The Ukrainian women’s rights group Femen, known for their topless demonstrations, opened their first foreign office in Paris on Tuesday and marked it by painting the slogans “Muslims let’s get naked”, “I am free” and “Notre dieu est une femme” (Our God is a woman) on their bare chests and marching through the city’s (predominantly Muslim) 18th arrondissement.
Femen attacks are a test for democracy for each of the countries we visit and we always show the real political situation of the country. So let's see what happens in France when Femen does its first protest that can be seen as officially representing us in the country
Femen’s strong ties with women in France became apparent in August when four of their French activists represented them at a protest against The Olympics in London, which we filmed. They initially formed to fight against the sex trade in Ukraine but now consider themselves an international organisation, heavily opposing Sharia Law with their “Better naked than the burqa” campaign.
Inna Shevchenko, the activist who we spoke to for the September issue of Dazed & Confused, took part in last week's march having left Ukraine after she used a saw to take down a wooden crucifix in Kiev in support of Pussy Riot. She told The Guardian that French feminists invited Femen to open their first European headquarters or “training centre” in Paris: "Before then we thought of France as a first world and already feminist country that didn't really need us. Since arriving, I have met many Frenchwomen and they say they need to start the fight again. We are bringing a new face, new blood, a new fight to feminism."
Dazed Digital: Life in France is quite different than for women in Ukraine so why did you decide to start the training centre in the French capital?
Inna Shevchenko: First of all, we should say that Femen became an international ideology a long time ago. And it happened by itself, just once we saw that women of different nationalities were wearing Ukrainian venoks (flowers in their hair) and calling themselves Femen. Now we have activists in more than 10 countries. So we had a dream to unite all of our soldiers and to have a center for our army that will be a place where we can prepare our attacks and teach new soldiers to participate.
And the same way, as in other countries, French women came up with an idea that they needed Femen and we protested together with 15 fucking brave women who took off their t-shirts near Trocadéro in Paris. But France has always been a feminist country and we found a lot of supporters and people who said that they needed a new face for feminism and that is Femen. So it was possible to start a training centre in France with the support of people who helped us to find a free place for the center that is Labour Moderne theatre. France is the base of our army now but our location for our activity is all over the world.
DD: What will you be teaching women?
Inna Shevchenko: It is a place to prepare new soldiers for Femen attacks. We are going to destroy patriarchy. Each Femen activist is well prepared physically and morally. We do physical training: we run because on the protests we are running straight to face our enemies, we are jumping because we protest on official locations that we need to reach suddenly, we take care of our muscles because we are fighting with policemen.
DD: You marched bare chested through the 18th arrondissement on Tuesday. What was the reaction like?
Inna Shevchenko: The reaction was different as always, some people were aggressive, some women were inspired. But we have not been arrested as in my country or other dictator countries. But I say that Femen attacks are a test for democracy for each of the countries we visit and we always show the real political situation of the country. So let's see what happens in France when Femen does its first protest that can be seen as officially representing us in the country.
Follow Fiona Cook on Twitter here: @FionaWCook