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African Native Running for Election in Russia

Joaquim Crima, a 37-year old native of Guinea Bissau, in West Africa, is running for district chief, in a small village in central Russia. He is likely the first black person to ever be a candidate in Russia.

Joaquim Crima, a 37-year-old native of the West African nation of Guinea Bissau, says he will run for public office in the small, central Russian village where he lives. The announcement is significant because of Crima's racial heritage. Few, if any, Russian citizens of African descent have run for public office in the country.

Human rights groups say African immigrants in Russia often face discrimination and racial prejudice. Statistics from the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, a group dedicated to researching hate crimes in Russia, indicate at least one dozen immigrants were killed this year and hundreds more attacked because of the color of their skin.

There are no official Russian statistics on hate crimes.

Crima came to Russia in the last days of the Soviet Union to study and become a teacher at a University in Volgograd. He acquired Russian citizenship and is now earning a living selling watermelons. He says he is ready to run for chief of district in the Volgograd region. He says it is his right because Russia is a democracy.

In anticipation of the October 11 election, Crima has adopted a Russian name, Vasily Ivanovic. Local election officials say he faces a difficult challenge, and that he may not be taken seriously by voters. They say most Russians will only vote for him because of the novelty of his candidacy, or as an act of protest against what they may consider to be Russia's dismal political system.

Alexander Verkohvsky is head of the Sova Center for Information and Analysis in Moscow, a group dedicated to researching xenophobia and nationalism in Russia. He says many Russians are not used to immigrant ethnic minorities trying to run for political office.

"It's a very seldom situation when a person of a [faraway] foreign region tries to do that," said Verkohvsky. "People who are originally from some post-Soviet countries of course participate in Russia's life."

Crima says it does not matter that Russians may not be accustomed to ethnic minorities running for office. He says if Russia is a democracy he should be free to run for public office. Therefore, he says, he will not withdraw his candidacy.

Crima says he wants to change things for the better in his village. He describes how he got involved in politics.

He says he became interested in politics because there were many electoral promises that were not fulfilled in the last election. He says he wants to see what he can do to improve conditions in his area.

Crima says he is not worried about the difficulty he faces as an ethnic minority candidate. He says he will work hard for the benefits of his constituents, if elected.