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Russians in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, a small country in Central America, is known for its beautiful warm climate, abundance of natural resources, stable and democratic government and its friendly people. Spanish is the main language, and the population is mainly of European descent, with a slight mix of native Indians. People of African descent dominate the Caribbean coast.
The Russian-speaking community is comprised of approximately 3,000-4,000 people. There are also about 1,000 graduates of Soviet universities who have a great fondness for Russian language and culture. Many of them are married to Russians.
The first wave of Russians (mostly women) arrived here in the 1960s to 1980s primarily due to marriage. Most of them quickly learned the language and culture, and virtually all of them obtained work in their professions, acquired their own housing and live very well. Many of them have since divorced for a variety of reasons and are either living alone or have remarried to Costa Ricans (some have married Russians of the second wave).
The second wave of Russians came here under a visa-free regime in the 1990s in connection with Perestroika, crisis and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Often entire families arrived. Sometimes they stayed with relatives or friends, and sometimes they came without any contacts among the local population, without any savings and without knowledge of the language. They had a difficult life, and many have still been unable to obtain the residence permits needed to live here illegally. They work mostly in private business, sometimes for their own fellow Russians who exploit them. Often they find themselves in poor housing conditions. Their Spanish is bad because of little contact with the local population. Families use mostly Russian, and friendships are generally made only with other Russians. Many of them have a desire to return to Russia, although without any housing there, they are afraid of finding themselves in even worse situations and unable to find work. After a dozen years in isolation they have lost many of their professional skills. Their children are being educated in local schools, though, and they have become accustomed to living in Costa Rica, mastered Spanish perfectly and seemingly have no desire to change their place of residence.
Finally, the third wave of Russian newcomers is often invisible to us. They began arriving only in recent years and live on the periphery – on the beaches and in wealthy neighborhoods surrounded by high fences. They don’t associate with anyone and guard their money. Some of them buy real estate here, hire some unemployed Russian to look after it and then return home. Often they don’t come from Russia but from the United States or Canada. Those of us who have lived here a long time and are concerned about community and the preservation of Russian culture had initially hoped for their financial support or even participation in public life. These hopes never came to fruition. Only rarely can these people be found rubbing elbows with the masses. It’s a pity that they enjoy the beautiful local beaches, delicious fruits and cheap local labor force, but have not taken the trouble to learn the language. They speak with contempt about the local population, the country and its traditions. Although they’re dressed very expensively, they have yet to learn to take a shower in the morning. They mostly speak a butchered English. But for the generous tips, the Costa Ricans affectionately smile, following the well-known rule: “Always smile at the tourists – they bring dollars to the country!”
Recently, improved living standards in Russia have caused our community in Costa Rica to lift its head. The Orthodox faithful have organized and pledged to build a church. Construction should begin on that soon. For the last year we have been publishing a Russian-language newspaper called Russkaya gazeta. We also have a small Sunday school for children, which is taught in Russian. We are still in need of a cultural center, as the old Soviet-Costa Rican Cultural Center closed in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We are also in need of financial support for the newspaper, as the editor is no longer able to fund the paper with his paycheck. The embassy helps mostly in offering vocal support. A Russian association is currently being formed. We are very interested in receiving a grant from the Russkiy Mir Foundation, but we are still thinking of how to approach such a project.
Those who are further interested in these issues are invited to come forward. The beaches and the fruits are indeed remarkable here!