Alexander Brazhko, Quality School Meals Activist, Beaten in Moscow
September 23, 2020
On the evening of September 22, an unknown person attacked lawyer Alexander Brazhko, coordinator of the Honest Products project. His injuries were very serious, including head trauma, cuts to the face, and severe bleeding.
According to Brazhko, an unknown person, without concealing himself, walked up to him and slashed his face, presumably with brass knuckles worn under a glove. Brazhko was able to get a glimpse of the assailant and gave a description to the police. One explanation for the attack could be Brazkho’s many years of combating counterfeit food products and working to improve school meals in Moscow and other regions of Russia.
Activatica contacted Brazho to find out the particulars of the incident and discuss possible motives for the attack.
Photo of Alexander Brazhko after the attack
Photo of Alexander Brazhko after his wounds were treated in the emergency room
I was returning home and not far from my house when I was attacked by an unknown person, who struck me on the head, on the face. In my opinion, the presence of [other] people probably scared the villain off.
It wasn’t a fight, it was an attack that probably didn’t last more than a minute. And, after I reacted and people took notice, the criminal ran away. I couldn’t quite make out his features, but if I see him, I could identify him. Of course, I needed both too chase down the villain and document my injuries. I think it was brass knuckles. Given the injuries that were inflicted on me, it seems [the assailant was wearing] gloves that were weighted with something.
I have one explanation [for what happened] and it is quite simple. It is no secret that there are a lot of low-quality food products in this country. Along with other social activists, I have been involved in protecting the rights of consumers. It is clear that our interests and the interests of citizens clash with the interests of people with “reduced social accountability,” with those engaged in deception, falsification, and imitation.
I have been working in this area for several years, and I have not received any threats, but I feel that the situation is tense. This incident is an attempt to show civil society that it is defenseless. It is civil society that protects itself, but right here in Russia it is unprotected. Why? This incident occurred in the center of the country, in the capital region, not somewhere in a restricted area, but openly, publicly, in order to provoke a broad public reaction.
Of course, they want to intimidate us, the activists of the region: today they warn us, tomorrow they beat us, and the day after tomorrow they kill us. But society cannot ignore these threats. At the same time, it must accept the challenge. Unlike market professionals, civil society has no for-profit social institutions. We have the police, the prosecutor’s office, etc., but these are oversight bodies that enforce the law and protect absolutely everyone. And if such things occur, it means that criminals feel they can get away with them. They foster an illusion of impunity when they repeatedly avoid prosecution. Manufacturers of fake products have upped the ante, so they are already beginning to deal with activists in this way.
I have been working on school meals for several years, and my colleagues and I have been raising the issue quite actively. We have helped the authorities, schools, and parent committees to implement the procedure that is prescribed in the law on education and came into force on September 1.
Of course, there are quite a lot of conflicting points on this issue. The schools should be in charge of feeding children. We understand that cooks should be employed by educational institutions themselves. But not every school has its own cooks. Many schools use an outsourcing system and purchase this service. But this is an absolutely opaque procedure for parents. The cooks are not responsible to either the parents or the schools. They are responsible to their employers, and these are mostly commercial organizations. They are interested in making a profit, which does not match up in any way with the interests of parents, who want their children to be fed tasty, high-quality food.
The second question that we have is the timetable. The President spoke clearly about introducing free breakfasts. All children should have full stomachs during their first class of the day. But what has really been happening? The first free breakfast is served after the second or third lesson. Headmasters avert their eyes and say that parents feed their kids at home. If the law [on education] says that grades 1-4 should receive free, hot meals, then breakfast should be served before the start of the school day. This is a serious matter.
The third controversial issue is the operators involved in the school meals market. In my opinion, the efforts stipulated by the law [on education] are powered by parents’ money. If your child did not eat breakfast, then you do not need to pay for it. But what do I hear? “It doesn’t matter whether s/he ate or not. The plate was on the table, so you need to pay.” There is no such model anywhere else in the world. When we come to the store, we don’t have to pay for what is on the shelf, we only pay for what is in our basket.
The fourth question is choice. You can’t plan ahead what you’re going to eat next Tuesday. But parents are told by schools that on a specific Wednesday their children will eat porridge. Why porridge? Why can’t children choose what they want? When school ends, we assume that these people will make their own decisions. There’s a glitch here. I am told that neither children nor parents can make the decision: the schools must set the menu for them and they should eat what they are given. But, my argument is, Why don’t you provide meals on Saturday and Sunday, or during the holidays? These questions remain unanswered.
One of the reasons for the attack may be the active stance taken by me and my colleagues in the regions on restoring order when it comes to school meals. But the specific reason for the attack can only be established by a police investigation. The investigation is underway. In my opinion, the culprit will be identified. It may take more than a week, but we shall learn from the mouths of both the assailant and the people who paid him how I get on their bad side, where I crossed them.
Photos and video courtesy of Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader
If you imagine that what happened to grassroots activist Alexander Brazhko has nothing to with the “big” news that “really” matters, think again. The parallels between his story and Alexei Navalny’s much better-known conflict with Yevgeny Prigozhin (aka “Putin’s chef”) are too obvious to ignore. The emphasis in the following article is mine. || TRR
Russia Seizes Kremlin Critic Navalny’s Apartment
September 24, 2020
Russian authorities have seized Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s apartment days after he was discharged from German hospital where he was being treated for poisoning by Novichok, his spokeswoman said Thursday.
Kira Yarmysh said court marshals came after Navalny’s three-bedroom apartment in southeastern Moscow to enforce a $1-million court ruling in favor of catering magnate Yevgeny Prigozhin. The businessman has earned the nickname “Putin’s chef” from his close ties to President Vladimir Putin.
Prigozhin last year won 88 million rubles ($1.1 million) in damages against Navalny and his close associate, who blamed Prigozhin for a dysentery outbreak among Moscow schoolchildren linked to contaminated lunches.
Prigozhin previously vowed to “ruin” Navalny if he survives the poisoning.
“Instead of siding with the affected children, the court sided with Prigozhin,” Yarmysh said in a video on Twitter.
“As a result, they seized the assets and the apartment of a person who was in a coma,” she said.
Navalny came out of a coma two weeks ago after falling violently ill on a flight in Siberia on Aug. 20. Germany, where the fierce Putin critic was flown two days later, said it had unequivocal proof that he was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family.
The court marshals’ seizure bans Navalny from selling, renting out or leaving the apartment in a will but does not mean he can no longer live there, Yarmysh said.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is undergoing rehab in Germany after his release from hospital. Yarmysh has said Navalny plans to return to Russia as soon as he recovers from the poisoning.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Federal Security Service (FSB) rejected a request to investigate reports that security agents tailed Navalny throughout his trip to Siberia during which he fell ill.
Russia denies that Navalny was poisoned and complains that Germany is not sharing its findings in order for authorities to launch an investigation at home.