By Dimitri Prieto
Last Thursday I was invited to participate in one of the monthly public forums organized by the Cuban magazine Temas (Issues). Created to discuss controversial issues, the gathering held the last Thursday of each month is a required point of reference for topical intellectual debate in the Cuban capital.
The magazine usually invites several specialists to comprise a panel, where they respond to questions formulated by the editor (Rafael Hernandez). Later, members of the public (entry into the hall is open) also pose questions and state their positions. At the conclusion, the guests again speak to wrap up the session.
It was a great honor for me to be on this panel dedicated to Russian and East European influences on Cuba. It is a highly debated topic since it is evident for many people that such influences exist, despite there having been little research on it (especially if we compare it to the number of studies on Spanish, African, Chinese or Arab influences in Cuba).
Also on the panel were Zoia Barash, a Ukrainian researcher of Soviet cinema, who has lived in Cuba since the 1960s; Yoss, a remarkable Cuban writer and author of the first book published on the Soviet cultural presence in Cuba; and Jorge Cid, one of the leading Cuban authorities on Russia.
I found all of the presentations compelling. Yoss discussed the institutional effect of the Soviet model on Cuba, Barash talked about the impact of Soviet cinematography, and also how mixed Soviet-Cuban couples helped to rid us of some racist stereotypes; while Cid exposed the historical bonds between the two peoples, and the role of the USSR in the training of intellectuals in revolutionary Cuba.
I referred basically to the enormous diaspora of Soviet-Cuban descendents who live in Cuba and other parts of the world (because many people have emigrated back to the former Soviet republics and other countries), as well as some of the remaining cultural and institutional prejudices that continue to effect the fuller integration of our communities.
What struck me was a survey that the members of the Temas staff quickly carried out among those attending the discussion. It revealed that 90 percent of the audience believed that there exist strong Soviet influences on Cuban culture.
I also found it pleasantly surprising that many of the people who spoke during the session advocated the immediate creation of an association of members of the post-Soviet diaspora in Cuba, which could encourage the creation of more active bonds between cultures of Cuba and the former USSR.
The Cuba constitution establishes the right of the citizens to form associations, always within the perimeters of the socialist system. There also exists a law and a regulation that control the steps to create a new organization.
The diasporas of diverse Spanish communities – as well as those of the Yoruba, Chinese, Arabs and Jews – have their respective organizations in Cuba that allow their members to socialize and not lose sight of their ethnic roots, as well as to maintain contact with what is occurring in their various countries of origin.
The great challenge now is to lead an effort to form an association of members of the post-Soviet diaspora in Cuba. As demonstrated at the forum, Cuban intellectuals themselves are interested in such a grouping existing on the island (where there is already a temple of the Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, of which I am parishioner).
However, for this to occur work must be done in overcoming a number of bureaucratic and institutional obstacles, because often the appropriate exercise of legal authority also depends on political will. Because of that, I am appreciative for having received so much support.
The former USSR is obviously not only Russia. Because of this, it is also essential that the new association of post-Soviet diaspora contain people having roots in other republics of the former Euro-Asiatic state. If we are able to establish these relationships without inter-ethnic disputes surfacing, it will be a great victory.
Although the tone of the encounter sponsored by Temas magazine was for the most part nostalgic and somewhat apologetic, I felt heartened by the wide interest in such a complex topic that is important to people like me, as well as to some institutions that are fostering debate between intellectuals on the island.