While fears of unpreparedness, violence, and other possible problems in Ukraine during the Euro 2012 games proved unwarranted, one was realized: topless girls from a scandalous Ukrainian activist group called Femen.
Showing up blouseless throughout the duration of the championship, with anti-Euro slogans, the organization even managed to get one of it’s operatives into the cage of a psychic pig, Funtik, and flash him in front of the fans. As Femen explained in its blog, the group was outraged by the ghetto of soccer fans and alcohol in the center of Kyiv, as well as by UEFA’s feeding fans beer and prostitutes, thus turning them into pigs.
The girls have been the most visible and controversial activist group in Ukraine since 2008 – protesting, mostly against sexism, attempting to empower women by showing their boobs in public. The group has staged many loud protests throughout the years and their presence during the European Cup is its most recent. While the male population seems to like some aspects of their protests, Femen hasn’t proved popular among Ukrainians. Is there any point in Femen’s actions or are they just an annoying, topless sore that keeps popping up here and there, disturbing the public and angering officials?
The first protest organized by Femen took place in the summer of 2008 and was called “ Ukraine is Not a Brothel”, an attempt to bring global and local attention to the problem of sex-tourism and prostitution in Ukraine. After that there were protests to uncover the unhealthy relationships between college teachers and students — trading sex for grades. Femen protested a beauty contest for casting models as sex-toys. It even flashed its breasts at the political processes in Ukraine, such as the presidential elections in 2010, among others. Notorious protesters undress even in the cold Ukrainian winter, when the temperature sometimes drops below negative twenty five degrees, Celsius (-13F)
According to Femen’s Wikipedia page, some financial backing comes from individuals, including creative professionals and businessmen. Jed Sunden, the publisher of the Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper in Ukraine, is mentioned as one of the main supporters of the group.
The movement is often called tasteless or incoherent, and some even doubt the motivation behind it, but in a society where disappointment and passivity have been the general mood over the past years, having such a bold activist group seems to be a positive thing.
In Ukraine, human rights, and women’s rights in particular, need support and attention. The Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies estimated that in 2011 about 50,000 women were involved in prostitution and, of those, one in six is a minor. Ukrainian mail-order brides often end up in dangerous situations abroad, facing physical and emotional abuse. For years there have existed various forms of human trafficking, leading to young girls being sex workers abroad, without documents and no way out. Women’s role is still sidelined in politics and business while gender issues receive very limited attention. Femen attempts to raise the awareness of these issues and whether they get their point across or not, the girls stir things up a little bit.
It’s too bad that during the organization’s Euro 2012 protests the government seemed to be getting harsh, attempting to get Femen under control – showing the girls their place, as it’s supposed to be in a male-dominated environment. At a soccer game in Donetsk, Ukrainian police arrested a few members of the group, and according to Femen’s blog posts, mistreated them in jail, as this photo of a bruised back shows.
It seems that in order for Femen to get more positive reaction and gain the respect of the Ukrainian public, their actions should become less aggressive and more coherent. Otherwise, if they, like the Russian girls from the punk band Pussy Riot, end up behind bars and are added to the prisoners of conscience list, it will be hard to raise funds for legal fees without public support, always useful when using public nudity to change the world.