Friday, May 18, 2007

Recommended reading

As you would expect, quite a few books were published late last year to mark the 50th anniversary of what became known as The Hungarian Revolution.

For less than two weeks in October-November 1956, Hungarians openly rebelled against their Soviet masters, demanding the departure of all Russian troops, a free press, the legalisation of political parties other than the Communists, and democratic elections.

Caught by surprise, the Soviets were relatively slow to react but when the time came they reverted to type, using tanks to crush the short-lived Revolution.

The Communists would remain in power, unchallenged, for close to 40 more years.

I am telling you all this because I have just finished reading Twelve Days, a terrific account of the Hungarian Revolution by British journalist Victor Sebestyen, whose own family fled Communist Hungary.

The author, who has relied not just on personal stories and extensive newspaper coverage but also on recently-declassified Soviet and Hungarian archives, exposes the way the Soviet leadership lied about its intentions and the true motives behind the decision to send in the tanks.

But he also exposes in convincing detail the way in which the US and its Western allies effectively turned a blind eye to what was going on in Hungary - for fear of upsetting Moscow and provoking an armed confrontation in Europe.

Highly recommended.


Blogger Sarah said...

The band plays on as communist Cuba embraces heart of

The cigars are out, the beer flows and it's BMWs all
round as Bavaria puts aside ideological differences in
$500m deal with Castro regime
Kate Connolly in Munich
Friday May 18, 2007
The Guardian

In front of a picture of a skinny boy in his
underpants hugging a water pump and flanked by a 1950s
car, Thomas Lang, a Bavarian businessman, proudly
describes his delight at striking a deal with the
Cuban government.

"We've been asked to send 808 pumps to help the
country's infrastructure get on its feet," he tells an
audience at Munich's chamber of trade and industry
(IHK), noting the dearth of clean drinking water for
the Caribbean island's 11.4 million inhabitants.

Mr Lang's firm, Wilo-EMU, represents one of hundreds
of companies in this most capitalist of German states
that have agreed to help communist Cuba's command
economy, which, despite the United State's embargo,
has of late found a new lease of life, largely thanks
to help from Venezuela and China.

In its blurb to businesses, the IHK claims: "Cuba has
far more to offer than beautiful beaches and cigars.
Its rotten infrastructure offers German companies
splendid business possibilities."

Cuba has a thirsty need for German technology to
replace its rusting Soviet-era equipment. Bavaria even
has its own "ambassador" to Cuba to oversee
developments and before his recent illness Fidel
Castro held through-the-night talks with German
engineers about diesel motors and electricity
generators prior to deals being struck.

A $500m (£250m) agreement has been struck between the
Free State of Bavaria and Cuba, under which the German
companies are providing the island with an array of
generators, antennas, motors, and medical technology.
By comparison, the US had just $340m trade with Cuba
last year, mostly in agriculture.

The most delicious part of the deal for Bavarian
traditionalists is the request for the luxury carmaker
BMW to provide all of Cuba's ambassadors with its
Series 1, 3 and 5 models. Even Raúl Castro, who is
standing in for his sick brother, is to get a Series 5

As far as the Cubans are concerned, Bavarians have
proven themselves to be loyal participants in the
revolution. By improving infrastructure they are
helping to put socialism on a solid footing for the
post-Castro generation.

"There are many points of the Cuban revolution that
are interesting for Bavarian firms," Eduardo
Escandell, deputy trade minister, tells the suits.
"We're happy you want to take part." And please, he
adds, continue buying Cuban cigars, rum and honey in

His words sealed a "memorandum of understanding"
between the Cuban government and Bavaria this week as
part of the island's attempts to broaden its
international interests - as well as thumbing its nose
at the 45-year-old US embargo. "For 50 years we've
suffered from the blockade but we've also survived
without America for 50 years," Mr Escandell told the

"We will continue this fight. We need products, and
we're happy that Bavarian companies can provide them.
It's not about politics, because trade is trade."


As if to cement the deal in spirit, a band of
lederhosen-clad men called the Cuba-Bavarians strikes
up, switching from oompah-pah to cha-cha-cha numbers
on their guitars and guiros [a percussive gourd] with
ease. Beerhall drinking songs and Che Guevara tributes
fill the air. The new-found understanding between
Germany's richest region and the communist state is
striking. What, after all, have the two in common?

More than meets the eye, as German commentators are
keen to point out. Bavaria has been ruled by the same
party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), for half a
century; Castro has ruled Cuba for 48 years. Both
understand the benefits of continuity in power.

But the potential for conflict is huge. At its popular
beer-hall rallies, the CSU rails against any way of
thinking that does not tally with its Catholic, white,
conservative, male-dominated values.

Communism is despised by the CSU to the extent that
the party has invited members of the Cuban opposition
to its Alpine training lodge to school them in ways of
overthrowing Mr Castro.

But talk steered away from sensitive issues this week.
Instead, the stress was on pragmatism. "Bavarians
pride themselves on their mix of tradition and
modernity - the so-called laptop and lederhosen
approach," says Stephan Mey, of Augsburg-based MAN
Diesel, which is selling generators to Cuba. "The
Catholic side of our character means we're always a
bit flexible. If we do something we know we shouldn't
we can always go to confession afterwards."

Cooperation is not without risks. The European Union
has frowned on dealing with Cuba since Mr Castro's
arrest four years ago of 90 critics of his regime and
the US is quick to punish firms that break its
embargo. German companies with US subsidiaries, or
which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, have
had to set up in places such as Egypt.

But Mr Castro's illness has slowed the cooperation.
"We noticed when he was ill that payment process was
much more sluggish," says Mr Mey of MAN. "The power
vacuum has been obvious."

Ingo Friedrich, CSU vice-president, says the Cuba deal
secures a foothold in its future. "Fidel Castro's days
are numbered. The earlier one plans for the time after
Castro, the better."

Sipping a beer, Fidel Antonio Castro Smirnov
disagrees. "Fidel Castro is stronger than ever," says
the 27-year-old grandson of el máximo líder, who is
studying physics in Munich. "His 20-hour days are over
but he will be around to do business with the entire
world for a long while yet."

One-party states - The unlikely link


Bavaria: 12.4 million

Cuba: 11.4 million


Bavaria: Gott mit dir, du Land der Bayern (God be with
you, land of Bavaria)

Cuba: La Bayamesa (Bayamo Song)

Capital known for

Munich: Oktoberfest, beer and BMWs

Havana: Día de la Revolución, cigars and 1950s


Bavaria: 6.2%
Cuba: 1.9%

GDP per head

Bavaria: $38,800
Cuba: $3,900

Run by

Bavaria: Christian Social Union, the majority party
since 1957
Cuba: Communist Party of Cuba, since 1965 (although
revolution was in 1959)

Top exports

Bavaria: Cars
Cuba: Sugar

Exports to

Bavaria: US, Italy and rest of Germany
Cuba: Netherlands, Canada and China


Bavaria: Bayern Munich, one of the most successful
clubs in football history
Cuba: The national team was the first in the Caribbean
to reach the World Cup, in 1938. It has never returned
- baseball is the national sport

Bavaria: famous for yodelling and schuhplattler
Cuba: famous for mambo, rumba and salsa,,2082683,00.html

3:16 pm  
Blogger Agustin Farinas said...

I remember seeing in Life Magazine of that era in Cuba, the Hungarians in the streets seizing members of the dreader AVRO, the hungarioan secret police and hanging them upside down from the lamposts in Budapest. It may be a good thing for the Cuban Sate Security agents to look up those magazines and think about it. And the Soviet Ambasador at that time was Yuri Andropov who invited the Hungarian Prime Minister Imre Nagy and the chief of the Army Pal Maleter under false pretenses to the Russian Embassy in Budapest and then arrested them and shipped them to Moscow for a quick trial followed by shooting. This same Soviet Ambassador then became (what else?) the chief of the dreaded KGB in 1967. I guess it was as a reward for solving the "Hungarian problem" in the usual communist way: by shooting the transgresors.

8:05 am  

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