Anya and Daria
When we traveled to Russia this January, we learned that nine Russian cities held FNB solidarity actions to protest the arrest of the RNC 8 at the Minneapolis Food Bombs house. Along with meals, Russian FNB groups protested with banners in front of US embassies and gave out literature denouncing the persecution of RNC 8 under the Patriot Act. “We say NO to the repression of Food Not Bombs groups in USA! Freedom to our comrades!” read the leaflets in Varonezh, a city in southwestern Russia. In Moscow, FNB activists were met with police violence and arrest.
This is solidarity blurring transnational boundaries, and uniting a movement across the world. Today our Russian comrades face repression, let’s stand up to support them!
On New Years, FNB Russia held regional meetings across the country. We traveled from Berkeley to Moscow to meet with members of FNB from five Russian cities. We passed along a lovely package of photos, videos, and zines from SF FNB and the Long Haul. Some activists asked us — When you return, tell all the activists you know about the repression we face. Stay in touch, help us form supportive relationships with FNB in the US. These are our observations about repression and resistance in Russia:
We noticed a growing nationalist sentiment in Russian daily life. There is a new metro station opening in Moscow, it’s called The Slavic Boulevard. The newly designed metro train is called The Russian. Within the Russian ultra right-wing circles, the line between nationalism and neo-fascism is barely discernable. The difference is especially blurry on days like November 4th, the Day of National Unity, when the right-wing citizens march through Russia’s main streets. They give Nazi salutes and chant — Glory to Russia! Russia for Russians! This phenomenon is called the Russian March, and it began recently in 2005.
We learned a lot about neo-fascism and xenophobia from Lubava, an activist who helped organize the FNB regional meeting in Moscow. “Attacks on immigrants occur daily; we hear about several nationalism-motivated murders every day,” she said. The week before our arrival, the market where Lubava buys* produce for FNB was bombed. Lubava believes markets are targeted with violence because the vendors are primarily immigrants and Russian people of color. [*It is common for Russian FNB groups to buy food out of their own pockets or to steal it; there is so little surplus food that donations and dumpster diving yield no results].
Each FNB activist we met cited the neo-fascist movement as a major threat to the radical left in their city. FNB Chelyabinsk explained that FNB groups cannot freely use the internet to share information about cookhouses or meals. If they post information about locations, they risk being targeted by fascist groups in their homes or being met by a gang of fascists at their servings: “In Yekaterinburg, there have been instances where neo-Nazis have threatened to disrupt FNB meals. Additional activists had to accompany FNB meals so that nothing went down.” In St. Petersburg, FNB activists have experienced attacks, sometimes even fatal ones, after serving meals. Groups of fascists are known for organized attacks on people of non-Slavic appearance, the poor, and the radical left.
In 2008, FNB Russia organized a safe and solid communication strategy — the publication of a monthly zine. Each issue publishes reports on meals and radical actions from FNB groups across Russia. The zine supports the growth of FNB in smaller Russian cities by creating a sense of connection to the greater movement. Fourteen cities submitted material for the last issue, which came out in time for the regional meetings. It can be found at hippy.ru/print/fnbgaz7.pdf.
In addition to the constant threat of fascist violence, radical left groups struggle against state repression: “The Russian government supports the ultra-right, while antifascist views are violently repressed,” Lubava explains. “In many cities across Russia the law enforcement and neo-Nazis work together.” FNB Saratov says “… the local police force is closely tied to fascist groups… when antifascists are detained by the police, the kids have it really bad. They’re beaten, questioned, and tortured.” Antifascists in Minsk, Belarus write about repression in Russia: “The governing bodies interfere with anarchist and antifascist actions and concerts, detain and beat up activists, but when it comes to the neo-Nazis… the police either let them go without serious consequences or don’t pursue them at all. In Russia, the government and neo-Nazism are one in the same. This promotes the continuation of attacks and murders. In October, Feodor Filatov was murdered on the doorstep of his own apartment; he was one of the founders of the skinhead-antifascist movement in Moscow.”
On the 20th of December, Saratov held a solidarity action against police violence: “… we hung a six meter banner across our bridge that read ‘POLICE MURDER, NOT ONLY IN GREECE.’ We gave out leaflets. One side talked about the murder of Alexander Grigoropoulos. We won’t forget him. The other side talked about the murder of Armen Gasparan [an Armenian man], in Saratov, on the 20th of October. Drunk police officers detained him for stealing. First they beat him, and then they poured kerosene all over him, and set him on fire. They kicked his body until he died.” When we returned to the Bay, we were horrified to learn about the murder of Oscar Grant by the BART police. Police violence is a transnational phenomenon, something we can stand against together.
Oppression is always met with resistance. Russia’s growing Antifascist movement challenges neo-fascist and state violence. Antifascism unites many groups in Russia’s radical left — anarchists, punks, skinheads, hippies, vegans/animal rights activists, sXe — straightedge, hardcore, and others. Antifascists use diverse strategies to propagate anti-racist views: zine publications, independent media sources, art, theater performances, graffiti, direct action, and community organizing. There is a movement for militant resistance within antifascism, called Antifa. Members of the Antifa organize non-hierarchal groups that practice street fighting, as a self-defense strategy against fascist attack.
We learned of other forms of resistance. One of the Moscow FNB activists we met works with the direct action art group Voina (War). Voina commemorated the last anniversary of the October Revolution (Nov 7th) by scaling the famous Hotel Ukraina with a green laser, and projecting a 12 story skull and crossbones across the Moscow River and on to the Russian parliament building. We think they chose the jolly roger to symbolize anarchy and piracy, as well as the toxic government located inside.
Activists from FNB Archangelsk work closely with the animal rights movement. Archangelsk is a northern city on the coast of the White Sea, where baby seals are culled for their fur. Tasya of FNB Archangelsk told us about their anti-fur actions: “In February, radical activists blocked the entrance to the regional administration building, by chaining themselves to the doors. Others unfurled a banner that read ‘Kiselev, Save the Lives of the Seals.’ Kiselev was our regional governor at the time… We held a contest in our city’s grade schools for the best drawing on the theme of defending baby seals. In April 2008 we held a protest [against seal culling, where] … we handed out the children’s drawings of seals.” This year, the Archangelsk animal rights activists achieved a temporary national ban on the culling of white baby seals.
We noticed that sexism and homophobia are rampant in Russia. When we asked FNB activists about movements for LGBT and women’s rights in their cities, the standard reply was “we don’t have any of that, there isn’t anything to tell, we don’t have any activists of that kind, no one is really interested.” We did meet one active feminist, Natasha from FNB Saratov. Natasha is part of an anarcho-feminist art collective called VolgaGirrlz. They use mixed media to promote feminist ideas and issues. VolgaGirrlz shot a short film about housewives leaving the boundaries of their kitchen, becoming cosmonauts, and exploring the far reaches of the universe. You can watch it at volga-girrlz.livejournal.com. Other women we met were not in organized feminist groups, but they were vocal about feminism and women’s rights within their own lives.
Attempts to organize for LGBT rights in Moscow have been met with institutional and civil disapproval and violence. Lubava participated Pride-Moscow 2007: “150 LGBT people gathered in front of Moscow City Hall. Police officers, fascists, and Orthodox Christian extremists violently beat not only the Russian LGBT, but the attending deputies of the Euro Parliament as well… Slogans like ‘NO to LGBT Discrimination’ were labeled as homosexual propaganda in all mass media resources.” Today, all gay pride parades are prohibited by the Moscow mayor. Despite the violence and the bans, those that are active in the decidedly underground LGBT movement continue to organize. They find that ties with international LGBT organizations are very supportive.
Please support FNB in Russia. Form a relationship of mutual aid with a FNB chapter in a Russian city! Start up regular contact, exchange photos, videos, news. Plan solidarity actions! Share your political strategies, and struggles, and learn from theirs. Help translate radical left literature into Russian (especially about women’s and LGBT rights, fair trade and organic food). And if you ever get a chance to visit Russia, get in touch with the local chapter of Food Not Bombs.
Russian FNB Forum — foodnotbombs.ru
Contacts of groups we meet with:
FNB Saratov — firstname.lastname@example.org
FNB Kirov — email@example.com
FNB Chelyabinsk — firstname.lastname@example.org
FNB Archangelsk — email@example.com
FNB Moscow — firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional contacts for FNB Russia can be found at http://foodnotbombs.net/RUSSIA.html
Photos from the actions mentioned in this article and translated texts from our interviews will be posted at hippy.ru/fnbzima.html. A good resource that documents nationalist violence against immigrants is http://sova-center.ru/194F418/.
Contact Daria at email@example.com and Anya at firstname.lastname@example.org.