They’re calling him the “Volgograd Obama.” Joachim Crima, 37, native of Guinea-Bissau, former watermelon seller, and graduate of Volgograd Pedagogical University has thrown his hat into the region’s municipal election. If elected, which is a long shot, Crima would become Russia’s first black elected official. “I was born in Africa, but I have lived in the district for 12 years and feel practically Russian. I have a son here and this is why I cannot be indifferent to the fate of the region,” he told the press. Crima, who has adopted the name Vasilii Ivanovich, promises “to toil like a negro” for his constituents. “I want to make the lives of people who I consider my compatriots better. I am ready to work from morning until evening to resolve their problems.” In fact, “Will toil like a negro” has become his election slogan.
Political commentators aren’t taking the African seriously and see his campaign as nothing more than “a product of pre-election tactic with the purpose of taking votes from the United Russia candidate.” “I think that this is a case of pure political exoticism” Alexander Strizoe told V1.ru. “I don’t rule out that several forces hope to take some of the votes away from United Russia by promoting a black candidate. However, I don’t think that there is a chance of victory. Our population is traditional. It only votes for its own kind. In order to win the support of our voters, it’s necessary to be a leader of public opinion. I don’t think it’s possible for a native of Guinea-Bissau to be the spokesman for the people’s aspirations.”
As for the racist overtones of the slogan “toil like a negro,” Gennady Shaikhullin, the chairman of the provincial electoral commission, sees “nothing that could treated as inflaming racial, religious, or any kind of hatred.” Shaikhullin thinks the slogan is of poor taste but the “context of this expression supposes that a person who promises to “toil like a negro” takes up the responsibility to work more and with greater intensity.”
I’m not sure how Crima will pull votes away from United Russia since naturally I can’t imagine Russians voting for an African enough to matter if his candidacy is indeed genuine. And if it is, I hope his presence at least rocks the political boat. Even if it’s just a little bit.
Nevertheless, some of the responses to the V1.ru article are noteworthy. They are a mixture of support, fascination, and flat out racism. Ilya Lezin says, “Our corrupt officials won’t allow a Afro-Russian into the government!” Another named Dok writes “Vasilli Ivanovich as he calls himself (I’ve known him for five years) is a good negro but as the head of the district???” Irinka says “A black with a high intellect. I’ve read that its even higher than a penguin.” Others, of course, are simply skeptical and even a bit disappointed by Crima’s “selling his soul.” On RUpor.info, one commentator writes, “Every summer this black sells watermelons not far from the city Volzhskii on the way to Srenaya Akhtuba. He’s legendary. All of Volgograd knows and loves him. And just imagine, you sold your soul to be a slave to political consultants. Vasia, Vasia . . .”
Some are impressed by his vow to “toil like a negro” if elected. Entrepreneur writes, “He used to work for me at the Voroshilov market as a loader! In general, he has a good education with the right world view. In regard to “toil like a negro” . . . he is really very hard working, especially after the birth of a child!! I happily support his ambition and wish him success!” Another, RVS writes, “In the Far East the Chinese are very hard-working, and so are our Negroes, so there’s nothing left for us but to guzzle tainted vodka, since we can’t work. Strange kind of love we have to all things foreign, comrades.” MaksimVI sums his views up quite simple, “Tolerance is evil. We say NO to blacks.”
I happen to share Sergei’s response to the racism on the forum. He writes in response to Irinka above, “I would express it differently: A black person of average intelligence is much higher that the typical visitor of Russian Internet forums.” And how.
I hope to one day sport my own “Volgograd Obama” T-shirt. Go Vasilii Ivanovich!
Thanks to Evgeny for the article.