to Mr. Blaine.
St. Petersburg , May 24, 1881. (Received June 13.)
Sir: A disgraceful series of disorders have occurred during the past month in the southwestern provinces of Russia, directed against the Jewish residents, resulting in the loss of a number of lives and the destruction of an enormous amount of property. The scenes of these riots have been at and in the vicinity of Elizabethgrad and Kief, with less serious demonstrations at Odessa and other places. The participants have been almost exclusively of the lowest and most ignorant classes in the towns and cities, joined by the peasants, and the demonstrations in the two localities first named appear to have been so powerful that for days the authorities were paralyzed, and the rioters were able to give full sway to their work of bigotry and destruction. In Kief, a city of over one hundred thousand inhabitants, with a large Jewish population, the work was so thorough, it is stated, that not a single Jewish house escaped, the inmates being driven out, beaten, and stoned, and some of them killed, and the contents plundered or thrown into the streets. The [Page 1020] damage there is estimated at several millions of roubles, and business has been seriously affected thereby; many commercial houses have suspended payments, other bankruptcies are feared, and the prices of provisions and articles of prime necessity have temporarily risen greatly in price. Massacre and destruction of property have become so threatening in other localities, where no actual outbreaks have taken place, that the Jews in large numbers have fled from their homes and taken refuge across the frontier in Austria or in Moscow, where the military force is sufficient to guarantee safety. In some instances the railroad officials have refused to run the trains by which the Jews were seeking to escape, for fear of attack from the infuriated mobs debauched with liquor and plunder.
Indiscriminate pillage became so much feared that Christians chalked their houses with crosses or exhibited holy images with lighted lamps before them to save themselves from the fury of the rabble. The acts which have been committed are more worthy of the Dark Ages than of the present century.
The authorities were slow to realize the extent of the danger, but when once awakened to its wide-spread and deeply-seated character they have manifested a commendable zeal in suppressing the riots and in arresting and punishing the offenders. National troops have been freely used, sending them to the most threatened districts, and in some places, as at Odessa, they have promptly intervened with force to put down the riots.
Various causes have been assigned for these outbreaks additional to the prevailing bigotry and religious hatred of the lower classes towards the Jews. The country has not been prosperous for some time past; taxes have been heavy and exacted with severity; the depreciated paper currency has increased the cost of all commodities; the winter has been one of privation and suffering, and with many families indebtedness has been the rule annually. The Jews being the money changers, traders, and speculators, have profited by this state of affairs, and the poorer classes have felt that undue advantage has been taken of their misfortunes. Following the long fast so faithfully observed in the Russian national church, which was broken by Holy Week and its usual excesses in drinking it has been easy to work upon the passions and prejudices of the hungry and ignorant. It is asserted also that the Nihilist societies have profited by the situation to incite and encourage the peasants and lower classes of the towns and cities in order to increase the embarrassments of the government, but the charge is probably conjectural and not based on very tangible facts. Certain it is, however, that the disorders have developed a state of discontent and lawlessness in the country that is by no means agreeable to the government. It is believed that the Emperor has no sympathy with the spirit manifested against the Jews, and, in addition to the active use of the imperial army to put down the riots, he has given orders to have an investigation made of the causes which have occasioned the disturbances. I have in previous dispatches referred to the proscriptive laws and disabilities imposed upon the Jews in Russia. If these events lead to a serious consideration of the wisdom of abolishing all the Jewish disabilities, and of placing Russian legislation on this subject alongside of that of the other enlightened nations, the loss of life and property will not have been in vain.
It may not be without interest to mention that these disturbances and the Russian laws affecting foreign Jews have twice during the past week been the subject of discussion in the British Parliament. As reference [Page 1021] was made in that discussion to the action of our government and this legation regarding the Russian laws prohibiting foreign Jews to reside in St. Petersburg, I send you herewith that portion of the Parliamentary report. It will be noticed that two questions were presented in the House of Commons: first, as to the propriety of the British Government making representations to that of Russia with regard to the atrocities committed upon the Jewish population in Southern Russia; and, second, as to the action of the British Government on account of the expulsion from St. Petersburg of a highly respected London merchant, having a British passport, on the ground that he was a Jew. To the first question the under secretary for foreign affairs indicated that his government was reluctant to make any representations in regard to the persecutions and to the second that a protest had been made against the expulsion of the British subject, but without avail.
This discussion in Parliament has occasioned an editorial in the St. Petersburg Journal, the semi-official organ of the Russian foreign office, of which I send you a translation. This article asserts that the disturbances being of a purely domestic character, the British cabinet would have no more right to address the Russian Government representations thereon than the latter would have to address Lord Granville on account of the agrarian crimes in Ireland. In reference to the expulsion, it maintains that if made according to Russian law a protest was not proper; and, on the other hand, if the expulsion was in violation of that law a protest was unnecessary, because the above would have been corrected.
In this connection I have to report that no new case has arisen of the enforcement against American citizens of the law in question.
I am, &c.,