Nostalgia for a Bad Era

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

I remember the days when Russian tourists, state enterprises and Soviet ships used to be in Havana. In the days when the former Soviet Union existed and Cuba and the Soviet Union were close, one could find all kinds of Russian-made products. They ranged from toys to shoes and clothes to the Lada cars that used to ply Cuba’s roads. I remember back in 1981, when I was in Cuba, Russian tourists regularly came to Cuba, and the Soviet Union was Cuba’s lifeline in the midst of the embargo by the United States. Strangely enough, because Russia is becoming virtually isolated due to its attempts at annexing the Ukraine, the Russian government is again reaching out to Cuba to try and have the “good old days” relationship that it had with the island.

That will not be a problem. Since the U.S. embargo continues, Russia has an opening for renewing its relationship with Cuba. But that relationship goes both ways. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, a whole generation of Cubans have grown up being influenced by Russia and everything Russian. Many Cubans went to the Soviet Union to study, work in that country’s state enterprises, and also inter-marry with Russians. This relationship has greatly influenced many middle age Cubans who had known about the “good old days” when the Soviet Union existed. Some Cuban artists who had studied in the former Soviet Union are now creating artwork that reflect Russian influences. Some Cubans who grew up with Russian children’s cartoons on Cuban TV are now making Cuban cartoons that reflect many Russian cartoons.

When many Americans remember going to Cuba recently, they remember seeing old 1950’s American-made cars plying some of Cuba’s city streets. Just as equally true are the Soviet-made cars that are still plying the roads as well. Cubans are just as much keeping these cars alive too. Even with the growing number of Chinese-made cars on the road, many Cubans have an affection for the cars made in the former Soviet Union. Of course, all of the nostalgia for their former and maybe again ally is based on an illusion. The Soviet Union was one of the most repressive, one of the most closed societies throughout its existence. It helped to reinforce the brutal, one-party rule of the Communist Party of Cuba that continues to this day. This twisted relationship is being supported by the Cuban government because it helps to perpetuate its one-party rule and leave Cubans with no more sense of truth of their history than during the era of Cuba’s relationship with the former Soviet Union. It is a nostalgia based on a pack of lies.

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