Remember Joaquim Crima, the so-called “Volgograd Obama“? The last we heard from the simple watermelon seller turned political candidate was back in 2009 when he ran for office on the United Russia ticket in Srednaya Akhtuba. The novelty an Afro-Russian candidate bequeathed Crima fifteen minutes on the world stage. He was featured in both the Russian and international media. His fame even spawned a “virtual” challenger, Fillip Kondratevto, to his moniker as Russia’s Obama. His fame even got him an audience with Vladimir Putin last summer. It was assumed, or at least I assumed, that that was the last we’d ever hear from him since I had a sneaking suspicion that Volgograd’s Obama was nothing more than a flash in the pan publicity stunt.
I guess I assumed too soon.
The “Volgograd Obama” is back and and just as his political aspirations thrust him into the news, so has his latest move: dumping United Russia. “I request to cease my membership in the party United Russia,” reads a hand scrawled note, littered with spelling mistakes. It didn’t take long for Crima to find a new political home as a member of Just Russia. “The admission of Vasilii Crima into the ranks of Just Russia is surely a significant event,” says Sergei Klimenkov, a Just Russia secretary. And why did Crima, who had been a member of United Russia since 2007 and once said that “I think that if the country had a hundred of such people like Putin, Russia would be the first in the world,” suddenly switch sides, and no less on the eve of United Russia’s regional party congress?
The answer lies in Crima’s open letter to Putin. Obviously composed by Just Russia spin doctors, it might might go down as an archetypal expression of “loyal opposition.” Criticize the locals for excessive bureaucratism and indifference to the masses (an old Soviet trope by the way), but show deference and, as Crima puts it, staunch support for the course laid out by, and the order of names are key here, Putin and President Medvedev.
Also, are we really to believe that Crima amassed 20 tons of watermelons to send to fire stricken Moscow!? You gotta be kiddin’ me. What did he expect villagers were going to do with 20 tons of melons? Throw them on the fires?
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!
Joaquim Rit Cabi Crima is addressing you. Less than a year ago you extended to me, a simple village entrepreneur from the Sredne Akhtubinsk district in Volgograd province, the great honor by inviting me to a meeting which you held in Volgograd. There you asked me if it was better to work in Africa or in Volgograd? Today I would like to answer that question as I did then: it is not important where one works, whether in Africa or Russia, what’s important is what one works for, and here everything depends on the person. If a person actively wants to live better, he must always yearn for something greater.
An You, Vladimir Vladimirovich, agreed with me then, and literally said the following, “If we want to live better, then we need to work better–that’s the whole point. But in order to work better, we need to understand what’s going on.”
I thought of your words several times as I was deciding to leave United Russia and join Just Russia. It was this decision that promoted me to write you this letter to explain why I made such an important decision.
Over the last year the support for United Russia has significantly dropped in Volgograd. This isn’t just my opinion, our governor recently said this himself. I think that to understand why this has happened we need to look at United Russia’s regional office and the situation that has developed in Volgograd province. Volgograd residents have lost faith in the government, in the party of power, and they don’t see positive changes in their lives.
For example, among United Russia’s campaign program in the last elections for Volgograd’s provincial Duma was a promise to increase the pay of state employees, control the prices of essential goods, and prevent the increase in utility costs. None of these promises were fulfilled.
But the money for the increase of state employee salaries exists in the meager provincial budget. Along with this, several of the budget’s social clauses were put under the knife. The introduction of the institution of city manager in Volgograd has not added to the authority of United Russia’s regional office–the population of a metropolis has lost its right to elect its city leaders.
I became convinced by personal experience that United Russia is more and more becoming a party of bureaucrats. I will give you just one example. Last summer when the horrible fires raged, I came up with an idea to give humanitarian aid to two villages in Moscow province that had severely suffered from the fires. This was a simple, normal desire to help people. I managed to collect 20 tons of watermelons. All that remained was sending them to Moscow. I requested help from United Russia’s regional leadership several times, but it was all in vain–just blank walls of incomprehension and indifference to a stranger’s misfortune. The watermelons simply rotted.
United Russia has talked a lot about needing concrete action in the interests of society. Unfortunately, in my opinion, United Russia has recently moved farther and father from its principles. Concrete political work had been exchanged for well known administrative resources, people have lost their right to vote, and there is an eternal struggle for power between members. United Russia’s political monopoly has not only become a hindrance on path to democratizing our country, but also the source for making decisions that are contrary to the interests of society. This is especially clear in Volgograd province.
That’s why I have decided to leave United Russia. My humble desire to be useful to the party remains unclaimed. And to just possess a party card is not for me.
Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich! Though I am no longer a member of United Russia, I remain a staunch supporter of the course of Russia’s modernization that you and President Dimitry Medvedev have taken. This course, I am sure is also shared by Just Russia. Hopefully, I will not be superfluous in its ranks.
May 4, 2011