Panama’s Russian community gathers
photos by Doug Allen
Russia being a globally seafaring nation — and one of the earlier trans-Pacific powers — there has long been a Russian shipping connection for Panama. In the 20th century war, poverty and revolution, then the Cold War, limited this tie. But in the waning days of the Soviet Union Panama became a Latin American distribution center for Lada automobiles and other products from the old USSR. Notwithstanding the economic catastrophe that accompanied the Soviet Union’s collapse, a small Russian community remained, then grew with people who had acquired a bit of money or who had marketable skills wanting to get out.
In a Russia that was officially non-religious — often anti-religious — in the Soviet era, the Russian Orthodox tradition persevered. This branch of Eastern Orthodoxy was established in Kiev (now part of Ukraine) back when Moscow was a rustic village rather than the capital of a giant country. In the meantime, Western and Eastern Christendom diverged, perhaps most notably since 1582 when the Catholic Pope Gregory reformed the church calendar and the nascent secular institutions of the West went along, while the Orthodox world held onto the old Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian one. This year was a special one, in that there was a rare concurrence in which both the Western and Eastern traditions celebrated Easter on the same day, April 16.
The religious Easter festivities over, Panama’s Russian Orthodox community gathered over the May Day holiday weekend for an Easter season fair to raise money for their causes and to strengthen their bonds as a community. Like the Americans, the Chinese, the Colombians, the West Indians and the Venezuelans and many others, the Russians are part of Panama’s cultural and ethnic mosaic now.
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