Soviet Reminiscences

Dariela Aquique 

Bicer Kirov 1979

I found a disk by Bicer Kirov in the CD collection of a friend.  Among those present (we were all contemporaries) this triggered an explosion of laughter, and a good part of the night became devoted to that Cuban habit of asking “Do you remember…?”

An enormous number of examples came to our minds as we recalled our adolescence.  We thought back to the years when our nation’s tutelage under the countries of Eastern Europe, particularly Russia, was strongest.

Let me explain myself a little more.  This Kirov was a Bulgarian pop singer who rose to fame in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  You’d have to hear him on the radio or see him on TV to get an idea of what Bulgarian pop music was like?

A part from the joking about that artist, each and every one of us contributed our examples of sour memories about him.  His most popular song was in Spanish and had a refrain that went no less than “Cuba, Bulgaria; a rose and a machete.  Cuba, Bulgaria; they mean friendship…”

I’ll leave to your judgment the beauty of the lyricism and the quality of the metaphor used in that line.

Other songs often broadcast were by another Bulgarian, the lyrical singer Venchy Siromajova, who once lived in the Alamar neighborhood of Havana.  Likewise, there were the tunes by the Czech singer Karel Gott, whose smiling face I remember on the covers of the vinyl albums on display in almost all the windows of stores and bookstores, those that people would walk past indifferently.

The newspaper and postal stands used to be packed with Russian magazines, which mainly served as materials for covering students’ notepads and textbooks.  The face of astronaut Yuri Gagarin or of any important cultural or political figure from these countries was worn on the backpacks of our Young Pioneers or carried in the wallets of the adults who went to night school at the “Worker-Farmer Faculty (Spanish: Facultad Obrero Campesina, or FOC), the equivalent of high school.

My father had a complete collection of the Spanish edition of Sputnik (a magazine published by the Novosti Press Agency in the Soviet Union during a great part of the Cold War and after), though it was no more than a bad imitation of Reader’s Digest (a well-known US magazine in the 1950s).

Cuban women copied the clothes worn by those European socialists, while some of these outfits — the worst — were made from fabrics brought from there, despite their being completely ill-suited to the torrid climate of our Caribbean island.

National transportation was divided into two groups: antiquated US models (Ford, Chevrolet, Buick, among others), and the Soviet ones (Lada, Niva, Aleko, Moskvich or Volga).  Even today, with incredible innovations, both groups still serve for urban transportation here in this country.

All those home appliances sent to us came from the hands of our friends, whose “humanitarian and disinterested assistance” saved the national economy from the Yankee blockade.  I don’t think there was a house that wasn’t decorated with a set of Matriushka nesting dolls or a “Micha the Bear Cub” (the logo of the 1980 Moscow Olympics).

Anyone who’s over 35 used to wear a Poljot, Vostok or a Raketa watch, and they had to study Russian in school or take courses in it over the radio or TV.

It can’t be said that that we consumed exclusively Soviet, Hungarian, Czech or Polish artistic works; music also entered onto the island in English, Spanish and French (paradoxically this was brought in by Cubans who studied abroad on scholarships granted by the Eastern European countries).  This is to say that we absorbed their cultures and those of “the others” – the capitalist countries.

We were a sort of East European colony.  The names of my generation were mostly Alexei, Mikhail, Vladimir, Natacha, Nadia, Lisanka, Sergei and Aliosha.  Similarly, our pets were named Laika or Kastankas.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a period in which everything that had to do with our former protector-friends was renounced.  Nevertheless, we’ll always remember the boring series that illustrated the “Great Patriotic War” and the dense Russian dramas from Sovietfilm.

Still, all of that marked a stage in our lives, and we’ll always feel some nostalgia for Russian cartoons.  All of us will laugh with nostalgia if we again see Basilia la Sabia, Cocodrilo Guena and their restless friend Cheburashka (?????????).