Ukrainian feminist group Femen, famous for its breast-baring protests, was founded and is controlled by a man named Victor Svyatski, according to a new documentary called “Ukraine is not a Brothel.”
According to a new documentary called “Ukraine is not a Brothel,” feminist group Femen was founded and is controlled by a man who says women are “weak” and “bitches.”
Australian filmmaker Kitty Green, 28, outed Victor Svyatski, previously known as a “consultant” to the group, as the founder and mastermind of Femen, famous for its breast-baring protests.
Her film, “Ukraine is not a Brothel,” debuted at the Venice Film Festival this week.
Green describes Svyatski as charismatic, but questions his influence over the women in the group. She spent a year living with four members of Femen in a tiny Kiev apartment and filming their stunts.
“He can be really horrible but he is fiercely intelligent,” she said of Svyatski in an exclusive interview with The Independent.
Initially Green did not know Svyatski, who claims he was badly beaten by the Ukraine secret service for being linked to the group, ran Femen, but she eventually realized he was the one in control.
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“Once I was in the inner circle, you can’t not know him,” she said, “He is Femen.”
He refused to be a part of the film at first, but Green would not back down.
“It was a big moral thing for me because I realized how this organization was run. He was quite horrible with the girls. He would scream at them and call them bitches.”
In the documentary, Svyatski discusses the irony of being a “patriarch” running a feminist group and says, “these girls are weak” and “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,” Svyatski says in the film. “These are qualities which it was essential to teach them.”
When asked if his initial goal in starting Femen was “to get girls,” he says: “Perhaps yes, somewhere in my deep subconscious.”
He even admits to selecting the “prettiest girls” for the topless protests himself.
The Femen movement has spread its messages of “nudity is liberty,” “better naked than in a burqa” and “our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts” across the world. One of its members, 18-year-old Tunisian activist Amina Sboui, scandalized her country when she posted topless photos of herself online with the words “my body is my own” written across her torso.
She had to go into hiding after receiving death threats, but later reemerged and was caught writing “Femen” on a cemetery wall near the city of Kairouan’s main mosque.
If Femen was set up by a man, where does that leave its topless protests?
In June 2011, it was revealed that Amina Abdallah Araf – the woman behind the A Gay Girl in Damascus blog – did not exist. The person behind it was revealed to be an American student at Edinburgh University, Tom McMaster. The disappointment was palpable; authenticity – on the web, and elsewhere – is a prized attribute, and when it is eroded, people understandably get angry.
Now Australian film-maker Kitty Green has named Victor Svyatski as the wizard behind the curtain of Ukrainian feminist group Femen. Green alleges that Svyatski not only supports the group, as Femen had previously acknowledged, but actually founded the organisation, as well hand-selecting the “prettiest girls” for their topless protests. Love or loathe Femen – and it is no secret that I am no fan of theirs – this is plain depressing.
For the documentary, Ukraine Is Not a Brothel, which is being shown at the Venice film festival, Green recorded an interview with Svyatski in which he acknowledges he may have started the group to meet women. His reply is a masterclass in how to cop out: “Perhaps yes, somewhere in my deep subconscious.”
Did we guess that something might have been going on? The clues were there. Topless protests featuring mostly skinny, “pretty” European women. The slogans: “Our mission is protest, our weapons are bare breasts”, “Nudity is liberty” and “Better naked than in a burqa”, gave off an unpleasant stench but didn’t necessarily point to a male svengali figure in the background.
Women have proven themselves to be just as capable of insensitivity and bullish action: asking for a “topless jihad” could have easily been the idea of a man or woman. And the aggression and ferocity of their protests did not automatically raise red flags – aggression is not the sole preserve of men, and women have a lot to be angry about. (Have a read of the @EverydaySexism Twitter feed if you don’t believe me).
The Independent reports that Inna Shevchenko, the lead campaigner of the group, will be attending the premiere of the film at Venice today, along with other members of Femen. This seems a little fishy. How real is this story? Femen have been incredibly adroit users of the media – is this yet another way of gaining attention for their next campaign? It’s more than a little worrying that some people think Femen capable of these machinations, rather than seeing them for their primary objective: being a credible feminist protest group looking to effect change.
If it is true, there emerges an over-arching Charlie’s Angels narrative of the male impresario and the young women who need a guiding hand. It is a potent trope – we respond to it even as we rail against it. It persists in hip-hop, for example, where women rappers are routinely accused of being ghost written by men, and also in pop: from Phil Spector and the Ronettes to Simon Cowell and his X Factor empire.
In Green’s film, Svyatski talks of the campaigners needing a firm hand as they lack strength of character – and he is the one who will teach it to them. “They show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors which prevent them from becoming political activists. These are qualities which it was essential to teach them.”
No one is saying men can’t be involved in the feminist struggle. Allies are an important component in the march towards equality But if you have friends like this, who needs enemies?
Femen a take on the male Semen? Victor is short in statue – a small man – a little man syndrome type, a self-made svengali pimp, who does indeed look like someone who needed help in getting a pretty woman but one might also surmise he’s into making an even bigger bang for the buck. How better than a “stable” of bare-breasted, aggressive, exhibitionist, activist, woman’s group, full of hand-selected pretty women, to make you a millionaire. Pure Genius! Never underestimate the power an immoral man without principles can exert over women, including the feminists who enthusiastically supported FEMEN throughout the West. Does anyone believe that Victor Svyatski lost any sleep over the girls arrested in Tunisa, or the ones stripped and abandoned in Belarus? I suppose a better question would be whether the feminists who endorsed this pimp’s efforts feel any remorse for their part in the scam.
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