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Cubans love Russian classics, Soviet cinema, says deputy minister of culture

January 12, 2:22 UTC+3 HAVANA

Cultural ties got a reset in 2009 after a visit to Russia by Cuban Prime Minister Raul Castro

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© V. Shirokov/TASS

HAVANA, January 12. /TASS/. The Cubans know Russian classical literature, ballet, theater, and films well enough and love it, the Cuban Deputy Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas told TASS on Thursday.

"From the 1960’s through the 1980’s, Cuban-Russian cultural relations developed at a fantastic rate," he said. "The Weeks of Soviet Cinema were held in this country regularly. Many works of Russian and Soviet literature were published and Soviet performers came here quite frequently."

"Unfortunately, Russian-Cuban cultural relations saw a sharp curtailment after the disintegration of the USSR and there were very few cultural exchanges between our two countries from 1991 and until the beginning of the 2000’s," Rojas said.

Cultural ties got a reset in 2009 after a visit to Russia by Cuban Prime Minister Raul Castro. The two sides signed an important agreement in the sphere of culture then.

"At this moment, our relations are at a very point level once again," Rojas said. "We maintain permanent contact with the Russian Culture Ministry. Cuba hosts Weeks of Russian Cinema. Cuban musicians and dancers perform across Russia while Russian performers come here."

He recalled several performing tours of his country by the top-rated choir of Moscow’s Sretensky Monastery and Et Cetera drama theater that have to Cuba in recent years.

Havana hosts annually an international book fair, one of the largest in the world. It is an important event for the publishing business in Latin America.

"In 2010, Russia was a guest of honor at the fair," Rojas recalled. "The Russian delegation brought along electronic books then and it was the first time the Cuban readers got familiarized with them."

Russian publishers have been attending the fair annually since 2010.

Rojas admitted the Cuban readers have a rather vague idea about contemporary Russian literature but the Havana book fair helps popularize it, too.

Like it was during the Soviet era, the Cubans are restarting studies of the Russian language. "It’s definitely much better to read Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in the original," Rojas said.

He said Cuba and Russia were considering two large cultural projects.

"Number one, the commercial project of a Cuba House in Moscow is under discussion," Rojas said. "This will be a cultural compound where Cuban actors could perform. But we don’t have any concrete agreements on it yet."

Project number two envisions the opening in Havana of an affiliation of the world-famous collection of Russian art, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg. Russia and Cuba signed a protocol of intentions several years ago.

"The Cubans know Russian painting and sculpture least of all and that is why the opening of the Russian Museum’s affiliation will have significance for us," Rojas said.

The first Week of Soviet Cinema was held in Cuba in 1960. Its program included some landmark films of the time, including ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ by Mikhail Kalatozov and ‘Ballad of a Soldier’ by Grigory Chukhrai.

Long queues standing to the ticket offices of movie houses where Soviet films were run were a frequent sight during the Soviet era. The spectators would often get into heated discussion of what they had seen after the shows. But this tradition vanished after the disintegration of the USSR.

Weeks of Russian films in Cuba and Cuban films in Russia resumed in 2009 after an interval of almost twenty years. Cuban audiences had an opportunity last year to watch five Russian films shot in recent years - ‘Anna Karenina. Vronsky’s Story’ by Karen Shakhnazarov, ‘The White Tiger’ military drama, also by Shakhnazarov, ‘The Correction Class’ social drama by Ivan Tverdovsky, ‘An Ice-Breaker’ disaster film by Nikolai Khomeriki, and ‘Ledend No. 17’ sports blockbuster by Nikolai Lebedev.

The Illusion movie house in Moscow holds the week of Cuban films annually and they always enjoys a huge success, Rojas said, adding that a good friend of his, the musician and producer Stas Namin presented ‘A Real Cuba’ documentary in Havana last year. He co-directed is with the four-time winner of Emmy Awards, Jim Brown of the U.S.

"We had joint productions back in the times of the USSR, for instance, ‘Soy Cuba’ (‘I Am Cuba’, 1964) by Mikhail Kalatozov and now we have a proposal to resume this cooperation," Rojas said.

He also stressed the broadcasting of RT channel programs by Cuban television as an important factor.

Rojas mentioned the huge damage done to Cuban culture by the more than half-a-century old U.S. trade embargo against this country.

"The damage from the U.S. blockade in the sphere of culture totaled more than $ 35 million last year but the embargo has a bigger impact than money because it puts up barriers to cultural exchanges," he said. "Cuban performers have practically no opportunities to go to the U.S. We reached an agreement with the John Kennedy performing arts center in Washington on a major performance to be held there in May but the problem is we don’t know if our actors will be able to get U.S. visas.".

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