What started out as a playful response to an attack on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny quickly turned into an online protest on Monday.
Navalny, a Kremlin critic whose Anti-Corruption Foundation has led investigations of some of Russia's most powerful politicians—including, most recently, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev—was sprayed with green antiseptic while on a campaign stop in the Siberian city of Barnaul on Monday morning. Shortly thereafter, Russian oppositioners began posting photos of themselves in green face paint on social media in solidarity.
After being doused outside his campaign headquarters on Monday, Navalny painted his whole face green and called on his supporters to join him in a nationwide protest against corruption on Sunday. “All I wanted to say is that if the Kremlin really thinks that I won't record new videos with a green face, they're wrong,” Navalny said in a video posted on YouTube. “I will keep recording them, because with such a face I'll get even more views. This isn't going to stop me in any way. I'd like to ask you all to participate in the anti-corruption rallies that will take place all across the country on March 26.”
Within hours, Navalny's supporters began an online “flashmob,” posting photos of themselves covered in green face paint on social media. Vika Navalnaya, the wife of Navalny's brother Oleg, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for embezzlement in December 2014, posted a picture of her and her son in green face paint on Instagram.
Жена и сын Олега Навального! pic.twitter.com/6zWxdSPUNO
— Соболь Любовь (@SobolLubov) March 20, 2017
The wife and son of Oleg Navalny!
Some supported Navalny using the #зеленыйНавальный (#GreenNavalny) hashtag.
— Соболь Любовь (@SobolLubov) March 20, 2017
We decided to support the flashmob here! #GreenNavalny #Navalny208
— Эльвира Дмитриева (@El_Dmi) March 20, 2017
Alexei, the Kazan [campaign] headquarters is with you! We support you! #GreenNavalny
Others, meanwhile, made more public demonstrations of support: the blogger Nikolai Danilov took his protest to the Kremlin, where he was detained by police, who told him he was violating Red Square protest rules by wearing green face paint. Danilov told the website Meduza:
Мне сказали, что со мной провели уважительную беседу, я сказал, что тоже уважаю их мнение, но я 40 минут потратил на то, чтобы покраситься в зеленый цвет. Я вел себя абсолютно нормально, не выкрикивал лозунгов — просто хотел сделать несколько фотографий. Мы нашли в итоге компромисс — я возвращаюсь на ту же точку, где меня забрали, и продолжаю делать несколько фотографий. Что я и сделал
They told me that they had had a respectful conversation with me, and I said that I also valued their opinion but that I had spent 40 minutes painting my face green. I comported myself absolutely normally, not shouting any slogans—I just wanted to take a few photos. In the end, we found a compromise—I returned to where I was picked up, and continued to take pictures.
Attacks on Navalny
Navalny, who announced in December that he would challenge Vladimir Putin in the March 2018 presidential elections, has faced hurdles at every turn of his campaign. He was found guilty of embezzlement in December and was given a five-year suspended sentence, meaning that he is legally barred from running for office. In January, federal regulators pressured the PayPal-like service Yandex.Money into blocking political donations from individuals, thereby eliminating one of the Navalny campaign's most significant sources of funding.
Navalny has also been the victim of physical attacks in the past: among other incidents, in February 2016, a protester threw a pie in Navalny's face, and one month later two unidentified men threw pies and condoms filled with a white liquid him. In May of last year, Navalny and his supporters were beaten up at an airport in Anapa, a city in southern Russia. And recently, Navalny's opponents in Ufa, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kemerovo, and Novosibirsk have thrown eggs at him.
Navalny is not the only politician to have been doused in green: last month, an unidentified man used a syringe to shoot green dye in the eyes of opposition politician Mikhail Kasyanov. Novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya and Igor Kaplyan, the head of Russia's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, have also been attacked with various green substances, though it's unclear if there is any meaning to the color green.