Early Lessons in Russian Egocentrism

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Russia is the guest of honor at this year's Cuba Int. Book Fair. Photo: Caridad

The fact that the Havana International Book Fair is dedicated to Russia makes my hair stand on end.  I fear they’ll again try to establish the same aristocracy here that existed back then in the former Soviet Union, but one with a Russian essence.  I’m afraid they’re the ones who will attempt to impose their aesthetics and prices, in both the State market and the black market.

Nonetheless, I have pleasant childhood memories of their picture books, complete with cutouts and comics.  Though perhaps these were too serious for the tropics, they were what so many of us here grew up with.

I also remember my mom buying some enormous head bands from a Russian for arranging my hair in even larger buns, and those “careful don’t fall” shoes that killed my feet.  I venture to say this even with nostalgia.

Despite my mother’s efforts to make me look like a mindful child, the only thing she contributed with those details was to exacerbate my urge to irritate those who had more power than me.

I can’t make an economic, political or ideological analysis of what happened to us Cubans for relying on Russian colonialism, but I can attempt to recount what happened to a neighbor, Nadia.

She was maybe a few years older than me, but we were two little black girls: me of Cubans parents, she the daughter of a Russian woman and a black Cuban soldier; me with all the freedoms permitted, and she always peering out the window; me visiting my grandmother’s house, and she in an enormous castle built in the 1980s in the middle of a residential neighborhood.

It was not that she was bedridden with some debilitating illness; it was that her mother didn’t want her interacting with us other kids who were capable of committing the greatest outrages – like throwing rocks or playing ball in the middle of the street at all hours.  What’s more, we were dirty (another way of saying we stunk).

I would be lying if I didn’t tell about the two or three times that I —with the diplomatic mediation of my grandmother— was able to enter their fortress and confirm with my own eyes that her bedroom was exquisite.  It was divided by an arch that separated her play area from her study area. Plus, it had large windows that could be seen from the street through the orange tree in their yard.  It allowed the sunbeams to conspire with the temperature and the pleasant lighting.

I don’t believe I enjoyed playing with her games much, because —in addition to preferring the street and the fresh air— the Russian would look at me as if wanting to pulverize me.  Over the years, I became the one who didn’t want to be around her.

Later I found out that with the collapse the socialist camp, the Russian mother left and didn’t look back at the daughter she left behind (like what happened to Macha, another high school friend).  It could have been that her husband didn’t allow her to, I don’t know.  I try not to have bad feelings for Russians even though they refused to interact with us.

By then Nadia had turned into some kind of confused mulata.  Having never wanted to rekindle any social relationships, the rebelliousness of adolescence caught her alone with her father, trying to redo his life and the shouting could be heard in the street.  If she ever needed a friend, I know she couldn’t count on finding one in me or anybody else in the neighborhood.

2 thoughts on “Early Lessons in Russian Egocentrism

  • Maria knew there was omething rotten to the core of Stalinism, so did comrade Che.Some in the bureaucracy in Cuba now should read Che’s writings on political economy, socialism and what internationalism really is as they travel down the path of the Chinese model of capitalism:

    Che Guevara’s final verdict on the Soviet economy


    Political economy of the transition
    Che’s analysis was more pessimistic than most Western commentators, pointing to problems rooted in the Soviet economy’s fundamental nature. Far from being socialist in character, he said, this economy actually yoked together incompatible elements, both capitalist and non-capitalist. He also pointed out that the “political economy” — that is, the political and economic laws of motion — of societies in transition to socialism “has not yet been formulated, let alone studied”.[2]

  • Maria, I’m sorry you had a bad experience with a Russian mother of your neighbour, but you cannot call Cuba’s former relationship with the Soviet Union a colonial one. Some Eastern European countries such as Poland or the Czech Republic might be justified in referring to Russian colonialism, but Cuba’s relationship was never the same. The adoption of Soviet aesthetics and policies in Cuba was as much to do with the Cubans themselves as it was with the Soviets. Many Cuban communists, though not all, looked towards the Soviet Union for inspiration and guidence as the first “successful communist” revolution. And whilst the Soviet Union might have held significant weight, due to its size, Cuba always guarded its independence, which is one of the reasons Cuba continues whilst the Soviet Union is no more.

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