Monday, August 31, 2009

Russia's "Barack Obama"

Mr Crima wants to leave melons behind in favour of politics

You have to admire this guy's guts. In Russia over 50% of Africans have expereienced a racist physiccal attack yet he, A water melon seller (of all things) is running for political office!

Story by Amanda Walker, Russia correspondent

An African-born watermelon seller is aiming to become the first black man to hold public office in Russia, despite the country's deep-seated racism.

Predictably, Joaquim Crima is being dubbed the Russian Barack Obama. He has also adopted a Russian first name and patronymic, Vassily Ivanovich.

I arrived at his stall and he insisted on going home to change into his suit before we hit the local election campaign trail.

He emerged from the makeshift-looking home he shares with his Armenian wife looking immaculate. Briefcase in hand, he's ready for action.

"The destiny of this region concerns me deeply. Our life here is miserable. And my dream is to change it," he said.

Selling watermelons isn't what Mr Crima believes is his true calling. This aspiring politician has got his sights set far higher.

Reaction on the campaign trail has been widely positive but he still plays it safe by being constantly flanked by his burly minder.

He is greeted with a smile from behind each door he knocks on.

Even when we've finished filming each encounter he stays behind to continue and conclude the conversation.

It is clear he has made an impact here and is well liked and respected.

Most people in the southern Russian district of Srednyaya Akhtuba lack running water, heating and basic sanitation.

The destiny of this region concerns me deeply. Our life here is miserable. And my dream is to change it.

Mr Crima says he can tackle that - if people let go of prejudice.

Despite growing local support it seems the authorities are less than keen on his campaign.

"Some men came to me and offered me money if I get out of the race," he said.

"They said I had no chance in this election. But I told them - why are you offering me money if you are so sure I will lose? I want the people to decide."

In a community where life is hard he said he had been inspired by Mr Obama's message of change.

To those who call him naïve, he has a simple and familiar message.

"Yes we can!" he said with a wry smile that suggested he isn't going to give up anytime soon.