An African-born Russian farmer, partly inspired by President Obama is embarking on an improbable run for political office. If elected Joaquim Crima or Vasily Ivanovich in Russian, would become the first Black man to hold public office in Russia.
Joaquim Crima is running on a platform promising to battle corruption and bring development to his district on the Volga River. The 37 year-old native of Guinea Bissau settled in southern Russia after earning a degree in biochemistry from Volgograd State Pedagogical University. He first arrived in the former Soviet Union in 1989 as a student on a Soviet-era exchange program. He learned to speak fluent Russian and earned his citizenship.
Crima's quest is to become head of the Srednyaya Akhtuba district, where he lives with his wife of Armenian descent Anait, their 9-year-old son and an extended family of ethnic Armenian relatives. About 55,000 people live in the district's 18 villages and towns. Crima describes Russia as a "great power" and admires Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A successful campaign is being considered highly unlikely, not because Crima lacks the political capital and connections to make it happen, but because he faces the reality of being a Black man in Russia, a country where racism and racial stereotypes are as deeply ingrained as they once were in America and undoubtedly other non-African nations of the world. Undaunted by these racial attitudes Crima believes he has what it takes to fix problems in his district, where some residents still lack running water and still use outhouses.
There is deep dissatisfaction with the current head of the Srednyaya Akhtuba district, who locals say sold a lot of land to out-of-towners while purchasing a large villa and a plane for himself. The incumbent is not running for re-election. According to Crima, "The current district head has been in power for 10 years, but he hasn't done anything for people here. There are young families that need housing, who need opportunities. This town and Russia are ready for a change.” He added, "If local residents want a change, they need to vote for it."
In Russia, a Black man running for office is so unusual that Crima has been dubbed "the Russian Obama." Crima says of the American President, "I like Obama as a person and as a politician because he proved to the world what everyone thought was impossible. I think I can learn some things from him,"
Crima is a member of Russia's main party, United Russia, but is running in the Oct. 11 election as an independent. There are five other candidates. His campaign manager, Vladimir Kritsky, acknowledged that a victory for his client was close to impossible, but said the Kremlin has promised Crima a seat on the district council in 2011.