You will win, but you will not win us over

By Alina B. López Hernández

I

Words on the web or a web of words?

The Internet is not like Vegas. What happens in cyberspace doesn’t stay there. It spreads quickly, it is socialized, it becomes the subject of support and/or criticism; it is analyzed in homes, in the streets, among friends and colleagues; it fuels controversy and enriches —or sometimes impoverishes— common sense.

That’s why it is so important to weigh the statements made public through internet media, especially when this happens in official government outlets. There, they are no longer perceived as the opinions of one official, and are instead presented to worldwide public opinion as State policy.

The official website of the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) published a few days ago, with the headline ‘Ser profesor universitario’ (‘Being a university professor’), the unfortunate statement by the senior deputy minister of that government body, Martha del Carmen Mesa Valenciano. This official may be very skillful in other areas, but certainly not in diplomacy.

While the Ministry of Communications tried its best at negotiation —albeit with added pressures— in order to minimize tensions with those involved in the creation of SNET, the MES, with this statement about the role of Cuban university professors, harked back to the good old days of the Inquisition.

In the first case, compromises were reached about unquestionably necessary networks created for gaming and entertainment. In the second, a more terrible trap was being set, for its purpose is to immobilize thought and smother criticism. Apparently, an agreement can be reached about the former, but not about the latter. As my grandmother would say, ‘You can play with the chain, but not with the monkey.’

Several people have accused Mesa Valenciano’s declarations of being explicit Stalinism. However, to be fair, they are much more than that…

II

Different and equal, equal and different

Ideologies may show marked differences depending on the social classes which uphold them, and yet resemble each other remarkably according to their level of tolerance. Ideological and political intolerance is not exclusive to any social system. There are way too many examples to support this thesis; some of them quite close in time. Fascism, Francoism, Stalinism or McCarthyism show abysmal differences, but what brings them together is precisely their intolerance for freedom of thought.

It doesn’t matter whether one speaks in the name of God, the Motherland, Liberty, the Revolution or Morals. When this is done with the attitude of being the sole owner or truth, and denying the possibility of discrepancy, it is something blameworthy and it will constitute totalitarianism; which can be found both in right-wing movements and in left-wing movements, as history has demonstrated[1].

The senior deputy minister of MES begins by making reference to a professor who was ‘expelled from her center’, but the message being sent has collective extent and reveals a clear warning: ‘One is a university professor every day, in every response, in every phrase, and that is a position which is earned, and which can be lost.’ Such a statement is, essentially, an unveiled threat.

These are some of the requirements imposed by MES on its professors: ‘respect for decisions’, avoiding ‘positions contrary to our revolutionary principles’, defending ‘at all costs every step taken by the Revolution’, refraining from criticism by making ‘appeals to human rights’ from academia, not confusing the students by showing them ‘an erroneous path of unpleasant attacks in the media’.

And the best part: ‘A university professor creates security in the students, and achieves what is possible. Being a university professor means respect, optimism, trust!’

The intention of transmitting security, trust and optimism has been common to antithetical ideologies. That’s how a debate came up, promoted in 1963, between Blas Roca, Secretary General of the Communist Party, and Cuban filmmakers. The former, from the pages of the newspaper Hoy, opposed the exhibition of some films because, in his opinion, they could sow doubts among the audience.

His stance provoked a response, published in the newspaper Revolución, where the heads of the Department of Programming of ICAIC (the Cuban Film Institute) compared the different conceptions of cinema of Pope John XXIII (‘To teach the people, to educate them, to amuse them, to entertain them); of the Hays Code, which exercised film censorship in Hollywood in the 1930s (‘To forge character, to develop the true ideal and to instill strict principles, in the form of attractive stories, by proposing beautiful examples of conduct for the admiration of the audience’); and of Blas Roca (‘a work of distraction, of joyful and light amusement, which facilitates rest’). [2]

Let us carry out a similar exercise in comparison between the above-mentioned declarations by MES and other ideological views. For the senior deputy minister: ‘Whoever doesn’t feel an activist of the revolutionary policies of our Party, a defender of our ideology, of our morals, of our political convictions, must abandon the idea of being a university professor.’

If we examine the law passed by the Franco government on July 29, 1943 to regulate teaching in Spanish universities, we will see that ‘The Rector must be a member of the FET and the JONS’[3], and university professors were required ‘a certification by the General Secretariat of the Movement [the Falangista, the only one allowed] which accredited their adhesion to the principles of the State’[4] in order to practice teaching. The Spanish university had to instill a series of values which could be summarized as: exalted patriotism, obedience to Franco and obedience to authorities.

It is true that, as the author of the quoted article states, in Spain the intense repression of teachers was carried out through two mechanisms: ‘physical liquidation and purging’. In Cuba the first one is not used, but the second one is.

In the United States during the 1950s, numerous university professors who sympathized with communist or left-wing ideas were put under pressure. Ehsan Masood is a journalist who has carried out a diligent investigation regarding the university victims of Joseph McCarthy.

On the other hand, historian Ellen Schrecker, an expert in the era of McCarthyism, relates:

An FBI agent would come to the office of a governor or a state or college president and hand them a piece of paper that was always specified in the FBI records and watermarked ‘untraceable blind memo’.

It just listed somebody’s name and all the incriminating associations that person had, with the expectation that person would not get tenure; would not have their appointment renewed; would be eased out quietly. There was no written record that the FBI had been there.[5]

Too many subterfuges there. At MES things are sorted out openly: they either shut up or leave, senior deputy minister dixit.

III

When you lose by winning

Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish writer and philosopher, Rector of the University of Salamanca, who had initially supported Franco’s uprising, but had grown disappointed in light of its crimes, participated in a ceremony at the opening of the university’s academic year on October 12, 1936. There he said: ‘hatred that leaves no place for compassion cannot convince; that hatred for intelligence, which is critical and distinguishing, inquisitive (though not inquisition).’

In view of the jeers of the falangistas, Francoist general Millán-Astray, who presided at the ceremony, shouted: ‘Death to the intellectuals! Long live death!’ Unamuno continued his speech and uttered the famous phrase which has as much applicability now in Cuba as it had then in Spain: ‘You will win, but you will not win us over. You will win because you have colossal brute force, but you will not win us over, because to win someone over means to persuade. And to persuade you need something you lack in this fight: reason and right (…)’.

The City Hall deposed him as councilman, and explained in the expulsion report that: ‘he did not lay down affirmations, but instead suggested corrosive doubts’; a grave offence too for the senior deputy minister of MES, who condemns ‘acid criticism’.

As doctor Julio Antonio Fernández Estrada well says: ‘In the Rule of Law we are beginning to experience, political pluralism should be a principle, but that was not included in the Constitution. We must assume that as a defeat of democracy. As we gained so much with some rights, it is also fair to remind ourselves that we lost —or didn’t gain— the right to think politically unlike the State and the Party and not to be discriminated against for it.’ [6]

The senior deputy minister of MES hopes that by following these ordinances we may be able to ‘build a better society together’. The question would be: better in what respect? For if this university that’s being imposed on us —with obedient and uncritical students—, had educated the Generation of the Centenary, Batista would have died a natural death governing the fate of Cuba.

Contact the author at: alinabarbara65@gmail.com

[1] The term totalitarianism was coined by Benito Mussolini, who proposed the slogan: ‘all within the state, all for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state’.

[2] Graziella Pogolotti (compilation and prologue): Polémicas Culturales de los 60 (Cultural Controversies of the 60s), Editorial Letras Cubanas, Havana, 2006, p. 155.

[3] The Traditionalist Spanish Phalanx (FET) and the Juntas of the Nationalist Syndicalist Offensive (JONS).

[4] Eduardo Montagut: “La educación en el franquismo” (‘Education during Francoism’), obtained from: nuevatribuna.es, 01/02/16.

[5] Editorial Staff of BBC NEWS Mundo: “Los inéditos testimonios de intelectuales que sufrieron el mayor caso de vigilancia masiva en la historia de EE.UU. del siglo XX” (‘The unpublished testimonies of intellectuals who suffered the greatest case of mass surveillance in 20th century US history’), consulted at www-bbc-com.cdn.ampproject.org.

[6] Julio A. Fernández Estrada: “¿Y mi Morena? Ideas sobre el pluralismo político en Cuba” (‘Where’s my MORENA? Ideas on political pluralism in Cuba’), Taken from eltoque.com, 19/08/19.

(Translated from the original)