Toilet brushes and blue pants: Symbols of Russia's protests

Protesters gather in support of Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, on Jan 23, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW (AFP) - Blue underwear and toilet brushes, snowball barrages and snow graffiti. Russia's burgeoning protest movement in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has seen demonstrators get creative.

Here's a rundown of some bizarre memes and symbols from recent anti-government demonstrations.

Blue underwear

An activist holds an underwear with signs reading "Novichok", referring to a Soviet-style nerve agent, in Saint Petersburg, on Dec 22, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

Since December Russian protesters have hung blue boxer shorts on street signs, posted pictures clad in just blue underwear and held them at protests, in reference to how the country's best-known opposition figure claims he was poisoned.

Mr Navalny, who suffered an attack with the Novichok nerve agent in August, says agents from the Federal Security Services (FSB) placed the toxin in the lining of his blue underwear.

When President Vladimir Putin marked the Orthodox ritual celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ this month by dunking himself in ice-cold water wearing blue swimming trunks, Mr Navalny's allies joked that Mr Putin was sporting his top opponent's undergarments.

Toilet brushes

After spending five months in Germany recovering from the poisoning, Mr Navalny returned to Russia this month and was immediately detained.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner called for mass rallies, spurring on the protests by releasing an investigation into a lavish property on Russia's Black Sea coast that he alleged is owned by Mr Putin.

The complex, which Mr Navalny says cost more than US$1.35 billion (S$1.79 billion), allegedly features everything from an underground ice rink to a casino.

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But what stuck out to the Russian opposition was the reported cost of a high-end toilet brush: 700 euros (S$1,129). Several protesters brought what appeared to be considerably cheaper versions to Saturday's rallies.

Snow tools

At the demonstrations in Moscow, protesters pelted riot police and even a car that reportedly belonged to the FSB with snowballs.

They also wrote their demands, including "Free Navalny", on a snow-covered wall, which a police officer was filmed immediately wiping away.

But the action at times grew violent, with protesters cracking a window of the reported FSB car and the TASS news agency reporting that snowball-throwers damaged the driver's eyesight.

Observers expect authorities to crack down hard on at least several of those who participated.

After protests for fair elections in Moscow in the summer of 2019, courts jailed demonstrators for assaulting law enforcement officials, including one who allegedly tossed a plastic cup at an officer.

In Tarusa south of Moscow, three people were detained for building two snowmen, one of which was photographed holding a sign that read: "Freedom. Truth. Russia".

A meme movement

Russia's own version of the so-called "Q Shaman". PHOTO: INTERNET

Many of the demonstrators expected they would face consequences for attending the rallies, which saw some 3,500 people detained nationwide.

On TikTok, the video-sharing app popular with teenagers, users shared videos of themselves preparing for the protests with a song featuring the lyrics: "I will get jailed".

The power of the internet was visible at the rallies in other ways too.

One viral photo from over the weekend was of police detaining Russia's own version of the so-called "Q Shaman" from the US Capitol riot on Jan 6: a man wearing a fur headdress with horns.

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