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Steve Weatherbe

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Baring breasts in St. Peter’s Square: Femen activists protest Pope Francis

Steve Weatherbe

Three members of the Ukrainian feminist protest troupe called Femen performed simulated obscene acts with crucifixes in St. Peter’s Square until police and an onlooker wrestled them screaming into police cars and drove them away. They indicated in more ways than one they were protesting Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the European Parliament.

Religion is one of the three main targets for the mostly pretty, mostly blonde, always young women who have been baring their upper bodies since 2008, initially at the direction of a sinister mastermind named Victor Syvatski, who was exposed in a documentary last year.

Tourism prostitution in Ukraine is another target, and dictatorship is the third. In Rome last week two of the three women had “Keep it Inside” written in English on their backs, a clumsy reference both to their blasphemous antics with the sacred depictions of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and their opposition to any appearance by a religious leader in a secular political forum.

The women kicked and screamed “Pope is not a magician. Pope is not a politician” as police and one member of the public, a Ghanaian-born man named Caramba herded them into vehicles, and tourists snapped pictures and took videos.  

The group began in Ukraine in 2008 but has since moved its operations to the tolerant West.

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Bared breasts and automatic coverage on the evening news together make perhaps the only consistent theme running through a scatterbrained, scattershot assault that puzzles even feminists. While generally hostile to religion the group has protested interference by the Russian state in the Russian Orthodox Church. They have also flashed Russia’s patriarch and last year made their first appearance at St. Peter’s Square.

They saluted Pope Francis’ succession to Pope Benedict XVI with the same bared breasts with which they now condemn his trip to the European Parliament. And they invade Parisian fashion shows to protest the objectification of women by baring their breasts—surely a far more frequent target of male objectification than the anorexic models seen on the haute couture runways.

A Ghanaian man named Caramba told Aleteia News Service he tried to cover one of the women with his jacket but she resisted. He then helped police remove her—mainly to get her out of the sight of families with children. “They do it to cause trouble, knowing that many people will take photos, and so I immediately took hold of her by force and we put her in the police car.”

The Femen group’s own website described their Vatican caper thus: “Three FEMEN appeared in Vatican, at the St. Peter Square to denounce the visit of Pope Francis in EU Parliament on November 25th.  FEMEN protest against a direct attack on secularism led by Catholic Church. FEMEN advised to keep religious morals together with Pope ‘in private place,’ illustrating it by putting catholic cross in the holy ****.”

In her 2013 documentary on Femen, Ukraine Is Not A Brothel, Australian filmmaker Kitty Green reveals the ardent foes of patriarchy to be paradoxically under the thrall of a mysterious man named Victor Syvatski, the group’s co-founder. Syvatski says on camera of his protégées, “They don’t have the strength of character. They don’t even have the desire to be strong. Instead, they show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors which prevent them from becoming political activists.”

Asked point blank if he started the group to get sex partners, he replies, “Perhaps yes, somewhere in my deep subconscious.”

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