An Interview with Young Russian Activists from Food Not Bombs

Food Not Bombs is an independent international movement whose activists are doing direct action by handing out vegan food to everyone. They believe that their activities help to struggle against poverty, militarism, and violence. Absolutely all existing groups in Russia are decentralized, but they all support the same idea. While the Russian government spends billions on defense, at least 20 million people live below the poverty threshold. Their lives are changing because of these young antifa activists from Russia. We’ve contacted some of these activists from Samara to ask them a couple of questions: 

1) Tell us how the movement appeared in Samara and what views it pursues.

Andrew: The movement in Samara began in the 2000s, when activists had to fight back from neo-Nazi attacks, holding the lid of the pan in one hand and the knife in the other.

Now the time has changed and the streets have become more peaceful, thanks to those who used to fight back those villains. The generation of anti-fascists has changed.

We began to organize these actions in order to set an example of how to do good deeds without the help of the state. Many of us support the idea of libertarian communism, or are simply not indifferent to other people’s troubles.

We started volunteering somewhere in the beginning of 2016 — these were mainly visits to the animal shelter and assistance to them. In August 2018, the idea came up to learn the experience of activists from Moscow and St. Petersburg, who also handed out food to those in need. At the end of October, we reached our first action and for almost a year now we have been existing, depending mainly on our own resources and capabilities, gaining strength in numbers of people.

Oleg: The movement originated in the 80s of the last century and has since spread throughout the world, including Russia. Our city was no exception. Even 10 to 15 years ago, similar actions were organized in Samara. We just decided to revive them. 

The main goal of the movement is to draw public attention to the destructive policies of the governments of most countries, in which huge sums of money are spent on military, while the number of poor and homeless is growing every year due to wars that are started and sponsored by the authorities.

At some point, many of us decided that we needed to do something useful, instead of making senseless speeches about how bad is everything around and how everything needs to be changed. Since each of us heard about the Food Not Bombs, we decided to take up such actions because we thought that we could do it and we’re right. The only problem was that we had no experience in doing such events and there was nothing to gain from someone. But despite this, we hit the ground running and since the fall of last year we have been steadily going out to hand out food. At first, we had to learn from our mistakes and after each action, we made conclusions about what needs to be changed or added. Now we have a lot of experience in this, which we are pleased to share with others who wish to organize similar events.

2) What kind of people usually come to you?

Andrew: Most of those whom we feed are old people who don’t have enough to live on with their low pension, and also passers-by and schoolchildren, who are interested in the action, are eating here.

Oleg: Different people come to us: homeless people, senior citizens, since we are standing next to the metro station on one side and the market on the other, metro workers and people coming from the market, as well as ordinary passers-by, also come to us. Many come up for food, but some just chat, find out who we are, share their ideas or problems.

Most support our ideas and some even offer help. But sometimes people come up to us who have a negative attitude to our initiative, believing that “the rescue of a drowning man is the drowning man’s own job”. From such people, you can often hear: “Why you feed them?”, “If they want to eat, let them go to work”, “If war would happen, then who will protect you?” We try to explain that there are no other people’s problems, we try to explain the true causes and goals of all wars, and how important it is to show solidarity and support each other.

3) How much do Samara residents support you?

Andrew: Sometimes people contact us because we always give flyers to people, most of them do it by social networks and give away groceries, or simply transfer money to us.

Oleg: As I mentioned, most of those who come to us support our ideas and many offer help. Our movement is of great interest among young people, someone helps in the dissemination of information, someone joins us and becomes a full member of the group.

4) Tell us about your relationship with vegetarianism and veganism.

Andrew: Most of the group consists of vegans and vegetarians, some of the participants are omnivores, but on events, we carry only vegan food.

Oleg: First you need to explain that vegetarianism and veganism are two different things. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, mainly because they don’t want to eat the flesh of dead animals. Vegans don’t eat meat, and in general all products of animal origin (milk, eggs, cheese, etc.), as they refuse any exploitation of animals. One of the principles of the movement is the principle of non-violence, that is, the rejection of any kind of manifestation of violence by humans. Wars are an example of the violence of some people over others. Any kind of exploitation is violence, poverty is the result of the exploitation of ordinary people by the rich. The exploitation of animals is also a manifestation of human violence. That’s why we don’t use animal products. However, the participants in the movement are not obliged to be vegans, since compulsion to refuse animal products is also not permissible, nevertheless, it is everyone’s personal choice to eat animal products or to exclude them completely from their diet. There are vegans and omnivores in our group, but we don’t conflict about it inside the group. 

5) How important is mutual aid in an authoritarian state?

Andrew: Solidarity and mutual aid — these are the things that society can counter the pressure from the state.

Oleg: Mutual aid is important in all conditions, not only in an authoritarian state. Any person is a part of society, and therefore depends on this society and on each member of it. Leaving someone alone with his problems, we thereby contribute to the spread of these problems, and in the end, these problems can fall on each of us. That’s why we pay attention to anybody who needs a helping hand.

6) What’s worse for you: poverty or war?

Andrew: I don’t know what’s worse, because as long as capitalism exists, the poor will be poorer and perish from poverty and hunger. The bourgeoisie of different countries will pit people among themselves to die for the interests of the upper class in wars.

Oleg: Hard to say. The first is often a consequence of the second. Because of the war, many people lose everything, becoming refugees. Because of the war, many become crippled, many lose their friends. The rich get all the benefits of the war, they do not risk life, health, or lose their home, so they calmly control the fate of thousands or even millions of other people. And often, soldiers who return from the war, become useless and poor. So both things are related to each other.

7) If not secret, then what are the plans for the movement?

Andrew: We plan to open a second food distribution point in another area where there are many people in need. There are also ideas for other social and environmental projects, for which, unfortunately, we still do not have enough time and energy.

Oleg: In the near future we plan to start distributing in two places, so we can feed more people. In the near future, we plan to start distributing in two places, so we can feed more people. We also plan to pay more attention to the dissemination of information about the movement and its ideas, so that independent groups would appear in other cities. We constantly try to develop ourselves, set goals and achieve them.

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