Why These Russian Activists Are Painting Their Faces Green


Open many medicine cabinets in Russia, and you’ll likely find a little glass bottle containing an emerald green antiseptic liquid. Called zelyonka, or “Brilliant Green,” it’s used to treat scrapes, cuts, and sores. In recent years, the ointment has become a tool of political warfare: Supporters of President Vladimir Putin reportedly use the indelible salve to publicly attack—and disgrace—leaders of Russia’s opposition party by splashing it on their faces. But as The Moscow Times reports, activists have recently begun donning the green masks as a sign of support for the shamed.

Recent national headlines in Russia have been dominated by a spate of zelyonka attacks. For example, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was reportedly assaulted with the liquid several times (the most recent attack resulted in hospitalization, after Brilliant Green seeped into his right eye). Meanwhile, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov was splashed with zelyonka at a march for assassinated politician Boris Nemtsov. And on April 26, two journalists were pelted with zelyonka.

The dye found in zelyonka is difficult to wash off, so these figures are typically stuck with green faces for days in the wake of an assault. According to members of the opposition party, after an attack occurs, media reports typically focus on the salacious details, and paint those doused in green as feeble and defenseless victims. They argue that these types of attacks—and the articles chronicling them—are intended to weaken morale and undermine their political message.

“It becomes unimportant what Navalny spoke about,” Navalny’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Facebook, according to The Moscow Times. “What matters for clicks is that he was ‘pelted with eggs.’”

Some victims have managed to find humor in the situation, to show their enemies that the dye didn't debase their dignity: “I will be opening a headquarters in Barnaul as if I am from the film The Mask! Cool. Even my teeth are green!” Navalny tweeted after the Barnaul attack, according to The New York Times.

And, with their creative efforts, activists are also trying to make sure green skin loses its stigma: In March, after Navalny was assaulted with zelyonka in the Siberian city of Barnaul, supporters painted themselves green and posted pictures online. And when Kasyanov was attacked at the march in Nemtsov, protestors chanted: “You won’t pour zelyonka over us!”

[h/t The Moscow Times]