Russia's 'Second Obama' Rattles Authorities

Published August 25, 2009

A second candidate of African descent announced he'll run for head of a rural district in southern Russia, election officials said Monday, making for an unusual slate in a country with deeply ingrained racism.

The campaign for head of the Srednyaya Akhtuba district already has attracted wide media attention because of the candidacy of Joaquim Crima, a Guinea-Bissau native who's become known as "Russia's Obama."

But now he faces a challenger with racial credentials even more like Obama's — Filipp Kondratyev is the son of Ghanaian father and a Russian mother. Kondratyev announced his candidacy last week, said Gennady Shaikhulin, deputy head of the Volgograd regional elections commission. Obama is the son of a white mother from Kansas and Black father from Kenya.

Antipathy toward nonwhites is widespread in Russia, and observers say hate crimes, including killings, are rising.

But Crima appears to have used his self-deprecating humor and upbeat demeanor to become something of a local celebrity.

Crima says the authorities have become wary of the popularity he has accrued, and he accused them of putting Kondratyev forward to snatch votes.

Kondratyev "came to light only after the start of my campaign," Crima told The Associated Press Monday. "It is obvious the authorities see me not only as a popular candidate, but as a serious candidate. This is something they were not expecting."

Kondratyev denied being a stooge, telling the AP that he has no ties to the current administration head, Vladimir Romanov — who is among the total nine potential candidates for the Oct. 11 vote.

Romanov, seeking a second successive term, also denied wrongdoing.

Crima already has complained of other forms of pressure. He said Monday that unidentified men visited him at home Sunday and offered 3 million rubles ($95,000) — six times his annual salary as a watermelon vendor — to withdraw from the race.

All nine potential candidates are affiliated with or have expressed affinity for Kremlin-friendly parties.

Official campaigning for the vote begins Aug. 30, by which time potential candidates each must submit around 800 signatures of support for registration with the elections commission.

Written by Associated Press

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