Early Lessons in Russian Activism (1)

Dmitri Prieto

Yesterday's Rain. photo by Leandro Valdes

Recently I’ve been involved in the multifaceted Critical Observatory network, which organized and carried out its fourth national forum a month ago. It was immensely stimulating to again share with active defenders of causes that others consider structurally lost.

There were several activists who are involved in ecological projects, even one who came from Italy and was invited to talk about the cooperative organization of eco-communities.

After the event, someone commented that a certain functionary said the sponsors had spent a lot of money with the sole outcome being a lot of talk about ecological conservation… I hope that information is false; if it’s true, then it’s obvious the functionary in question is little more than illiterate with regard to the problems confronting our planet.

I’m not exactly an environmentalist, but I believe that what environmentalists are doing is vitally important.  Especially because they’re able —often better than other activists— to sensitize people with regard to controversial causes; because without sensibility, life becomes insipid and selfish, regardless of how good a social system (be it cooperative, self-managed or even something we could improbably suppose came close to the effectiveness of the famous Modragon federation of worker cooperatives in Spain…).

But there’s a special reason that fosters my affinity with environmentalists: the first time I ever organized a group around a social cause, it was an environmentalist group.

That was in 1982 when I was in Russia.  I lived in Moscow and was the oldest child in a Cuban-Russian family.  My parents worked in the Cuban Embassy, and I was in the 4th grade in a Cuban elementary school for kids who were in that country for whatever reason.

The school was named “The Heroic Guerilla fighter,” in honor of Che Guevara, and its teaching combined the basic courses for the development of Cuban identity (Spanish, reading, the history of Cuba…).  However, there was also Russian language as well as several disciplines that were taught in that language (because the school only went to the 5th grade, after which time it was presumed we would continue studying in Russian schools or return to Cuba).

It’s necessary to say here that my bilingualism (as well as that of many contemporary Cubans) made possible for me (us) to read books and magazines in Russian, and to watch Soviet television.  It was precisely through those sources that I (we) learned of the danger that threatens the planet.  This menace is posed basically by human industrial activity, but is also due to the clear lack of sensitivity toward “different” forms of life and the simple beauty of the world as it is.

Because —incredibly— it seems that issues concerning the atmosphere had not still become publicly visible in Cuba.  On the other hand, Russian TV reported on how in West Germany (the capitalist Germany, the “bad” one, because the good one was East Germany) a strange “green” party had garnered a significant number of votes in that gathering of bureaucrats called the Bundestag.

Of course, nothing like that existed in Cuba or the USSR (neither capitalism, nor “green” movements, nor Bundestags), but at least it sounded interesting…

In fact, Nazi Germany lost World War II —Soviet education and propaganda took responsibility for recalling this fact daily— but now that same country had a “green” party.  The USSR won the war but it didn’t have green party.  Nonetheless, it was clear that the Soviets were concerned about the environment, because there were societies in schools for the protection of the nature —“Green Patrol” (for the forests) and “The Blues” (for rivers and lakes)— as well as a “Red Book” of endangered species, a magazine for child naturalists… programs on television, movies and so on.

It was April, only four years before the Chernobyl disaster – though of course we didn’t know that.

No environmental understanding existed in our Cuban school, but I do in fact remember the lesson on our national attributes: the royal palm (a tree), the tocororo (a bird) and the mariposa (a flower).  These beings —contrary to the national symbols (the flag, our coat of arms and the national anthem)— were endowed with life.

There was a phrase in our Cuban reading book, in a book titled “Green Filter,” which read: “Guarding nature is guarding the homeland.”  And “homeland” was a sacred word for everyone (Cubans and Soviets alike), something that no one played around with.  We must (!) love the homeland.

4 thoughts on “Early Lessons in Russian Activism (1)

  • incidentally I just notice your name is spell Dmitri and no Dimitri what is the right spelling?

  • Dimitry I was commenting on Erasmo’s post about the refinery Nico Lopez in Havana that is a big polluter is the Critical Observatory network doing something about it?

    The biggest difference I know is that the owner of the big polluter in this case is the Cuban state.
    This situation is different to what will happen in a capitalist goverment because the goverment itself does not own a business and the goverment normaly should respond to the interest of the people who elect the goveremnt officials. So how will it work in a state like cuba where the State owns the polluter?

    Where is the right balance between environment and the things we need like the gasoline produce at the refinery?
    Who will decide on the “right” answers?
    The people or the bureaucrats assigned by the state?
    Difficult questions.
    That is why is important to have a government that respond to the people and that is independent of owning this polluting factories.

  • Here in Toronto – in my neighbourhood of Parkdale – we are about to get a “new” train service between the airport and the city. The trains will be old, polluting, diesel trains. Almost everyone is against this plan but the government and private companies are moving ahead anyway. Why not electric trains? Too “expensive”. This year the Government of Canada will spend 21,900,000,000 dollars (!!!) on ONLY the military. But we have no money for clean trains. So one can only imagine what Cuba is up against with “environmentalism”.
    Now, unlike Cuba, if we don’t like our dirty trains we can vote for the other party at election time – but the other party is also for dirty trains. They were the party that brought us dirty trains. Seems the environment will take last place everytime.

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