Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Nostalgia corner

Ah, yes, those were the days.

The Soviet Union was invincible, matching the Americans and their often-shaky Western allies at every turn. The KGB had infiltrated many institutions across the democratic world, with spies secreted even at the highest levels. The Eurocommunists were on the move. And in the developing world, Communism was unstoppable - from Algeria to Somalia to Guyana.

Or so it all seemed ...

So, here is something of interest for those of you who still recall that extraordinary period between the mid 1960s - when Moscow began to expand beyond eastern Europe - and 1989, the year when the Soviet system collapsed almost overnight.

The Russian news agency Novosti has posted a terrific interview with Vitaly Vorotnikov, who was a former big cheese in the Soviet Communist Party during that period - as well as Ambassador to Cuba in the early 1980s.

Describing himself as someone who got to know Fidel Castro up close, the former ambassador is full of illuminating anecdotes, including details of a visit by the tropical dictator to Russia in 1972 to inspect Soviet high technology industries first hand.

And Vorotnikov confirms what we all know: for years, the Soviets effectively ruled (or misruled) Cuba.

“Our advisers flooded Cuba,” the former ambassador recalls. “They were not very considerate, interfering in Cuba's domestic affairs and imposing their decisions on Cuban experts, decisions which had nothing to do with the established way of life or local traditions. This lasted for quite a long time.

“They advised, for instance, that Cuba should be fully self-sufficient in food. But this was simply impossible. Cuba cannot grow grain because it's too hot there. What could it do with Russian seeds in a tropical climate?”

Vorotnikov also recalls how during his tenure in Havana he was forced to send back home to the USSR a Soviet chief adviser who had been sent by Moscow to tell the Cubans how to build houses.

The adviser, a deputy chairman of the State Committee for Construction, arrived in Cuba with Soviet building standards and rules, including plans to build homes with thick walls and central heating.

“When I asked him why, he said that he was planning to build in the usual way, as he did at home,” Vorotnikov tells Novosti. “Naturally, this was expensive, ineffective, and unnecessary for Cuba. But our advisors were not embarrassed in the least.”

And on and on … Read the whole thing here, tovarich.


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