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Navalny Supporters Face Real Blowback For Virtual 'Zelyonka' Attack 


A fake image depicting Volgograd's towering Motherland statue doused in green has some seeing red.

Even a virtual alteration of the image of the Motherland can cause outrage in Volgograd, especially when it involves a critic of the Kremlin.

According to local media, residents of the southern Russian city known for its proud military history are calling on prosecutors to look into whether any laws were broken when an altered image of Volgograd's iconic Motherland statue -- with its face and palm painted green -- was posted on a group social-media page maintained by supporters of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

The artificially enhanced image depicting the green-faced monument was posted the same day Navalny was doused with the green topical antiseptic known as "zelyonka" as he campaigned in the Siberian city of Barnaul on March 20.

In recent years, the practice of dousing the opposition and other government critics with zelyonka has become a popular guerrilla political tactic in Russia and in Ukraine.

The brouhaha in Volgograd bubbled over into actual violence on March 24 as Navalny opened his campaign headquarters for the 2018 presidential election in the southern Russian city as part of his recent cross-country tour.

Navalny, who hopes to run despite a politically tinged criminal conviction that legally bars him from seeking public office, was attacked by an angry crowd as he emerged from the building. Riot police intervened in the fracas as Navalny's supporters dragged him back inside.

"They grabbed my legs and started pulling me toward them. [My] volunteers, naturally, grabbed my arms and started pulling me back.... It was a strange feeling. I was thinking: 'Will they tear my legs or my arms off,'" Navalny wrote on his website following the incident.

He suggested the protest was orchestrated and paid for by the Kremlin's political allies.

The dustup came just days after complainants identifying themselves as "veterans and residents of Volgograd and Volgograd Oblast" asked the regional prosecutor's office to assess the legality of the photoshopped Motherland monument and to punish those responsible for "the crime."

Volgograd's 85-meter-high Motherland statue commemorates the 1942 victory by the Soviet Army in the Battle of Stalingrad, since renamed Volgograd. The city was the site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II, and the Soviet victory over surrounding Nazi and other Axis forces is widely considered a turning point of the war and a legendary story of human perseverance.

"We...consider the Navalny team’s nasty act to be a mockery of the symbol of victory and as a spitting in the face of every veteran and every soldier who lost their lives in the name of the liberation from fascism," the V1 news portal quoted the letter as saying.

The letter was reportedly submitted by Andrei Oreshkin, described as the leader of the Volgograd branch of the Search Movement of Russia, a Moscow-based organization that says it's dedicated to perpetuating the memories of those killed defending Russia during World War II.

Responding to the complaint about the image on the "Team Navalny -- Volgograd" group page, supporters of the opposition figure apologized for posting it, admitted it was "inappropriate," and said it had since been removed.

"We regret posting it and apologize it everyone it offended," they wrote. However, they also decried the "absolutely classic propagandistic hysteria being seen in the pro-Kremlin media" and said they "believe that all Russian citizens can distinguish lie and propaganda from truth."

The post also highlighted what it called the "real insult to veterans and citizens of Russia" -- what it described as the precarious state of the Motherland monument. Showing an old photo showing the monument roped off with red-and-white ribbon, the group questioned what the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had done with money allocated for repairs.

Furthermore, the post said that what was also offensive to veterans was "the miserable pensions" provided to them by Russia.

Navalny made light of the incident that resulted in his own face and hand being colored green while meeting with supporters in Barnaul.

"I will be opening our office in Barnaul as a character from the Mask film. Cool. Even my teeth are green,” Navalny tweeted in reference to the superhero fantasy comedy featuring Jim Carrey.

Navalny supporters responded humorously by painting their faces green and posting their own pictures online.

It is unclear whether Volgograd prosecutors have taken any action in response to the complaint lodged by the Search Movement of Russia, or under what law photo alteration could be considered a crime.

Earlier this month, a resident of the Amur region in Russia's Far East was charged with vandalism after allegedly desecrating a memorial dedicated to Russian soldiers killed in the Syrian conflict.

There was no immediate statement from authorities on the violence outside Navalny's campaign headquarters in Volgograd on March 24.

Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, told the RBK newspaper that he was not injured in the incident but that two campaign volunteers were taken away in an ambulance.

Upon arrival in Volgograd earlier that morning, Navalny tweeted a photo of the Motherland statue and paid tribute to the "great monument to great events."

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.