It’s Get­ting Eas­ier to Be Green

The bat­tle against Rus­sia’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion is be­ing waged with a bright green liq­uid that comes in a tiny glass bot­tle

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK - By Eva Har­tog e.har­tog@ime­dia.ru

The cost of at­tack­ing a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent in Rus­sia is about 60 rubles, or one dol­lar — That’s the price of Bril­liant Green or ze­ly­onka in phar­ma­cies across the coun­try.

Since Soviet times, the an­ti­sep­tic has been the go-to treat­ment for every­day cuts and chicken pox. But un­der Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, it has taken on an­other func­tion — the brand­ing of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

Dur­ing a visit to Bar­naul in south­ern Rus­sia this week, op­po­si­tion ac­tivist Alexei Navalny was doused with the dye by an un­known as­sailant. A month ear­lier, ze­ly­onka was splashed onto for­mer prime min­is­ter Mikhail Kasyanov at a com­mem­o­ra­tive march for slain op­po­si­tion politi­cian Boris Nemtsov.

Mem­bers of the Pussy Riot punk band and hu­man rights de­fend­ers Igor Kalyapin and Svet­lana Ul­it­skaya are among just a few of those branded with ze­ly­onka in re­cent years. The dye’s use has even spilled into neigh­bor­ing Ukraine where it is used for sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tacks.

A vet­eran ac­tivist, Navalny has been ha­rassed count­less times. In the past year alone, he has been phys­i­cally at­tacked by Cos­sacks, had a cake thrown at him out­side his of­fice in Novosi­birsk, and been pelted with eggs in at least five cities on his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign trail.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s cam­paign man­ager, says the at­tacks are a pre­med­i­tated strat­egy to di­vert the me­dia’s at­ten­tion from the politi­cian’s vi­sion for the county. The re­ports sim­ply fo­cus on scan­dal. “It be­comes unim­por­tant what Navalny spoke about,” he wrote on Face­book. “What mat­ters for clicks is that he was ‘pelted with eggs.’”

For the Krem­lin, Navalny is an un­wel­come guest on Rus­sia’s po­lit­i­cal scene. He was re­cently re-con­victed for fraud, which will ef­fec­tively bar him from run­ning in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But he is con­tin­u­ing his cam­paign re­gard­less: Last month his or­ga­ni­za­tion pub­lished a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev and the politi­cian is plan­ning mass ral­lies later this month.

Un­like in the prom­i­nent killings of Nemtsov or jour­nal­ist Anna Politkovskaya, the use of ze­ly­onka is meant to de­mor­al­ize, rather than de­ter, says an­a­lyst Dmitry Oreshkin. In his view, the dye be­longs to a psy­cho­log­i­cally fo­cussed style of petty at­tacks that emerged dur­ing Putin’s sec­ond term.

It is un­likely that these at­tacks are cen­trally or­ga­nized, says po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Stanislav Belkovsky. “There are de­ci­sions the Krem­lin takes di­rectly and those it doesn’t for­bid others from tak­ing,” he says. “At­tacks such as these are de­cided at a re­gional level.”

Bril­liant Green has the added ad­van­tage of stig­ma­tiz­ing its vic­tims. It is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to wash off, guar­an­tee­ing tar­gets will bear the mark of the “en­emy” for sev­eral days at least. “It serves to hu­mil­i­ate the vic­tim and dis­credit the per­son in the eyes of vot­ers as weak and de­fense­less,” says Oreshkin.

But by now, Oreshkin ar­gues, its in­tended ef­fect has faded. In fact, the op­po­si­tion it­self have started wear­ing green as a badge of honor. Af­ter Navalny was at­tacked in Bar­naul, dozens of his sup­port­ers posted pic­tures of them­selves in green on­line. When Kasyanov was at­tacked at the Nemtsov march, de­fi­ant demon­stra­tors be­gan chant­ing: “You won’t pour ze­ly­onka over us!” Pro-Krem­lin ac­tivists use to frame the op­po­si­tion as out­casts in the eyes of the broader public.

Alexei Navlany has turned the most re­cent at­tack on him­self into an iconic sym­bol of protest.

“It’s be­com­ing unim­por­tant what Navalny spoke about. The me­dia only care that he was egged.” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s cam­paign man­ager

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