On Femen, Pussy Riot and crosses

 For two
groups of women that have never met, topless Femen and balaclavaed Pussy Riot
have already become seamlessly interwoven in the public mind.  In a part of the world until recently not
know for its protests, the two groups are unmistakably young, female and
confrontational.

Unsurprisingly
the two were pulled even closer together by the free Pussy Riot rallies and
demonstrations that erupted across the world, which saw participants not only
wearing Pussy’s Riot’s signature balaclavas, but often showing their breasts
and painting their bodies in free Pussy Riot slogans in signature FEMEN
style. 

The
overlap went one step farther on the day of the Pussy Riot verdict when FEMEN
activist Inna Shevchenko chain-sawed down a massive wooden cross in central
Kyiv erected on public land by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Though
there are conflicting accounts of which exact group of the Soviet state’s
victims the cross was erected to memorialize, and even if it was done so
legally, Shevchenko later admitted in an interview with Euro Radio’s Liavon Malinovskiy
that the group had not known about the history of the cross. 

Shevchenko,
however, was quick to weave the cross’s history into the protest narrative,
emphasizing that “we can't just think about [politically] repressed old people,
the fact is the same thing we fought against 50 years ago is happening again.”

On their
Live Journal page, Femen described the cutting down of the cross as an “act of
solidarity” with Pussy Riot and called on “all forces in society to mercilessly
saw out the rotten superstitions from their minds that support dictatorship and
prevent the development of democracy and freedom of women.” 

They
also warned Putin and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church that if the Pussy
Riot activists were convicted that Femen would “direct the vengeful blades of
its chainsaws towards the scum responsible for the suffering of innocent
women.”

The
initial protest was followed by calls on Femen’s Facebook page to cut down
crosses across Russia and Ukraine, and photo-shopped images of Femen holding up
the bloodied heads of Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, the patriarch of
the Russian Orthodox Church and the Pope. 

In a
mark of Femen’s international celebrity, only a few weeks later Shevchenko was
in the Netherlands, chainsaw in hand, cutting down a specially constructed
cross at a Free Pussy Riot rally. 

Despite
Femen’s eagerness to associate themselves with Pussy Riot’s rising profile, the
imprisoned members of Pussy Riot have been less eager to link their protests
and goals with Femen’s. 

When
asked about the relationship between Pussy Riot and Femen in a recent interview
with the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Pussy Riot member Mariia Alekhina
emphasized that they “share the same sudden appearance and protest against
authoritarianism, but we look at feminism differently especially the type of
our actions.  We have never stripped and
never will.  The latest action cutting
down the cross unfortunately doesn't create any feeling of solidarity.”

The
felling of the cross, however, has become the defining post-trial moment, further
confusing Femen and Pussy Riot. 

The
Russian state-controlled media was quick to blame the wave of copycat cross
fellings across Russia that followed Femen’s protest on Pussy Riot’s
supporters. 

The head
of the Russia Orthodox Church’s special affairs department, Vsevolod Chaplin, went so far as to claim that
“people who are currently cutting down crosses in the future may turn to
violence and murder.”

The prophecy seemed self-fulfilling when four
days later two women were found murdered in Kazan with the words “Free Pussy
Riot” written on a wall, and the state-controlled media was quick again to
blame Pussy Riot’s followers. 

A man was later arrested for the murder and
confessed to writing the words to throw investigators off of his trail, but
that failed to stop the anti-Pussy Riot rhetoric.

Russian Orthodox Archpriest Dmitiri Smirnov later
claimed the Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” signaled an attack on the church similar
to how the firing of the battleship Aurora’s guns signaled the storming of the
Winter Palace during the October Revolution. 

In another interview with Novaya Gazeta, imprisoned
Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich emphasized that “if we, by way of our actions in the cathedral, were giving a signal
like the Aurora, it was to attack the uncivil politics of authoritarian powers,
of which Putin and his friend Patriarch Kirill have become symbols — the latter
who used his status as a holy man for wholly unholy purposes.”

“We are against any physical destruction of
cultural objects and symbols, including the symbols of the Orthodox religion,” she added later in the
interview.

Those
statements have been supported by Pussy Riot’s only action since the trial
ended: the torching of a giant image ofPutin absent any religious imagery or
reference to the Russian Orthodox Church. 

In their
protests Pussy Riot has focused on Putin as the source of oppression, where
FEMEN has increasingly focused on religion in general.  What both groups have dealt with, however, is
a certain complacency in the relationship between church and state that has
emerged in the post-Soviet space over the past twenty years. 

Pussy
Riot metaphorically attacked the closeness of the Russian Orthodox Church and
the Russian state. 

Femen
literally, and perhaps unwittingly, attacked the crosses that have sprung up
over the past 20 years that have become the
symbol for anti-communism and Soviet atrocities despite the fact that many of
the victims were neither Christian nor religious.

The two
groups also diverge in the direction they have taken since their defining
protests.  Pussy Riot continues to focus
on Russia and Putin, while de-emphasizing their critique of the Russian
Orthodox Church.  Femen, however, has
moved their headquarters to Paris and is now broadening their critique of
religion to include Islam and are planning topless marches through Muslim parts
of the city. 

Ian Bateson is a
freelance American  journalist. Follow Ian Bateson on Twitter @ianbateson

Via: kyivpost.com


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About FEMEN

The mission of the "FEMEN" movement is to create the most favourable conditions for the young women to join up into a social group with the general idea of the mutual support and social responsibility, helping to reveal the talents of each member of the movement.

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