only about 12,000. The Assistant Minister of the Interior, M. Makaroff, also interviewed a fortnight later by Mr. Stead, explained, however, that this figure could only apply to those who had been exiled in virtue of a decision given by the Ministry of the Interior; but there were also, he added, a considerable number of persons who had been exiled by mere orders of the local Governors, and about whom the Ministry of the Interior had no information. I wrote at that time to the Times that, according to our estimates, the number of exiles in Siberia and Northern Russia reached the figure of about 78,000. We have now the exact figures, which have been communicated by the Department of Police to the Law Committee of the Duma. The Police Department, probably taking into account the considerable number who have escaped, puts the figure at 74,000 ; but does not state how many of these have been tried, and how many exiled by administrative order. (Some information about this matter will be found further on in this chapter.)
Attempts made privately to give the exact figures an distribution of the exiles in different parts of the Russian Empire have failed; but the total given by the Police Department (October, 1908), must be correct, as it was based upon the numbers of men and women sent out to Siberia a Northern Russia from the chief transfer prisons.
According to documents communicated to the State Council, the number of persons exiled by order of the Ministry of the Interior has now reached the figure of 15,500, and the greater part of these have been classified as follows : Workmen, 6,362 ; peasants, 3,879; students, 540; teachers, 792 ; tradesmen, 755 ; officials of the Zemstvos, 315 ; unknown, 2,857. It will thus be seen that while formerly the administrative exiles chiefly consisted of students and "intellectuals," the main bulk of them is now composed of workmen and peasants deported either for strikes, for agrarian disorders, or simply because they are considered by the local police authorities to be a disturbing element.
The conditions under which these exiles live are as bad as when they were described twenty years ago by Kennan, Stepniak, and myself, with the only difference that at the present time exiles are also sent to regions quite unsuitable for habitation, such as Turukhansk in the far north, at the mouth of the Yenisei. The conditions there are described by a reliable person writing from the district to the St. Petersburg newspaper Ryech1:--
"All the exiles are settled in the Turukhansk district, which borders the River Yenisei, from Turukhansk to Yeniseisk, a distance of 720 miles, in which there are only 64 small villages. The main bulk of the exiles are in 30 villages, in the largest of which, Sumarokovo, there are only 20 houses, while in the others there are only from 5 to 7 houses, with from 30 to 40 inhabitants. In some villages the total number of the inhabitants does not exceed 20 persons. Below Turukhansk, in a tract of country 670 miles long, there are only 37 villages, the largest of which, Dudinka, contains only 10 houses, the others being mere post stations of 1, 2, or 3 houses. It is quite easy to see that when 15 or 20 exiles are settled in such small villages they are a burden to the population, and can find absolutely no work to live upon. The result is that lately a band of men, 10 at first, and later on 25, went along the river plundering the houses of some of the residents. Sixty-five men are now being prosecuted, and have been marched on foot from Turukhansk to Yeniseisk in order to be brought before a court martial."
Information of the most heartrending description as to the conditions under which the administrative exiles live, has been communicated by reliable persons, including several deputies of the first and second Duma, and published in the Russian Press. We have, moreover, before us large numbers of letters giving much information, and will give extracts from a few of them. A mother, an absolutely trustworthy person, who has gone into exile to accompany her young daughter, writes as follows to the British Committee in Aid of Administrative Exiles:--
"I have followed my daughter, condemned by the Court to exile for life in Siberia, with the intention of softening the conditions of her long journey.... Most of the exiles, having spent something like two years or more in prison, before coming before a Court, are quite exhausted by the hard prison treatment. They are dressed in long rough coats and heavy, ill-fitting shoes, and have to carry all the rest of their clothing on their backs, in sacks weighing about 30 lb. During the part of the journey which is made by train, men and women are put to travel together in the carriages, under the supervision of warders and soldiers. These men are accustomed to consider the prisoners as without rights of any kind, and therefore permit themselves to treat them as they choose. For women this journey is especially terrible. In one railway carriage there were three women among a lot of ordinary criminals, and when the commanding officer wanted to chain them in pairs, he did not hesitate to fetter one of the women to a man, and to keep them thus for a great part of the journey. In the carriage where my daughter was, there was a party of women exiled for having no passports. Most of them were prostitutes. The soldiers of the guard drank with them, and my daughter, being in their company, had to witness the most abominable scenes.
"Still worse things are to be seen in the transfer prisons, where the politicals are kept with the ordinary criminals, under abominable conditions. When they come to the place of exile, they are left in some small village, usually hundreds of miles from the small district town. More than 100 persons are often left in a small village, and all that the police authorities do is to see that they do not run away. Sometimes an exile has been to give up all his winter clothing, in order to rent a room in a peasant's house; and many would have died from hunger and cold were it not for the help given them by their brother exiles. The prices in such villages are very high, owing to the numbers of the exiles; and it is absolutely impossible for exiles to find any work, or to earn anything, however little. Every kind of work suitable to intellectuals is forbidden by law.
"I have spent one month with my daughter in one of these villages, and I have seen nothing but worn faces of men vainly going about in search of work. They tried to open a laundry, but there was nobody to give linen to be washed-every one did their own washing. And the same was found with all sorts of workshops. In the infirmary there was neither doctor nor medicine, and yet it was strictly forbidden to leave the village and go to the nearest district town. The village of which I speak and in which my daughter is kept, is one of the best in respect of climate and other conditions of life, and I asked myself : I 'Does the Government know the lot it is preparing for the people whom it sends to exile in this way? Does it know that in the conditions which prevail it is condemning men to a slow death?'"
Some idea of the conditions under which the administrative live may be given by the following statement, which has been prepared for us in the Narym district of the Government of Tobolsk :--
This district belongs to that immense region of marsh and wood which is marked on the maps of Western Siberia as a marsh, and covers hundreds of miles from north to south and from west to east. The only access to it is by the rivers, on the banks of which are a few dry spots, while the country between the rivers is covered with almost impenetrable forests, and until lately was quite uninhabited, except for a few small villages. A dozen little settlements of a few small have recently appeared along some of the rivers draining this great marsh. Last year there were, however, no less than 700 administrative exiles in this region.
The Government allowance to these exiles was, until January, 1908, 3r. 30k. (7s. 1d.) per month. But since then it has been reduced to 1r. 80k. (3s.) per month. However, it is only the administrative exiles who receive that allowance. Those who have been exiled by sentence of the Courts (the ssylno-poselentsy) receive nothing. The communes of the villages to which they are sent are bound to give them some land, but as the exiles have no tools and no cattle, and most of them are townspeople, they simply starve. In the larger villages the exiles have organized their own soup kitchens, which supply one meal a day for 2 1/2d. or 3d. The money granted by the Government to the adminitstrative exiles for their winter and summer dress, i.e., 60s. 8d. a year, is evidently used for food, because the high prices of flour and salt make the monthly allowance of 3s. absolutely insufficient to keep body and soul together, notwithstanding the cheapness of meat. Very few are happy enough to earn a few shillings by their work.
Near Tchelyabinsk there are about a thousand exiles, mostly in awful misery.2
The Social Democratic Deputies in the Duma have received lately the report of a detailed inquiry into the condition of political exiles sent to Siberia by sentence of the Courts (ssylno-poselentsy). They have detailed information about 110 persons who have passed through the transfer prison of Krasnoyarsk. The greater number of them (77) are workmen, and only 24 are intellectuals ; 58 of them are Russians, 19 Poles, 20 Jews, and 2 Germans. In fifteen cases it has been established that these men have been exiled owing to having trusted agents provocateurs, and in three cases testimony against them was obtained from witnesses under physical torture.3
Even those who are sent to the more fertile and favored southern parts of Siberia are not better off than the others. Those who are not noblemen--and they are the great majority--receive in Southern Siberia only from 2r. 40k. (5s. 2d.) to 6r. (13s.) a month, but in the latter case they have to pay from 4s. to 6s. a month for their lodgings. In the small district towns of Southern Siberia there is exactly the same want of employment as in the Far North.
Those who are exiled to the most thinly populated parts of Northern Siberia are confined to the encampments of the natives. It is well known that skin diseases are terribly prevalent in Siberia. Nearly all the natives are infected, as also many families of Russian peasants ; but the exiles are compelled to lodge with the natives in their tiny huts and tents, and are happy if they are given a corner in the log hut of a Russian settler.
The presence of the exiles is generally felt as a heavy burden by the native population, which is becoming more and more hostile to them, and the feeling of hostility is increased by the presence of criminals among them. For persons sentenced for theft and other breaches of the ordinary law are being sent to Siberia in company with administrative exiles transported for rebellion or other political offenses. Perhaps the authorities do this from considerations of economy, perhaps for other reasons.
Those who have been exiled to the northern provinces of European Russia, namely, to Archangel, are in no better plight than those who have been transported to Siberia. A number of them have written to complain to M. Bulat, Deputy to the Duma, about the intolerable conditions under which they live. Having been exiled, not by administrative order, but by sentence of the Courts, these people receive no support from the Government; and they get nothing from the village communities; being themselves short of arable land, they do not give them allotments. "Save us from starvation and unavoidable death from hunger," they wrote to their Deputy to the Duma.4
Altogether, the peasants who have been exiled for agrarian disturbances--and they are very numerous by this time--are in the most precarious condition. In Tsarev (government of Astrakhan), where two hundred administrative exiles are kept, typhus is raging among them. No medical assistance is given, and the typhus patients are sleeping by the side of the healthy men in the common doss-houses of Tsarev, because the owners of private houses have sent them away from fear of infection.5
In the face of such misery, which is an unavoidable result of the system, we hardly dare speak of the abuse of the powers of the local police and the gendarme authorities, which in some cases renders the state of things still worse. Thus, in the government of Vyatka, the exiles for a long time did not receive their dress money. In February last they at length received the small allowance for summer clothes, the winter allowance being still unpaid.
At Tchelyabinsk it appears, from a telegram sent to the Head of the Prison administration by M. Tcheidze, Deputy to the Duma, that the exiles were in the most terrible plight because the authorities had given them no food money and no dress money, and forbade them to move from one village to another.
The only bright feature is that the political exiles do everything possible to maintain each other's courage and to prevent demoralization. Everywhere they have organized their own societies for mutual help, to which every one who receives any monies from home pays a regular contribution of so much per cent. With this money they start soup kitchens, small libraries, and lectures, but the difficulty of getting books and papers and the high cost of light in the northern parts during the winter is extreme, and the authorities continually put hindrances in the way of such organizations. In some places in the Far North during the long winter nights sheer despair lays hold of the exiles. In January last, in one of the remote settlements of the Obdorsk region, five exiles ended their lives by suicide. A girl took the lead, and she was followed by four men.
The following extracts will give a still more concrete idea of the life of some of the exiles. One correspondent, writing from the Ilga canton, says:--
"We are here 90 persons, mostly grouped in a big trading village. We receive absolutely nothing from the crown" (they are ssylno-poselentsys). "Happily enough, most of us have found some work ; only a few of us, 10 or 12, have not. We have a mutual aid society and a soup kitchen supplying food at low prices."
From the government of Tobolsk one of the exiles writes to our Committee of Inquiry:--
"In this government we are about 2,000, Out of whom nearly 500 have been exiled by sentence of the courts (ssylno-poselentsy). The remainder are administrative exiles. The greater number of us are in the districts of Tura, Berezoff (64° N. lat.), and Tobolsk, and in the districts of Surgut, Tara, and Tyumen. About finding work I can say nothing bright. It is only in the summer that we get some work at the fisheries, and in the towns some students and most of the skilled workmen have well-paid work; but the great proportion of us are in very low spirits, having absolutely no work. The want of work is most severely felt by the ssylno-poselentsys, because the administratives cannot do much to help them. Since January 9, 1907, the administrative exiles belonging to the unprivileged classes have received only 4r. 80k. (10s. 4d.) in the Berezoff and Surgut districts, 4r. 50k. (9s. 4 1/2d.) in the Tobolsk district, and 4r. 20k. (9s. 1d.) in the others. Married people receive some assistance for wife and children. Noblemen and those who have receive university education receive 11r. 25k. (24s. 4d.) per month. There is also the dress allowance of 25r. (54s.) in August and 4r. 80k. (10s. 4d.) in May. As to the other exiles, they receive absolutely nothing. They are chiefly in the Tara district, a fertile region, but most of them know nothing about agricultural work and have great difficulty in finding anything to do."
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