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The Russians in Bolivia deserve close interest for at least two reasons. First, the Russian community appeared there not in the turbulent 1990s, but back in the 19th century. Secondly, unlike other Latin American countries, Russians practically did not assimilate in Bolivia. Moreover, being citizens of this country, they consider Russia as their homeland, which they have not seen even on TV screens: after all, they do not favor TV sets.
"Oh, frost, frost" under the palm trees
These women wear long sundresses, men wear shirts with belts. Down the aisle they go early: the girls are already at 13, the boys are at 16; give birth to a lot, so ten children in a family are not uncommon. They all have Russian names, but old ones, which you won't even hear now: Mamelfa, Agapit, Kipriyan, Inafa, Elizar.
All are peasants. They live by selling the fruits of their labor; they rest on Sunday, go to church. It seems like an ordinary Russian village of the late 19th century, but around there are not fields with birches, but Bolivian selva, and the peasants grow not turnips with cabbage, but bananas with pineapples (however, wheat is also held in high esteem).
Everyone speaks Russian purely, without a hint of accent, but with rare splashes of Spanish words. The Bolivian authorities have no merit in this: public schools in the country are only Hispanic. The Russian language is kept and instilled by the family, and children are taught to read not only in Russian, but also in Old Church Slavonic, because the main book in every family - the Bible - is written in this language. There are about 2 thousand such peasants-Old Believers in Bolivia. Their villages are located in the tropical departments of the country - Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Las Paz, Beni.
Despite the persistent adherence to traditions that sharply differ from the local culture, and external dissimilarity, the Russian Old Believers never had any conflicts with the Bolivians. They live amicably with their neighbors, understand each other perfectly (all Old Believers know Spanish well), but they do not want to get closer and they conclude marriages only with their own, and not within the village (this is prohibited), but registering brides from afar. Fortunately, there are enough Old Believers in Latin America.
Keeping the faith
The community was formed gradually, the Old Believers arrived in "waves". The first of them refers to the second half of the century before last, when part of the Siberian Old Believers, tired of persecution, began to look for a place on the map where they could calmly practice their faith. Latin America in general and Bolivia in particular became such a point (or rather, a continent). The first settlers were attracted by the fertile lands and the liberal policies of the local authorities.
If the first wave of immigrants came to Bolivia directly, then the second was very difficult. At first, in the turbulent years of the civilian Old Believers, they fled to Manchuria. They seem to have taken root, a new generation was born - and then a revolution broke out in China. I had to flee again, this time to British Hong Kong. From there, some of the Old Believers moved to Australia, and some to Brazil. Not everyone liked Brazil - they decided to move to Bolivia. But it is possible that a new resettlement awaits the Russians in Bolivia.
Back to Homeland
For the first time in many years, problems with the authorities among Russian Old Believers appeared in the early 2010s. It is not their fault: the leftist government of Evo Morales just came to power, which was concerned about the fate of the Indian lands where the Old Believers live and work. Some of them thought about returning to their homeland, especially since these plans were actively supported by the Russian authorities.
In 2011, about 30 people came to Russia from Bolivia, followed by others. Contrary to forecasts, no one came back, although it was not easy: so, in the areas allocated to them, almost no one remained, dispersed in all directions. Will the rest of the Russians in Bolivia follow suit? Only time can answer this question.
Today, many are interested in what they were Old Believer sketes of Altai from Nikon's reforms to the present day … Really interesting story.