Naked Ambition

So Putin has been “elected” Russia’s president for a third time. Well, some remain unwilling just to accept this lying down – er, fully clothed. Yes, one of the world’s favorite protest groups swung into action yesterday in Moscow to protest Russia’s crooked election. The group calls itself Femen, and it’s a media-favorite mainly due to its attention-getting tactics – so time-tested and traditional, in a way, yet now employed for political ends: they are all comely young women, and they take their tops off.

The result is frequent intriguing headlines such as Women Go Topless Against Putin and the like. (Click if you will, but the photo-series is of course rated PG.) But there is another aspect to this group’s operations that is intriguing as well, if one can pull one’s eyes away from the fleshly dazzle. For Femen is a Ukrainian organization – so what are they doing in Moscow, and what do they care about Putin?

Actually, this Moscow altercation – which apparently earned its Femen protagonists several days in jail, and which took place at the very same polling-station where Putin himself was scheduled to come vote, naturally: this has emerged as a standard Femen tactic – was a romp in the park compared to the group’s protest action in Minsk last December against the dictator there, Aleksandr Lukashenko. The Belarussian KGB – they still call it that there – proved itself to be quite unimpressed with the charms on display; they not only rather roughly arrested the Femen protestors, but then took them off to the woods to terrorize them for a bit, including cutting off their hair. But of course they did not want to go too far, given the constant media attention these women enjoy, and which to some extent is their protective shield even as they otherwise leave themselves naked.

Still: Ukraine, Belarus, Moscow – OK, it was once all one country, and many cultural similarities remain. But Femen activists have also reportedly been spotted in Milan, protesting in some way or another against the fashion industry. I couldn’t find much material on that, but what I do have is recent reports about how the Austrian political scene is about to get a bit more interesting. Yes, a two-woman Femen delegation – that’s them in the picture up above – recently traveled to Vienna to give the Austrian Green Party political-action tips. According to the report in the authoritative Austrian newspaper Die Presse, that included a how-to session on “boob prints,” which have turned out to be the #1 money-raising article from their Femenshop. (Unfortunately, the text on that webpage is only in Cyrillic – probably Ukrainian – which likely means that those too far removed from Kiev could find it difficult to mail-order the goods on display here. Any enterprising Western Internet-business(wo)man interested in helping out?) The German newsmagazine Focus actually has a photo-series showing them at their press conference, making the aforesaid print; the rather more staid Die Presse limits itself to collecting juicy quotes from the Femen representatives, such as “We want to show how you do it: go out onto the streets, disrobe, and win!” and that they all still call their mothers every day, who invariably ask “whether we are dressing warmly enough.”

In the final analysis, though, Austria is another culture entirely, as is Milan, so it is a significant step outward into the world. Why would the girls of Femen want to stop there? What I’m suggesting is that we might be seeing here the beginnings of the next great transnational political movement. Yes, after the Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s time to take it from the top!

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