Right before Barack Obama’s first visit to Moscow, I recall reading some interesting quotes from a Russian observer – unfortunately I can’t remember where exactly – who speculated that although he didn’t expect any kind of revolution in U.S.-Russia relations, he had hoped that the visit of the first U.S. President of African-American origin would prompt debate inside Russia: Why can’t we have a Tatar, Bashkir, or even a Chechen president some day?
As far as I know, that debate didn’t happen, and the Russian authorities did eveything possible to dampen the impact of the visit (speeches were not widely televised). But at least for one man, the message came through. A few days back we linked to a story about Joaquim Crima (who now calls himself “Vasily Ivanovich”), a West African native from Guinea Bissau who has decided to run for district chief in a small village in Southern Volgograd. He is Russia’s first black political candidate for office.
In an interview with ABC, Crima says that he doesn’t compare himself to Obama, but is grateful for “showing the world what black people could do. He made the dream of Martin Luther King real.” He continues, “Racism is everywhere, in some places more than others. It will disappear sooner or later.“
But is Russia ready for this kind of change? It appears that for right now, the cards are stacked against him in this election. Crima is, however, a member of the United Russia party, a big Putin supporter, and his campaign adviser says that he has been promised a seat on the district council in 2011 – in that peculiar way in which the Kremlin can promise future democratic outcomes. Even if his candidacy becomes a prop of the state, this is still a very interesting and positive development, and may succeed in driving that debate about race and politics that failed to occur during the Obama visit.