Pana´t Istrati 1935

Open Letter to Francis Jourdain

Source: Monde, February 1, 1935;
Translated: for by Mitch Abidor.

Unquestionably the last act of what Istrati’s former friends considered his apostasy, indeed as proof of his going over to fascism and anti-Semitism, the following open letter was written to the French Communist Francis Jourdain, who had gone to Romania to investigate the case of the Romanian Communist professor Constantinescu-Jassy, arrested for his party activities. It was published in the fellow travelling magazine Monde, edited by Henri Barbusse.

Bucharest January 17, 1935

Very Dear Friend Jourdain:

Since I ceased to share with you the vice presidency of the Friends of the USSR in France, a role that a rapid “betrayal” didn’t give me the leisure to exercise and that occurred in a way everyone is aware of, I don’t know if I'm still allowed to address you with the above affectionate words which once were customary to us.

If I nevertheless continue to do so (despite the political chasm that separates us today), it’s not only because I've not for a single moment stopped seeing in you a superior man and perfect artist, as well as a longtime dear friend, but also because the object of this letter – a profoundly painful object for me – doesn’t allow me to adopt toward your gentle and distinguished person the cold, distant, formal tone that is de rigueur between two political enemies, and which rapidly degenerates into arrogance.

Speaking to you in this cordial tone, which was customary for us from our first meeting, I want on the one hand to make you more readily understand how inappropriate is the role of communist investigator, which you accepted to play in a communist affair, for a man of your moral value in the country that is the most exposed to the communist terror. On the other hand, I want with all my heart and all my feeble moral authority to contribute so that you be understood, appreciated, and treated with consideration by that portion of my nation that has reasons not to share your political convictions. They could quite easily confuse you with a “Soviet agent” and hold in reserve for you some extremely disagreeable surprises, well known to those who, before you, were imprudent enough to visit us in similar circumstances.

I ask you to believe that I personally have nothing to say against the principle that divides the world into major and minor nations, giving the moral right to the former to monitor the latter whenever they appear to sin against human dignity.

I recognize that human dignity is part of the universal patrimony that must be defended by all the moral forces of humanity when it is threatened in any part of the world. And I also recognize that in the case of Professor Constantinescu-Jassy, which brought you here, the French nation, which is not only “major,” but also “noble and allied,” sends in your person a man of an honesty and assiduity as superior as is the art with which you've distinguished yourself in the fields of architecture and interior decorating. But this is all I recognize.

From this point on, in examining the facts, everything turns against you. Let’s take it one by one.

1 – In your investigation you accept the company of two Soviet agents of a more than dubious political morality, and you ought to have been the first to spare us their moral oversight, even if you considered us a minor nation. Thank god France possesses enough Soviet sympathizers of your moral caliber who it would have been more appropriate to send us.

And on this point I am forced to add that I have no respect for that portion of your nation that delegates to us individuals such as these.

2 – Before departing for our unhappy regions, don’t you think that a qualm of conscience should have forced you to wonder if it’s honest to sponsor a moral investigation only when a communist is arrested in a bourgeois country, while in the remaining silent when in Soviet Russia they deport you to the icy steppes and summarily execute young idealists, some of whom were your personal friends.

3 – Professor Constinescu-Jassy was neither tortured nor beaten, but simply arrested for communist agitation.

Even if this professor immediately undertook a hunger-, thirst-, cold-, hearing-, sight- and touch strike, I don’t think you're so na´ve as to believe that the situation in Romania, here on the Dniester, is comparable to the situation in France between the Rhine and the Atlantic, and that the bourgeois rulers of this country should be expected to be moved by this whole sentimental comedy, when they have to deal with an enemy who promises to put them up against the wall the day a soviet regime is established here.

I already said this when I believed in the benefactions and humanity of communism: from the moment you find yourself in open war with the enemy, it is singularly ridiculous to invoke constitutional rights and begin a fast as soon as your enemy permits itself to arrest you.

I'm frankly surprised that that individual doesn’t feel degraded to eat the bread of the state whose foundation he undermines.

4 – I read in today’s newspapers that upon arriving in Kishinev the first thing you did was to contact two Jewish communists, unleashing the legitimate rage of its nationalist community, which has a thousand reasons not to share your sympathy with the communist regime. Well then, dear Jourdain, you'll never know the consequences of your exploit, since you'll leave under the protection of those Romanian soldiers who the comrades of the theology professor execute along the Dniester and who don’t even know where to find you to ask you to listen to them when they fight against communist banditry.

But I, who remain here and who know the comedy being played out on Romanian soil between the autochthonous nation and the nations with which we are forced to share a crust of bread, I can tell you that the fact that you conversed with two Jewish communists and asked them to inform you of the current state of affairs here is not only an improper act for a man of your stripe, but also a purely criminal act. For this act can have no other consequence than that of providing even more weapons to the enemies of concord among the nationalities by demonstrating how “foreigners” and “Jews” don’t let any occasion pass to undermine the foundations of the state that protects them and gives them bread.

Now, if my words seem to you to be those of a “traitor,” and if you suspect they can help me find favor with the leaders of this country, you should know that you've got things completely wrong. I live here in isolation, receiving the support of no one despite an illness that has lasted three years, lacking any form of revenue, and threatened from month to month with not being able to pay for the house in which I live. And beyond that, I also have the pain of seeing friends of your quality come here and poison our envenomed social life even more, at the very moment when, with what is left of my strength, I am attempting to contribute, alongside other men of good will, to the humanization of the violent and bloody nationalist struggles here. You have no idea about any of this. You passed through Bucharest without even coming to see your old friend, whose honesty I think you don’t place in doubt.

The human heart is sometimes hard.

Bucharest, January 15, 1935

PS If as proof of my reactionary attitude you're told that these lines appear in a right-wing newspaper, know that here among us only the right-wing newspapers have the courage to be revolutionary. Those of the left nibble at the grain in the tough of a comfortable democracy, protected by the state of siege and censorship