Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Birches Too Difficult to Cut Down: The Rejection and Assimilation of the Soviet Reference in Cuban Culture

Academic journal article The International Journal of Cuban Studies

Birches Too Difficult to Cut Down: The Rejection and Assimilation of the Soviet Reference in Cuban Culture

Article excerpt

Recently, some observers have been alluding to a sort of lasting 'nostalgia' concerning the Soviet Union, perceptible in different spheres of society. It is undoubtable that during the 1980s, Soviet cooperation brought a kind of material 'abundance'. As some scholars (Damaris Puñales-Alpízar, Jacqueline Loss, Yoss, Reina María Rodríguez)1 have convincingly demonstrated, products from the Eastern Bloc: publications for example, as well as canned food (such as the famous carne rusa), well-known television shows muñequitos (appreciated by young and not so young television watchers) or the everlasting home appliances (it is enough to look at the Soviet ventilators which, despite their rudeness and simplicity, keep on relieving the unbearable heat of the Island), induce some Cubans to see the 1980s with a touch of longing; a nostalgia that was increased by the brutal contrast with the penuries that the population had to face during the Periodo Especial.

Nevertheless, far from being always a harmonious relationship between two familiar countries, Soviet-Cuban links are a very complex phenomenon, characterised by instabilities, vicissitudes, and contradictions. To wholly understand the evolution of mutual attitudes, we should take into consideration the various tensions detonated throughout the turbulent 1960s. The Cuban Revolution did not automatically generate an immediate identification with the Soviet socialist orbit. Among those who fought against Batista's regime, many have never been strong advocates of the model embodied by Moscow. Others just wanted absolutely nothing to do with Communism in Cuba. We could mention the shortterm president Manuel Urrutia (January-July 1959), who even identified his country with the Capitalist sphere when he received, with unhidden praises, the brand-new American Ambassador in March 1959, Philip Bonsal: 'Ciertamente, tanto los Estados Unidos como Cuba responden a una misma ideología democrática, republicana y liberal', said in this opportunity President Urrutia, keeping hard words to the Eastern system:

De un lado, nuestra cultura occidental, que tienen por divisa el respeto a los valores del espíritu y a los derechos del hombre, y de otro, la que secuestra tanto la soberanía de los pueblos como la consciencia individual, mediante la persecución y la muerte.2

Without wishing to generalise, it was not uncommon to hear within some families a member declaring with conviction, 'I am Fidelista, but I would never be a Communist.' Let us not forget that the concept of 'Socialist' for defining the revolutionary process was first pronounced by Fidel Castro in April 1961, more than two years after the 'Bearded one's' triumphal entry into Havana. But beyond these questions about political definitions - inevitable in a project in quest of meaning - what is interesting to observe is that the openness towards a multiplicity of references was also noticeable in the intellectual circles of the 1960s, where the narrow principles of the 'Socialist realism' were far from engendering a tolerant unanimity. On the contrary, the cultural milieu of those years was characterised by multi-layered propensities and by a real effervescence, which multiplied the external notions. It is true that the Soviet influence, very unfamiliar before 1959, tended to gain notoriety in an extremely different atmosphere (just think of the climate, the gastronomical habits, the languages: just some of the many features that represent a radical dissymmetry) through an increasingly more profuse arrival of artists and aesthetic productions. But it is also true that the new generation of creators and thinkers started to explore a wide array of multinational trends.

After a remarkable and careful edition of Don Quixote (100,000 copies in four volumes and with beautiful illustrations by Gustave Doré and Pablo Picasso), the Imprenta Nacional intend to 'update' Cuban readers with universal literature. Of course, the heroic sagas of Soviet authors had a privileged position as well (and that they were read by numerous militiamen in order to infuse martial impetus), but among the broad range of foreign writers many 'avant-gardists' shook the curiosity of the Cubans, subject to an involuntary lag:3 Marcel Proust, James Joyce, John Dos Passos, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Eugene Ionesco, William Faulkner, and even (although in a limited edition of 200 copies, which is trading today for unbelievable prices) 1984, by George Orwell. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.