Readers are already getting acquainted with Edicion Critica Spanish language books — a collection of works by poet, novelist, publicist and National Hero of Cuba, Josй Martн (1853–1895). The gift from the Cuban Embassy to Belarus includes the first 9 (of 28) volumes — recently presented by the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Cuba to Belarus, Omar Senon Medina Quintero.
Belarusians, like others from the CIS, have long been interested in Josй Martн’s work and in Cuba itself. In the early 1980s, Belarus hosted a youth festival of Soviet-Cuban friendship, with Brest welcoming Cuban guests. The latter were sincerely surprised on seeing so many interesting exhibits pertaining to Cuba and other Latin American countries in a local school museum. A centre of Latin American culture exists in Gomel — which has donated some of its materials to the Simon Bolivar Latin American Cultural Centre (opened in mid-April in Minsk under the aegis of the Venezuelan Embassy to Belarus).
Dark-haired Bolivarian Lusio first told me about his idol, Josй Martн; we studied together at Leningrad State University’s Journalism Department and lived in the same hostel. Lusio always had a book of Josй’s to hand — on a shelf above his desk. No doubt, hundreds of relationships exist between Belarusians and Cubans, promoted by the Belarus-Cuba Friendship Society — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary next year.
The Cuban Embassy organised a ceremony to present the books to the National Library, attended by diplomats and Belarusian friends of the ‘island of freedom’. Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister, Victor Kurash, heartily recalled his days of studying alongside Cubans at Belarusian State University’s Philosophy Department, saying, “They were good friends — hospitable, hard working, sincere and with great heart. I remember all their names and hope we’ll meet again one day.”
In fact, the presentation of Josй Martн’s book is a good reason for friends to meet. Generally, cultural events are useful in furthering our understanding of each other while establishing contacts between even the most remote countries.
Why is the Cuban gift valuable? Ambassador Omar Senon Medina Quintero explained that the collection covers broad themes, since Josй Martн’s interests were diverse. “We, Cubans, have close relations with this man from our childhoods. He is our national hero and almost all our educational establishments have his bust and books. Many presidents and heads of state, including Alexander Lukashenko, are honoured with the Josй Martн Award — the highest in Cuba,” he adds. The 28 volumes include manuscripts and printed materials — chronicles, journalistic correspondence, articles, essays, addresses, poems, novels, playscripts, letters, speeches and manifests. They detail Josй’s biography and include some dedications, rough copies, drafts, fragments, incomplete annotations, translations and drawings.
Readers may also be interested in the parallel chronology of the history of Cuba, Spain, Latin America and the USA. Josй Martн visited Mexico and Guatemala, as well as other countries worldwide. He spent ten years in Venezuela yet chose to return to his homeland. One participant of the ceremony called his books ‘the priceless life experience of a patriot’; they disclose information on the most important trends, philosophical schools and landmark public processes. They narrate those examples of Cuban and global culture which have influenced our modern world and its ideology. Cubans are still learning a ‘delicate apprehension’ of the characteristics of other nations from the writer.
The volumes presented to the National Library contain a copy of Josй’s letter to Lev Tolstoy (with the original kept in Yasnaya Polyana). It talks of the Serbs whose art impressed him greatly at a Parisian show. “Martн is known for his expertise in various genres, including poetry and drama. He was one of the founders of modernism (a trend well known in literature and art) which aimed to speak unambiguously to the people. On seeing the reality of life in Latin America, he developed Simon Bolivar’s ideas of independence, unity of nations within a continent, humanism and anti-slavery arguments,” the Ambassador explained. “The 28 volumes include all of Josй Martн’s surviving works. The materials devoted to Latin America are a good basis for people around the globe to acquaint themselves with our history and culture. Martн’s works are translated into many languages, including Russian, and I hope they’ll be published in Belarusian one day. Belarus’ ownership of this collection should inspire translators to give Spanish language readers Belarusian works.” The diplomat is confident that the volumes (collected with love and care) will find a good home in the diamond-shaped National Library — ‘a piece of art which inspires us and which some Latin American presidents would love to take home’.
Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister, Victor Kurash, heartily thanked the Ambassador for his gift, noting that diplomatic relations between Belarus and Cuba were established in 1992 and that our two states continue to strengthen liaisons. Already, over 15 agreements have been concluded in various spheres — including trade, culture and education. Contacts became especially active after President Lukashenko’s visit to Cuba in 2000; a bilateral agreement on friendly relations and co-operation was signed. Artistes from Belarus and Cuba are now collaborating, with Belarusian musicians performing music by Cuban composers. Mr. Kurash noted that the donation of Josй Martн’s books is an important step towards even closer ties, as ‘we are interesting to each other in terms of our cultural diversity’. “The more we know about one another, the stronger our contacts will be,” he asserts.
Students from the Minsk State Linguistic University read Josй’s pieces in Russian and Spanish at the presentation, while pupils from a Minsk musical school performed Cuban compositions on the cymbals — to great applause.
The Director of the National Library of Belarus, Roman Motulsky, also thanked the Ambassador for the gift. “Belarusians — and foreigners — who study at our educational establishments can discover more about Cuba from these books. Knowledge is a firm basis for tourism, as well as business, economic and political liaisons. Printed editions provide broader information about a country — compared to electronic versions” he said. In gratitude, Mr. Motulsky presented the Cubans with a CD Rom on the National Library, alongside an encyclopaedia on modern Belarus. These were accepted by Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Investments and Economic Co-operation, Ricardo Guerrero Blanca. The Cuban Ambassador, in turn, received a symbolic present — a recently published album about the library.
The ceremony at the National Library is a landmark on the path of Belarus-Cuba cultural collaboration. Bilateral economic liaisons are developing; Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Investments and Economic Co-operation, Ricardo Guerrero Blanca, was on a business visit to Minsk. He headed the Cuban side of the Belarusian-Cuban Commission for Trade and Economic Co-operation. The next day, the Commission gathered to discuss avenues of bilateral trade, economic and sci-tech contacts.