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Under attack

Interview: Olga Vesnjanka / sadJuly 29, 2013

Anna Hutsol, the founder of the Ukrainian feminist movement Femen, was recently attacked at a café in Kyiv. She describes how activists are coming under more pressure - and how that is spurring on their work.

Anna Hutsol - Gründerin und Leiterin von Femen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Frolova Maria

DW: How would you describe the most recent disturbing events around your women's rights group Femen? You were personally attacked, your personal advisor was beaten by strangers, and activists with your movement were arrested.

Anna Hutsol: Intimidation against the Femen movement is continuing. It's part of an attempt to hinder protest actions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Vladimir Gundyaev [also known as Kirill]. As fighters for freedom and democracy, we've repeatedly carried out actions in Russia and Ukraine - against the dictator Putin and the increasing influence of the church patriarchy upon public opinion. We even had an action in Hannover [Germany]. There's always the attempt to stop us and repress the protests. The horrifying attacks against us over the past few days represent the personal retribution of Putin and Gundyaev.

In this April 4, 2013 file photo, FEMEN activists protest in front of the Tunisian Consulate in Milan, Thursday, April 4, 2013. The radical feminists, calling for more sexual freedom for Arab women, were protesting in support of a young Tunisian woman who received online death threats from ultraconservative Muslims after posting topless photos of herself online. Women's rights activists across the middle east fear the topless protests may hurt their cause more than help it. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Topless Femen protesters in Tunisia have caught heat from both men and women in the largely Muslim countryImage: picture-alliance/AP

Why do you believe that?

Last year, our activist Yana Zhdanova protested topless against Patriarch Kirill as he traveled to Ukraine for celebrations around the anniversary of the Kievan Rus [the conversion to Christianity in the Middle Ages of the Slavic state comprising Russia, Belarus and Ukraine]. She wanted to protest against the imprisonment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Her slogan was "Kill Kirill." Putin felt personally offended, as well. For that reason, I can confidently state in the name of the whole movement that the Russian secret service - working with Ukrainian agencies and police - is behind the Femen attacks.

It was also clear that the secret service was responsible for the recent abduction of some of our activists and a photographer. The Femen women were beaten, and are now being accused in court. Attacks on me and my personal advisor Victor Svyatskiy could also be attributed to criminals. The Ukrainian security service (SBU) claims to not have been involved, of course. But each attack carries the same signature. It's all part of systematic persecution by security services.

I understand persecution and surveillance all too well, as I had to experience it during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. The people who attacked me were very similar to those secret service types: typical handbags and shirts, with phones at their ears. The people who chased Victor Svyatskiy looked the same from afar. Perhaps they're not directly employed by the SBU, but all of this is happening with the agency's tacit approval. Maybe Russian and Ukrainian security services have worked together on this. In any case, this bears a Russian hallmark.

Femen founder Anna Hutsol with beaten face
Anna Hutsol after the attackImage: Femen

Do you believe that those responsible for the attacks against Femen will be tracked down and brought to justice?

I do not believe this. But we have notified the police, as what's involved are criminal acts.

Do you intend to organize your actions differently in light of recent events?

It's terrible. It's clear that we'll have to discuss how to go about our business in the future. Maybe we'll need bodyguards. The attacks were meant to intimidate us. But you're either an activist, or you're not. Either you give up - and everything was in vain - or you keep on going. The recent events have deeply affected and shocked us! We see how our country has not changed for the better, has even moved farther from democracy. This means that now, we have more to do than ever. Each of us has to understand that our work must be intensified. But it has to be clear to all of us that there can be repression.

Anna Hutsol heads up the Femen movement in Ukraine. The women's rights group has garnered attention with its topless protests against sexism, homophobia, prostitution and religious prescriptions. The movement was founded in 2008 in Ukraine, and has since established branches in Paris and Berlin.