The international community recently gave a particular attention to the political ambitions of a Black Russian of Guinea-Bissauan descent. Joaquim Crima ran for mayor in a small constituency of the Russian Federation and eventually got only 5% of votes cast last Sunday. Contrary to what many have suggested, this is not the first time a Black man has ran in a Russian election. One of Mr. Crima’s rivals was, in fact, of Russo-Ghanaian descent. Another Black man ran for the highest office in Tver, in 2002. Despite all this, records of violent racist attacks in Russia are among some of the highest. The police has often been accused.
“I will slave away like a negro!” Joaquim Crima’s slogan flirted with his colour. A Russian of Guinea Bissau descent, the 37 year old farmer made headline news across the globe throughout his mayoral campaign in the district of Srednaya Akhtuba, which has a population of 55 000 inhabitants.
Despite this near insignificant population for a country of 141.8 million inhabitants, Crima’s bravery cannot be taken for granted considering the almost inherent nature of racism among the Russian population. In fact, Joaquim’s campaign slogan is a local idiomatic expression meaning, “I will work hard”.
Although the 5% obtained during last Sunday’s election was dismally low, the candidate was the first to jump for joy. He did not expect such results. A second Black candidate, Filipp Kondratiev, of both Russian and Ghanaian descent, who also run as a candidate in the district, received 1% of the total votes. According to Joaquim Crime, Kondratiev ran with the help of the local government.
A local journalist, Anna Stepnova quoted by The Huffington Post, believes that “his candicacy is part of a standard tactic in Russia used to draw the protest vote and allow people to vent frustration while posing no threat to the government’s favoured candidate.”
It came as no surprise when his main campaign billboard was brought down to make way for the main party’s candidate. Joaquim ran as an independent against his fellow party member from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, who won hands down.
Many believe that presenting Joaquim as a candidate to collect protest votes as well as bringing his billboard down to make way for the main party’s candidate were all part of a bigger plan by the bigger party, knowing he stood no real chance of being elected. They also argue that having been guaranteed a seat on the District Council in 2011, protest voters would be silenced.
But apart from being described as a political pawn by critics, Joaquim, who is married to a local woman, usually has about 20 people under his employ and speaks five languages.
Not an isolated case
Joaquim Crima is not the first Black candidate in an election in Russia, contrary to unverified assertions from various quarters. In 2000, Marcel Tafen Wandji of Cameroonian descent ran for mayor in Tver, a city of 400 000 inhabitants. Marcel Tafen Wandji’s candidacy also made the headlines.
“Do not be surprised if the next mayor of Tver is called Marcel Tafen Wandji” said the famed Russian daily Izvestia. Just like Joaquim, Marcel Tafen Wandji, had also tried deflecting racism in his campaign slogan to his advantage. “With Marcel it is impossible to see the dark side of life” one slogan read, while another boldly stated that “Marcel is different.”
Nine years on, the nomination of a Black person still gives an eerie feeling of senseless audacity in a country where racist attacks against Black people is almost an institution.
Black migrants and racist attacks in Russia
A recent report from France2 concluded that many people among the approximately 10 000 African migrants in Russia regret having chosen this country as an exile destination, citing a study published in September by the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy (MPC). Moscow is a dangerous city, in fact, four out of ten sub-Saharan African migrants have reportedly been assaulted at least once in 2009. Only a quarter of those attacked reported the case to the police. The complaints are in fact often filed away, while the police turn around to racially abuse the victims, with some cases ending in physical abuse.
Racist attacks are not only committed by drunk and marginal neo-Nazi groups as we tend to believe. The MPC report cites an example, “in February 2009, two Nigerian men were invited by a Russian man to his apartment under the guise of a drink and friendship. The two men were reluctant and skeptical, but homeless and willing to take the chance. Once inside the locked apartment, the Russian man attacked the two Nigerians with a knife, saying that he had killed blacks in Chechnya and that he wanted to attack more black men because they were trying to dominate Russia. Both Nigerian men sustained cuts on their head and hands, but managed to escape after overpowering their attacker. They received treatment at MPC’s medical consultation center. They did not report the attack to the police.” The Huffington Post reveals that a, African American exchange student “was stabbed and badly wounded in Volgograd, the nearest large city, in what was believed to be a racially motivated attack”, last December.
In 2005, an Amnesty International report said that “racial discrimination was widespread. Some groups were particularly targeted by police during identity checks which often result in arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment.” Besides, “asylum seekers and refugees have to cope with the frequent refusal of police to consider their identification papers as valid.”
According to Le Monde, Vladimir Putin’s arrival to power, since 2002, has seen a decrease in racially motivated crimes. Racist attacks are mostly concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg and primarily target the non-Slavic peoples of the former Soviet republics. 378 people were injured in racist attacks in 2008, leaving 78 dead.