Russian novelist Ulitskaya attacked at awards ceremony: rights group

Moscow (AFP) - Activists on Thursday attacked prominent Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, schoolchildren and other participants at a prize ceremony organised by rights campaign group Memorial, which exposes Stalin-era repression.

Assailants threw bright green antiseptic in the face of 73-year-old Ulitskaya, one of Russia's most popular and celebrated writers, and hurled eggs as well as obscenities and anti-Semitic abuse at others.

Memorial had organised an essay competition for students to improve their knowledge of Russia's 20th century history and held a ceremony in central Moscow on Thursday to announce the winners.

The protesters sought to disrupt the event, suggesting the contest was aimed at rewriting Russia's history and indoctrinating young people, said senior Memorial member Yan Rachinsky.

"They held placards saying 'We don't need alternative history'," Rachinsky, who witnessed the attack, told AFP.

He said the protesters had thrown ammonia in the face of a member of the jury.

Schoolchildren who took part in the competition as well as journalists were also attacked.

"These people are aggressive and illiterate," he said, adding that some wore black-and-orange ribbons that symbolise Soviet victory in World War II and have been adopted by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"This is a symptom of degradation. Such madness is happening for the first time," Rachinsky said.

"These are not Red Guards yet but this is a movement in that direction," he said, referring to Mao Zedong's student movement during China's Cultural Revolution.

- 'Not funny' -

Ulitskaya, who has publicly criticised President Vladimir Putin, said this is what life in Russia increasingly looked like.

"There is a reason to be happy -- it was the antiseptic and not acid," she said in written comments to AFP.

"But I think not about this case but about the fact that a wonderful competition was held among schoolchildren."

Irina Yasina, a liberal economist and rights activist, said police did not intervene during the attacks.

"My assistant Natasha was called a liberal whore," she wrote on Facebook.

Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven, the head of the Moscow office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German think-tank, said the attackers numbered about 20.

"When a delegation from a German foundation came, they started yelling 'Fascists! Fascists!'" he told AFP.

"Some of them were wearing uniforms of soldiers of the Second World War, others were singing patriotic Soviet songs to an accordion and others had cameras to film us."

Roman Zykov, a spokesman for the National Liberation Movement, a pro-Kremlin group, told AFP its activists had picketed the event and held placards against foreigners financing education in Russia.

He insisted however the movement's activists were not involved in the attacks.

Moscow police said that a man who had thrown the antiseptic at Ulitskaya had been detained.

The attack came as Russia prepares to celebrate the 71st anniversary of Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on May 9.

Separately, top anti-Kremlin leader Alexei Navalny also came under attack on Thursday, with two assailants throwing a "blue chemical liquid" at him near his office, he said.

"This is not funny. This will all end in the throwing of acid in the face with the clear support from police and security services," he wrote on his blog.

Kremlin critics accuse Putin of whipping up anti-opposition hysteria since returning for a third term in 2012 after huge opposition protests.

Earlier this year opposition leaders and activists including Navalny and former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov became victims of cake-throwing attacks.

Opposition supporters say that a vocal Kremlin critic and former deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, was also taunted by activists before he was assassinated near the Kremlin in February 2015.