Those Russians

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The Book Fair has finished its run in the bookstores of the interior of Cuba, but the Cuban press is still celebrating Russia and its culture, as in the days when we marched arm-in-arm with the “indestructible Soviet Union.” But now the bolos* don’t speak of socialism, can’t remember the “Great Lenin,” and don’t send ships with food, weapons, and oil to their Caribbean backyard. Now they’ve returned with some literary works, dozens of films and exhibits on World War II, and the 50th anniversary of relations between Moscow and Havana. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Ordinary Cubans also suffer from amnesia. None of the thousands of Cuban engineers who studied in that country keep up the Siberian bear hugs. The houses of the Soviet technicians and advisers, even the military bases of the former allies, have all been recycled. When the resource pipeline was shut off, and advice on how to build communism stopped, so ended our admiration for the greatness of the Russian soul.

But melancholy nests in the circles of power. A few days ago Raúl Castro fondly recalled his years of learning in the military academies of Moscow, where he used to return for guidance up until 1990. Other generals and ministers expressed nostalgia for the decades of meetings, travel, and vodkas.

The Russians of those days don’t have much to do with the functionaries who now preside over the delegation that came to the Havana Book Fair. In the photos published by the press, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiles beside General Raúl Castro and the Cuban minister, with whom he signed papers and talked about strategic relationships. Behind the words there are plenty of differences. The mandarins of the island are old-timers who flirt, do business, and ask for loans to the country.

Thanks to the Russians of those days, they dismantled our nation. To the Moscow comrades they owe the power that they still wield through blood and fire. The legacy of the Soviet empire was the technical, military, academic, and philosophical support for voluntary socialism, and its imposition by the Castro brothers. Even the instruction manuals on how to repress the Cuban opposition were produced in the secret headquarters of the homeland of Lenin. The officers of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior are the best students of the Slavic troika.

The censors who make editorial decisions about the books we read on the island are the nursery-school graduates of those experts of real socialism. The cultural heritage of the Russians still hangs over the founders, who do not measure up to the exclusive standards set in the offices of the Communist Party, heir to its Soviet counterpart.

A veneer of cynicism covers this display of gratitude to the former Soviet Union. Because the Russians have come to prefer the films of Eisenstein, the art of Konstantin S. Stanislavski, or reading the epic portrayals by Tolstoy, the psychological acuity of Dostoevsky, the irony of Chekhov, and the biting criticism of Soviet society recreated by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novels.

Translator’s note:  “bolos” (literally “bowling pins”) is Cuban slang for “Russians”

Translated by: Tomás A.

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