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A Jewish Russian Mayoral Candidate Even the Nazis Can Love

With his half Jewish heritage, Evgeny Roizman would be an unlikely political star in Russia, were he anyone but Evgeny Roizman. But Roizman's unique personal past in citizen activism and the exceptionality of his home make his mayoral run anything but politics as usual. While Moscow's upcoming mayoral election [GV] may be getting the lion's share of attention from the Russian public and the world, September 8, 2013, actually sees mayoral and gubernatorial elections in a variety of Russian regions and cities. One of the more interesting campaigns may turn out to be in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city. Yekaterinburg's political climate differs from the rest of Russia. The ruling United Russia party performs poorly here (finishing second in the 2012 Duma elections, behind the nominally social-democratic party “A Just Russia”), and oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov did relatively well in the 2012 presidential elections, taking 18.75% of the vote, compared to his 7.98% share of the electorate nationally.

Yekaterinburg is also Roizman's hometown. A Duma Deputy from 2002-2008, an anti-corruption blogger, and the head of the highly controversial anti-drugs charity [GV], “City without Drugs,” Roizman officially announced his candidacy for mayor on Friday, July 19, 2013. Roizman is currently involved (but not implicated) in a number of legal proceedings, including the trial of his partner, Aksana Panova, the former head of the regional news network Ura.ru, and an investigation headed by the FSB into the illegal wiretaps on his phones.

Evgeny Roizman in an interview in November 2012, screenshot from YouTube.

Evgeny Roizman in an interview in November 2012, screenshot from YouTube.

Announcing his mayoral run on the web portal Znak.ru [ru] (Panova's new outfit), Roizman first claimed that he had received 12 million roubles from Prokhorov, whose “Civic Platform” party Roizman would represent, promising that the oligarch would “give as much as necessary.” Roizman then backtracked, declaring [ru] at a press conference that “we won't take and we won't spend a single kopeck of his money,” now claiming that Prokhorov had not asked [ru] him to run. “I'm not a little girl who needs to be persuaded. I've been thinking about this for several months… I made the decision,” he explained.

Unsurprisingly, Znak.ru readers greeted Roizman's announcement with great enthusiasm. One commenter was moved to compose a short poem lauding Roizman, whom he addressed affectionately by his diminutive “Zhenya.”

Женя, Женечка, Евгений,
Ты в работе просто гений!
Раз решил – не отступай!
Пять лет городу отдай!

Zhenya, Zhenechka, Yevgeny,
There's no work you find too heavy!
Once you've decided, don't waver!
Give the city five years of your labor!

Roizman's candidacy excited many members of the opposition, as well. Indeed, he is a nationally-known opposition figure with political experience and a large, concentrated power base, which is highly unusual in Russia. Vladimir Milov, a Moscow oppositionist, wrote a blog post on Ekho Moskvy, titled, “These Elections could be Revolutionary“:

Навальный в Москве, Ройзман в Екатеринбурге – слушайте, а чего вам еще надо-то? Вот они, выборы вашей мечты.

Navalny in Moscow, Roizman in Yekaterinburg, listen, what more could you need? Here they are: the elections of your dreams.

Not everyone shared Milov's enthusiasm. Roizman is viewed with suspicion in many quarters for his views on migrants, his criminal record (he served two years for armed theft in the mid-1980s), and his strict detox clinics, where patients are reportedly handcuffed to beds. One Yekaterinburger astutely pointed out [ru] the problems that could arise from Roizman's election:

В случае избрания Ройзмана, отношение к нему Кувайшева неизбежно будет вызывать конфликты между городом и областью, что явно не на пользу Екатеринбургу.

If Roizman is elected, his relations with [governor of the Sverdlovsk Region, Yevgeny] Kuivashev's will inevitably cause conflicts between the city and wider region, which is clearly not to Yekaterinburg's advantage.

Others’ took issue with Roizman's character, like the Yekaterinburg-based research center “Analitik,” which wrote on its LiveJournal blog:

Это неловкое чувство, когда неглупые вменяемые люди на полном серьезе считают Ройзмана достойным кандидатом в мэры Екатеринбурга. Иконы, поэзия, борьба с наркотиками, романтика с псевдо-оппозиционными журналистками – это на здоровье, каждый дрочит как он хочет. Но лично мне будет как-то неуютно, если главой моего города станет человек с мутным прошлым (и не менее мутным настоящим), тюремной ходкой в анамнезе и очень запущенными отношениями с областными властями.

It's an awkward feeling when intelligent and responsible people in all seriousness consider Roizman an appropriate candidate for Yekaterinburg's mayor. The [religious] icons, the poetry, the fight against drugs, the dalliance with pseudo-oppositionist journalists—that's all fine. To each to his own, if it pleases him. But personally I'd be really annoyed if someone with a murky past (and a no less murky present), а criminal record, and shabby relations with the regional authorities became mayor of my city.

Others are happy to look past Roizman's colorful past. As one commenter pointed out [ru] to Analitik:

В нашей стране получить судимость-легко,как насморк.
ИМХО,Ройзман-намного честнее,чем все эти ставленники ПЖиВ.

In our country, getting a conviction is as easy as catching a cold. IMHO, Roizman is a lot more honest then all the other candidates from the party of cardsharps and thieves [a common disparaging term for United Russia].

Roizman's grassroots popularity and reputation for getting things done has won him fans not only among liberals but among nationalists as well, who like his tough stance on drugs and willingness to face down the “ethnic gangs” associated with drug smuggling. Roizman's efforts have, somewhat amazingly, even won him the endorsement of the neo-nazi “People's Socialist Initiative,” whose stated anti-semitism did not preclude [ru] them from listing the achievements of Roizman, who is half-Jewish:

Чем он занимался последние годы? Решительной и бескомпромиссной, а зачастую и опасной борьбой с распространением наркотиков. Войной с этническими кланами, живущими наркоторговлей, и с крышующей их властью. В активе Ройзмана – спасенные наркоманы, посаженные наркобарыги, снос цыганских особняков… Поэтому Ройзман – это правильный еврей. Еврей, своими действиями показавший, на чьей он стороне.

What has [Roizman] been doing these last few years? Waging a decisive and uncompromising, not to mention dangerous, fight against drug distributers. Fighting with ethnic clans who survive by dealing drugs and with the authorities who shelter them. He has saved drug addicts, helped imprison drug-pushers, and demolished the Gypsies’ garish homes… For this reason, Roizman is the right kind of Jew. A Jew who has shown through his actions whose side he's on.

Roizman is a highly divisive figure. But his popularity is genuine and crosses through multiple demographics, his anti-drug charity enjoys real support in a city that has been plagued by heroin addiction, and his tenure as a Duma deputy for the Sverdlovsk region gives him a proven political record. While polling suggests that Navalny's Moscow candidacy is highly unlikely to result in his victory, Roizman has a good chance of actually winning. Like him or loath him, his candidacy means the Yekaterinburg elections may prove the most interesting to watch in the coming months.

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