Since its formation in 2008, the Ukrainian
feminist movement Femen has been a source of much controversy with their
topless protests against the discrimination of women in what they call
Ukraine's patriarchal post-Soviet society.
In a 2011 interview with Radio Liberty, the
movement’s mastermind, Anna Hutsol, explained that “it is not enough to just go
out and demonstrate and set up tents. You need to carry out some kind of action
so as to get maximum play from the situation and to attract maximum
According to her logic: "Topless protests
are probably the strongest and most effective form of peaceful and nonviolent
protests to attract attention. You can throw a grenade, go on hunger strike,
blow something up or shoot someone. Or you can go out topless."
Maybe there was some merit in that argument
femen was first
organized to draw attention to the sex trade and its resulting human
trafficking, which is so prevalent in Ukraine and came up with the slogan
“Ukraine is not a brothel.”
did make some sense in terms of attracting attention to that particular issue.
As well, stripping to the waist in their February protest in Moscow against
Russia’s state monopoly Gazprom’s “anti-Ukraine gas terror” in charging
exorbitant prices in order to force Ukraine under Vladimir Putin’s jackboot,
was effective. On a day the temperature was -22 degrees Celsius, with a
wind-chill factor of – 31, that certainly showed dedication to their cause.
But as Canadian communications guru Marshall
MacLuhan once put it, “the medium is the message” and, in Femen’s case, the
medium has completely overpowered the message. In an attempt to find some
official statement on what Femen stands for, we did several Google searches and
came up with dozens of salacious ”photo news” reports containing hundreds of
pictures of attractive young women baring their breasts with the most minimal
coverage of the issues they were protesting. Their own website was still under
construction (as of August 30) and contained only a picture of yet another
nubile young nymph with her naked breasts patriotically painted blue and yellow
and the most profound slogan underneath – “We Came. We Stripped. We Conquered.”
Had Julius Caesar been aware of such an ingenious strategy, he would have
inevitably replaced his centurions with a phalanx of Vestal Virgins.
Far more disturbing, however, are the shock
tactics they have begun to utilize most recently. July 26 a half naked member
of Femen rushed to Moscow Patriarch Kirill upon his arrival at Kyiv’s Boryspil
Airport with her back emblazoned with the slogan: “Kill Kirill.” While there is
a legitimate reason to protest Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Ukraine as it was
intended to promote Russia’s imperial interests, advocating killing anyone
strips you of your civil protest status and makes you nothing less than an
advocate for terrorism. Could that have been the intention?
But, the lowest point to which Femen has sunk
was on Aug. 17 when Inna Shevchenko desecrated a Christian cross memorial in
Kyiv dedicated to the millions of victims who perished in the Holodomor and
under the USSR anti-religious campaign, especially those who suffered in the
Soviet persecution of Ukrainian Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, by
chopping it down with a chainsaw.
Ostensibly this was an act of solidarity with
the Russian women’s punk rock band Pussy Riot who has been sentenced after
performing what they called a "punk prayer" at a landmark Moscow church
in protest against Vladimir Putin's decision to return to the Kremlin as
president for a third term.
While we may question Pussy Riot’s tactics,
there certainly are grounds to question the election that returned Putin to the
presidency and there is a valid reason to question the entire process which has
allowed Putin to install a neo-fascistic regime in Russia, which Ukrainian
dictator Victor Yanukovych emulates so closely.
But why desecrate a monument to the victims of
Stalin’s reign of terror in the process? It makes absolutely no sense.
Ironically, Femen stated its purpose in
cutting down the cross was to show solidarity with the victims of the “Kremlin
priests’ regime”, undoubtedly a reference to the collusion between the Moscow
Patriarchate and Putin’s dictatorship.
But the only thing they accomplished in
cutting down the cross dedicated to victims of Stalinism was to denigrate the
memory of the victims of Stalin’s terror and the religious faithful who were
martyred for their refusal to bow down to the Kremlin-controlled Moscow
Patriarchate during the Soviet era.
In doing so, they succeeded only in giving a
huge boost to Vladimir Putin and his Stalin revisionism movement designed to
bring back the “glory” of the USSR and put the world’s greatest mass murderer
back on the pedestal, while imposing a 21st century variant of his
ideology on the “Near Abroad”.
Perhaps they made an error, not realizing that
the cross they cut down was not one that represented the imperialist Moscow
Patriarchate, but the victims of Stalinism.
If so they haven’t made any statement
apologizing, or even acknowledging this fact.
But, even so, ignorance is no excuse.
Why desecrate crosses? The one group best
known for performing such acts is the White Supremacist Ku-Klux-Klan (burning
crosses was their specialty). Is that who Femen wants to be associated with?
If Femen has a problem with the
"misogynist policies" of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, they can
express their views in a critical, but thoughtful manner. They claim the right
to speak out against churches in a free society. Fair enough. But in a free
society they cannot deny that same right – in this case, the right to worship —
to those billions who choose to do so. Desecration of religious symbols, be
they Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other faith — is a
denial of the right of faithful people to worship, to express themselves and it
is a denial of their basic freedoms. If non-believers expect believers to
respect their rights, then they, in turn must also respect the rights of
In the one website we found which actually
contained some substance as to Femen’s goals and philosophies among the
bare-breasted barrage of photos our Google search showed up, we found such
“We unite young women basing on the principles
of social awareness and activism, intellectual and cultural development.
“We recognise the European values of freedom,
equality and comprehensive development of a person irrespective of the gender.
“To build up the image of Ukraine, the country
with great opportunities for women.”
Did they build up the image of Ukraine by
desecrating a monument to victim of the Holodomor? Did they recognize the
European values of freedom? Did they unite young women on the basis of social
No, they set back the image of Ukraine, set
back the women’s equality movement in Ukraine and defiled the memory of the
victims of Stalinism. And the person who has benefited most from Femen’s
actions is none other than Vladimir Putin himself. Could Femen actually be
another of those devious KGB fronts set up to discredit the opposition that
Putin is so well-known for creating?
Marco Levytsky is the editor and publisher of Ukrainian News, a bi-weekly newspaper distributed across Canada.