Daisy Valera

Feria del Libro 2010. Photo: Caridad

The image of the Havana Book Fair this year was quite similar to those of previous years; a mass of people of all ages began arriving at the Cabaña fortress early in the morning and stay until the late afternoon engaged in all types of activities.

For many people, the fair is an excuse for hanging out with friends, for enjoying the host of food stands or an opportunity to sit in the grass and sing with the accompaniment of guitars at the expansive fort, which —like the books— is full of life.

The guest country of honor this year is Russia.

Consequently, Cuban publishers came out with books that haven’t been seen in Cuba for more than 20 years; among them Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and stories of Anton Chekhov.

For many years Cuba was tied culturally with Russia.  A number of generations of Cubans did their university and other types of studies in several of the republics that made up the USSR.

As a result, for many older people I saw at the fair, the Russian language is not strange (though it’s perhaps somewhat forgotten by them due to a lack of practice).

Like all countries selected to head up the fair, Russia has a pavilion for the presentation of its books, which —to the displeasure of many youths who travelled there— were all in Russian; one could only enjoy the elaborate bookbinding and pictures.

In a certain way, to me the most uncomfortable aspect about the Russian pavilion were the titles and authors they chose to exhibit at a book fair in Cuba, a socialist country.

Everywhere one could find books by Russian authors from the aristocratic epoch.  The majority of children’s stories dealt with the age of czars and princesses, and the sense of alienation in current Russian modern magazines was on par with those of countries like the United States.

In short, the Russians came in the shining suits of their capitalism.  There was not a single book on the socialist revolution in that country; nor was there anything by writers of the Soviet period, though they had previously distinguished themselves in many forms of literature such as science fiction.

Russia didn’t bring a single book about socialism or Marxism.  I didn’t find one book by Lenin or Trotsky, though I did see a volume titled “Stalin’s skyscrapers” – incredible but true.

I went away from this 19th annual fair with a bitter taste in my mouth.  What for me could have been an interesting search for information about another culture, left me frustrated.  The Russians have forgotten a part of their history whose memory is indispensable for the world in these times of crisis.

They came with the sole intention of selling us the image of their capitalism.


Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

11 thoughts on “Selling Us Their Capitalism

  • Tovarish,

    As a Russian whose passport says born in Moscow, USSR, albeit 1985… I find it sad that we sometimes try to forget that for which millions of our forefathers fought and died for, for bread, for peace, and justice.

    Yet the attachment to our Czarist, pre-revolutionary past is not simply a case of celebrating and showcasing our “capitalism”.

    Today, we are a nation seeking to find a new national idea and we do it by embracing all periods of our history where such greatness can be find, be it the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire, ideology aside.

    This is why our government has restored the Soviet anthem, but at the same time celebrates the Imperial era through state sponsored films.

    I have been to Cuba three times in the past five years, driven across most of the island, stayed at peoples homes. I feel both sad and optimistic. Sad because I see a nation permanently stuck in a “perestroika”, much like the USSR, this time brought a rapid decline of moral and social values, loss of faith in the system, and at the same time greater hopes and expectations for the future.

    All I can really say is that you should never destroy the old system, until you know what to replace it with. No matter how sad this perestroika is, it is better than the alternative of chaos and decline. I have been to other places in Latin America and the Caribbean and nowhere did I feel safer and more at home than in Cuba. A counter revolution would just transform this great nation into another Dominican Republic, and thats a best case scenario after a long recovery period. I hope this never happens.

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