Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.



As is rare in most Vojvodina villages, there was a significant difference in the wealth of farmers in Novi Bečej. A large portion of the land was owned by a few large landowners and 250-300 wealthy Serbs, and around twenty wealthy Hungarians. The remaining agricultural population, for the most part, either had no land or had 3-4 acres.

Through the agrarian reform after World War I, land was taken away from the large landowners Ivanović, Rohonci, and Šojmoš and distributed to Serbian peasants. The landowners were left with 500 acres of arable land and an unlimited area of pastures and economic buildings.

Hungarians, even though a significant portion of them had no land, did not receive any land through the "agrarian" reform. They worked as servants, farmhands, and day laborers, with many engaged in canal digging, embankment construction, and other labor-intensive tasks. Some Hungarian families, a hundred or more, served as laborers on the estates of large landowners (spahis), where they lived with their families. A worker serving and residing on the owner's estate was called a "biroš."

Day labor was a prevalent form of employment, especially considering that the land was owned by a minority, and there was a large number of landless agricultural workers forced to work as day laborers. Female laborers were primarily employed in day labor.

Most of the agricultural work was done manually, without the use of machines. During the plowing, mowing, and harvesting seasons, a large number of day laborers were employed. When machines began to replace manual labor in agriculture, they were used very little on the spahis.

The fact that machine work was less utilized on the spahis than with other wealthy landowners seems unusual. The reason undoubtedly lies in the lack of interest of the owners in improving production. Any improvement required new investments. Instead, they sought to extract as much as possible from their estates, even if the work was done in the same way as a hundred or more years ago. The owners of these spahis lived or often went to Budapest, and there was always not enough money for their luxurious lifestyle; if they also had to invest, then especially not.

Not only the outdated methods of work but also the low wages paid to their biroši created complete disinterest in labor. A biroš on the spahi had a significantly lower annual income than a biroš on the estate of a wealthier landowner. Although private landowners demanded more work from their biroši, this was not much taken into account on the spahis.

It sounds strange that biroši, despite low wages, stayed on the estates of large landowners. The reason is undoubtedly their attachment to these estates, where they were born, and not only them but also their fathers and grandfathers, which brought some sentimentality into it. Perhaps a more realistic assessment is that the majority, due to primitivism and illiteracy, did not know that they could secure a better life for themselves and their families elsewhere.

When making such an assessment, the Rohonci spahi on Biserno Ostrvo should be excluded. Concerning fruit and viticulture, it excelled in the most modern methods of work and varieties of fruit and vine. All other arable work was carried out in a manner typical of declining spahis.

Ivanović had the largest area of land. Besides 500 acres of arable land in Berek and Jatovo, he also had large areas of pastures and buildings. All pastures on the halfway road between Novi Bečej and Kumane, on both sides of the road, belonged to Ivanović. There was also a large space under the buildings. In addition to economic buildings with a courtyard and park, where "Sokolac" is today, he had several buildings in the area called "Prečka," then in Borđoš and on "Biserno Ostrvo." This spahi mostly retained an outdated way of working and "excelled" in that regard compared to others.

All agricultural work on Ivanović's estate was done manually and with ox-drawn carts, except for wheat sowing and threshing. Mowing, digging, and other tasks were performed manually by biroši and day laborers, and only starting from 1932 with mowers and horse-drawn carts. Threshing was done with his own thresher.

The central part of Ivanović's estate was where "Sokolac" is now. For me, that estate, with its beautiful castle, was the most beautiful thing in agriculture. I couldn't understand that the owner lived in Budapest and came to his estate only once or at most twice a year, staying for 10-15 days, often much less.

I remember watching with special admiration the carriage he rode in. It was an extraordinary carriage, completely closed in the rear, with

two doors, with the front open like a phaeton. Four horses were harnessed, and two postilions, Hungarian drivers with red livery, rode horses in front of the carriage. He changed horses in front of the estate, and the carriage would continue towards Kumane. In the park, next to the castle, there were two wells with delicious water.

In addition to this central part, Ivanović had many buildings in different places on his estate, such as "Prečka," Borđoš, Biserno Ostrvo, etc. In these buildings, as in the central part, he retained a large number of people, and the number of heads on the spahi reached 2,000. There was no construction of new buildings.

Ivanović, who was a member of parliament, a wealthy man, although on a spahi, a wealthy landowner, left his estate in the hands of his wife and the manager when he went to Budapest. He made it easier for his wife and manager to manage the estate by leaving the estate in debt. In this way, his estate was managed for 70-80 years, until it was confiscated in 1945.

The managers changed, but the manager Zvonar stood out, especially for his cruelty. He took advantage of the financial dependence of the biroši and had unlimited power over them. Besides, the woman of the manager, Zvonar, was an insurmountable authority to the biroši. As such, she walked around the estate with her dogs, dressed in beautiful dresses, and looked at the hardworking biroši with disdain.

Zvonar, as an owner, would give a part of the lease to the biroši, so the land remained a private property, and the biroši remained in the same position as before. The other part of the lease, given to the biroši, was conditioned by the fact that they work on the spahi as much as they worked before. The price of this part of the lease was high, so the biroš was a simple slave.

The manor of the spahi, where the wife of the spahi, one son, and two daughters lived, is known in history as "Sokolac." It had a beautiful park, and a large and small pond that was connected by a canal. All around, on the fertile plains, wheat grew. Although everything suggested that "Sokolac" should serve for higher purposes, it was used exclusively for the summer stay of the spahi. If a factory were built on the spahi, it would bring more to the owner and his family than a hundred spahis could bring. However, building factories, and that factories worked, was unimaginable for them.

The most advanced agricultural estate in Novi Bečej, not counting the "Sokolac" manor, was the estate of the Hungarian rich man Kiss. It had about 200 acres of land, the most fertile in Novi Bečej, and 150 acres of gardens. All the buildings on the estate were modern, from the canal to the orchard.

Kiss was not only the richest landowner but also the first to establish a private agricultural school. On this estate, the best varieties of fruit were grown, and the practice of biroši and day laborers was raised to a high level. Such a high level of work could not have been expected from the spahis. They lagged far behind other landowners in that regard. In that discrepancy, not a small part belonged to the mismanagement of the spahi and their managers.

Kiss's estate had a private school in which the biroši were raised, and they were required to know the cultural level. There was no similar school on the estates of the spahis.

When I mentioned the estate of Kiss and his private agricultural school, I realized that I made a serious omission. After all, I attended this agricultural school. It wasn't like other agricultural schools, which lasted two years and had a certain order of study. That school was called school or course, and it lasted three months, as there was no one to keep us together for a more extended period. There were five of us in the course.

The first lesson was theoretical, in the office, where we learned about plowing, sowing, mowing, reaping, harvesting, and other agricultural work. Everything was in writing, and we had a textbook that taught how to plow, mow, reap, sow, and everything else. We memorized everything. The other four lessons were practical work in the field, orchard, and vegetable garden.

Kiss's estate had a model garden where only the best varieties of fruits and vegetables were grown. We took care of that garden, learned, and practiced. When the course was over, we were tested in the office on all subjects, and after passing the test, we were given a certificate of course completion.

The estate of Kiss was located on the left bank of the Tisa, between the Tisa and the old road from Novi Bečej to Kumane. It was about a kilometer away from Novi Bečej. The manor and all other buildings, which included the manager's house, stables, and other farm buildings, were built on the slopes, while the fields and gardens were on the plain towards the Tisa.

Kiss, who was of noble origin, had a castle-like manor, which looked more like a military fortress than a dwelling. In addition to a large courtyard and a park, there was a canal that bordered the manor on the south and east. I must mention that a large part of the canal that passes through the estate belonged to the estate. I mentioned this in more detail because it will be of great importance later in the narrative.

The estate of Kiss was surrounded by a canal. The canal, which was straight in front of the manor and stables, made a slight curve toward the east, with a length of about three kilometers, and on the old road turned sharply towards Kumane. The embankment was about two meters high, and the depth of the canal was four meters. The bottom was dug up so that the water level was one meter below the surface of the field. The slope was gentle, so the water level in the canal was just enough to allow free and uninterrupted water flow. There was no rapid, and in the course of that three-kilometer curve, the canal turned into a smooth surface. This canal irrigated the fields on both sides, to the right and left, and the orchard was located to the south.

Next to the manor, there was a large courtyard with two outbuildings on the east side. The park was behind the manor, and the stables were to the left. A well-kept stable stood out. There were about 30 thoroughbred horses in it. On the west side of the manor, in a straight line, there were buildings for biroši, three of which were inhabited. Biroši worked the fields to the left of the canal and the orchard.

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