Anna Hutsol and Viktor Svyatsky, FEMEN, Kiev

November 2009

Russian transcription by Olga Zelinska

Translation and editing by Sophie Pinkham

Sophie Pinkham: Please tell me your names, ages, and where you work.

Anna Hutsol: My name is Anna Hutsol.  I’m 25.  I work in show business and in FEMEN.

SP: In show business?  What do you do there?

AH: I organize concerts.  Now not so much, because there aren’t many concerts.

SP: How did you start working with FEMEN?

AH: FEMEN has existed since April 2008.  Not long, but I think we’ve already succeeded in doing a lot.  Two other girls from FEMEN and I have been involved with social programs for a long time.  We work with social organizations, women’s organizations.  We started wanting to make a real women’s movement in Ukraine, the kind we don’t have here.

Viktor Svyatsky: Not just in Ukraine–there isn’t one in Europe.

AH: There isn’t something that unites everyone and that all girls like.  So we start with young women who will grow up, girls who have a bit of a hard time in our country.  It’s a little more complicated for them since our country has different priorities, kind of patriarchal.  We made an organization that would be more lighthearted, more interesting, full of burning issues but at the same time colorful.  We need a show, a shock, a scandal.  Just to bring society’s awareness to women’s issues.  Because in our country, in most cases…no one worries about women’s problems.  Politicians are busy with their own affairs.  We do everything we can to make this problem known, and to solve it.  So that people know about it and make decisions and take action.  So that’s how FEMEN happened—a combination of social [activities] and something from show business.

VS: Like Arnold Schwarzenegger…  (Laughs.)  And California doesn’t understand how it could be.  The governor is the Terminator.  (Laughs.)  That’s how it happened with us.  It seems like social work is something boring.  Here, go organize a round table…  And we show that it’s fun.  Like Greenpeace…I think that soon we’ll surpass the whole world.  The thing is that we’re a very poor country.  We have no funds that give us millions of dollars to fight against AIDS so we could rent costumes.  If there were money we’d get helicopters.  And make a show.  We’re very creative.  We don’t need anything for an action.  We sit at a table and talk—that’s all we have, we can’t use anything else.  We have shoes, lipstick, bags, paper and pencils for signs.  Unlike Greenpeace we can’t seize a whole island, when you’re a whole company with millions.  When people are giving you millions it’s easy to do…it’s very complicated when you have no government support, nothing else.  FEMEN exists on almost no money.  On principle, we don’t take money from politicians.  Our politicians are a mafia.  We don’t work with them, though we get proposals every day.  Take this money and say that we supported you.  We don’t take it.  So we’re poor, but happy…

AH: With big money you lose enthusiasm and the wish to find something new.  You go along the standard way, the way everyone with money takes.  That’s all.

VS: Plus—we’re a women’s organization.

SP: Can you introduce yourself?

VS: Vitya Svyatsky, volunteer in the FEMEN movement.

SP: And why is this interesting for you?

VS: Because I’m a feminist.  So that’s why…

SP: And why are you a feminist?

VS: …Why not be a feminist?  A person who understands the situation of women in Ukraine, in Europe, who understands, who delves into it, who doesn’t just use [women], but perceives [them] as people, can’t not be a feminist.  It’s enough to see women as people—you’re already a feminist….I think it’s normal, it’s not nonsense.  All my best friends are women.

Now you arrived, it’s not some guy sitting in front of me, you’re a girl from New York who came to research something.  You work, not some guy, but you, you command respect.  It’s normal.

SP: …I did a lot of interviews with great women who do a lot on gender, for women…but they always say, “I’m not a feminist…”

VS: Absurd!  How can you do social work and be in the grips of such terrible stereotypes that are already a hundred years old?  If you work on gender, understand the history of feminism.  Understand just a little bit about how it developed, and understand that you have been stricken by false ideas and false understanding of feminism.  Feminists are Frenchwomen, and they are the smartest women…

AH: We’re very lucky that here [in the café] we have a very loyal collective.  They all help us, love us, always follow the press.  They say—oh, we saw you yesterday on the news…They let us have huge meetings here, let us make noise.  You could say they’re our FEMEN colleagues.  (Laughs.)

SP: How many of you are there?

AH: In the organization?  Our organization is always changing.  We don’t count heads.  But in all I think there are about 300 people.  That’s the number of “sympathizers.”  In Kiev we have about 50 girls who are activists.  And 20 girls who make decisions, take care of preparations.  That is, we have those kinds of differentiations—these 300 people come to actions, to the movie club—that is, come sometimes.  And there’s a group that always works.  It’s always changing.  It’s good, because we’re always adding new people.

VS: Our goal is not to make a static collective, but to have all the girls in Kiev take part in our actions at some point.  So they took part in two actions—it’s good.  You don’t want to come to the third—you don’t have to.  The main thing is that we want to be like a big meat grinder that works through a lot of people.  We don’t make it static.  We’re not making a Komsomol or Boy Scouts, that make a system.  Those ideas are foreign to us.

AH: Those who come stay there consciously, as a choice.

VS: FEMEN is the most well-known of these kinds of unions in Kiev.  The most youthful.  We have lots of people.  And not just people.  We have lots of bright, smart girls.  And show business support.  Lots of people…sympathizers, helpers, indirect and direct.  Who take part in actions.

AH: And on the internet in “Vkontakte” [the Russian analogue of Facebook] we have a group with 2000 people, from all over Ukraine.  Plus Russia, Belarus…

VS: So we’re making a kind of political party.  There are organizations that are just two people sitting there and writing reports.  For example, Human Rights Watch.  They sit at computers and write.  That’s not an organization.  That’s bosh.  That’s not a citizen’s initiative.  Two employees…It’s not activism.  Of course, they get paid money—they sit.  It’s all nonsense.

SP: Let me tell you, they don’t get paid a lot…

VS: It’s boring.  We don’t want to do research.  We want to make a subject worthy of research.

SP: And what are your main goals?

AH: First of all—women’s activism.  Because we see a lot of girls pass through, and we want to impart activism to them.  As a position in life.  That you have to be active and then every part of your life will be more successful.  That’s the general, global goal of uniting girls.

Apart from that—defending women’s rights.  Rights in general.  We have a lot of projects not directly related to women’s rights.

VS: And at the same time, every social problem is connected with women’s rights.

AH: Connected with women’s rights, but not directly.  Like defending students in dormitories from having the hot water turned off isn’t directly related to women’s rights, but all the same it has some relation.  Or protests related to politicians in the country.  Women should take an interest in everything—starting with personal problems and ending with the general political situation in the country.  That’s what we try to do.

VS: We make activism not just a hobby, but an element of women’s sexuality.  That is, we demonstrate that beauty is not possible without activism.  That there is no passive beauty.  We have a lot of supermodels, supermodels in Ukraine, in America.  She’s beautiful, but whatever.  You understand what I’m talking about.  A stringbean.  She went out, walked by the podium, sat down…whatever!

AH: You have to be a person!

VS: We show that activism is charm.  Activity is charm.  It’s charming to not be indifferent.  It’s a communication skill.  It’s a lot.  Inactive girls can’t be sexy on principle.  Even sexuality—it’s activity.  A specific one, but activity.  And social activism is the highest form of a person’s activity.  It makes him a complex, complete, full, finished person.

That’s the kind of activity we produce.  And then we direct this activity to the resolution of specific problems facing women.  Given that in Ukraine there are a lot of them.

AH: Unfortunately, it’s true.  The main program of our work, our action, is a national program against sex tourism and prostitution in Ukraine: “Ukraine is not a bordello.”  That’s our main sphere of work, one of the most important, because that’s one of the most painful and acute problems in our country.

We work actively on this, have organized a lot of actions, events.  The main thing is that we’ve brought this problem to the government level and have already promoted a legislative initiative, it just has to be voted on [in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament]…we’re working completely, in a complex way.  We didn’t just raise the problem, we’re proposing a method, a solution.  And we will solve this problem.

SP: What solution do you want?

VS: The first step.  We don’t see prostitution and sex tourism as two separate problems.  The government separates them.  Prostitution is something internal…we’ll start even deeper.  We believe that prostitution is the greatest form of debasement of women.  The greatest form of debasement and oppression.  We’ve been working for a long time in this field, with total responsibility we can say that voluntary prostitution does not happen.  People are always pushed into prostitution by more or less harsh circumstances…We have no tradition of selling your body…If there are prostitutes in Ukraine, you can be sure that they’re victims of circumstance.  Sometimes very harsh circumstances.  We show that prostitution—it’s not [about] a girl-prostitute.  It’s [about] a pimp.

AH: It’s an industry.

VS: Prostitution always goes under the cover of the relationship between two people—a man and a woman.  The man has the right to buy the woman, and the woman has the right to sell herself to the man.  Ethical or unethical, moral or immoral.  (With sarcasm.)

They forget about the pimp, the main subject in prostitution.  He determines whether she’s ready to sell herself.  He finds someone who’s ready to buy her, and inspires him with demand to buy.  He’s the main subject.

Understanding this theme, we understood that prostitution isn’t a relationship between a man and a woman.  A man and a woman—that’s love, or hate, or something else.  It can’t be prostitution.

SP: In Ukraine there aren’t a lot, but in Europe there are many organizations of sex workers.  And they fight for the rights of sex workers, and think that there will always be prostitution.  And when a woman does [sex work], it needs to be as safe as possible, and the woman should [be able to] do it freely.  What do you think?

VS: I think that such things should be eradicated, in general.  Take the ground out from under them.  Don’t fight them, fight their foundations.  Take the ground out from under prostitution.  First in line is the pimp, and the client.

“Supply is born of demand” is Marx’s famous formula.  In prostitution it’s the same.  There’s a rich person with a perverted understanding of life and total disrespect for women.  We’ve seen that kind here—visitors as well as locals.  That’s the foundation for prostitution.  And a pimp will always find an innocent girl, will always be able to promise her the moon, show her a Hollywood movie about an unhappy prostitute who finds a prince.  You know those women.  It’s not so hard to draw that kind of picture.

So the first step we see toward the solution to the problem is that the government should express its position on prostitution.  Our government hasn’t taken any position.  In Europe either.  The government [just thinks], “Yes, IT is there, and it always will be.”

Those kinds of things—you know, there was and will always be cannibalism.  They always ate people.  (Laughs.)  They only stopped eating people 2000 years ago.  In terms of history, that’s only an instant.  It was always normal to eat people.  Imagine if now you found some smartass who said, “Let’s get rid of criminal penalties for eating people.  It’s normal—if a person wants to eat—let him eat somebody else.  Especially if the other guy doesn’t mind.”  That’s how organ trafficking starts.  When you confuse freedom and amorality.  When freedom is extolled as something so big, when it stops being freedom and turns into volunteerism of the rich.  Then it turns into a dictatorship.  Exaggerate freedom and it turns into dictatorship.  That’s the dialectic, that’s the transition.

It’s the same with freedom of the phallus.  What?  I don’t have the right to buy myself a girl?  And freedom of the phallus is exaggerated until it becomes a dictatorship of the phallus.  And the main thing is that our deputies, and lots of officials—men, as a rule—think in those kinds of medieval categories.

AH: That they have the right to buy.

VS: That’s all just a prelude.  We’ve managed to get a legislative proposal on punishment of clients.  This legislative proposal will be considered in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine under our pressure.  And next month they’ll vote on it.  Now we’ll create a whole campaign to put pressure on the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, we’ll be provocative.  We have girls dressed up as prostitutes who try to pick up men at the exit, blow kisses at them…We get a lot of letters.  The US, Euronews, CNN always show [us].

SP: Do you have girls in the movement who have experience with sex tourism?

VS: You know, any cute girl in Kiev has some experience of sex tourism, experience of harassment, any girl is a treasure chest [of experience].

AH: Ask about recruitment into prostitution—they’ll tell you some stories!

VS: Take ten cute girls–by age thirteen, eight of them will have been propositioned to lick something…Of course…Any girl has [experience].

People often ask us if we have former prostitutes in our organization.  And we say it doesn’t matter to us.  Maybe there are.  What difference does it make?  We don’t ask who did what…The main thing is what someone does now, what they’re involved with now.  Digging into the past—you used to be a prostitute!  And tell us what it was like!

SP: But maybe it’s also important, because if you have concrete experience of prostitution you understand how it works.

VS: Not always.

SP: Not always.  But sometimes it’s helpful.

AH: Lots of them have concrete experience—they were invited to be prostitutes, they were enticed.  Anywhere—on the street, in a club, in a café, in a restaurant.  It’s simple… everyone who works, studies and wants to have a part-time job.  All cute girls.  Especially if you’re a waitress or a dancer.  Then it’s instant.  You have a huge number of propositions to become a prostitute.  So like Vitya said, we’re not interested in someone’s past, we’re not a rehab center.

SP: I have a question about the action.  I thought it was very interesting how many journalists there were there, how much press.  How successful you were.  I used to organize actions, and very rarely did we get that many journalists.  I think that it’s because…to put it bluntly, you use women’s bodies and sex.  And for me it’s interesting that you become successful by using women’s bodies, even though you’re against their sale.

VS: Yes.

AH: And we understand that very precisely.

SP: Even though it’s a bit contradictory.  What do you think?

VS: No, no!  Not at all.

AH: We’re playing.  We play on this contradiction.  Unequivocally…Everyone stops and asks “Why [do you do it] that way?”  That is, people aren’t left indifferent.  Not one person.  They can be for or against, but not one person is indifferent to what we’re doing.

If a woman’s body, her sexuality is used against her, why shouldn’t she use it herself?  You noticed correctly—we’re cunning, we use this, it’s our foundation.

VS: I don’t even understand the question or what you think.  Where you found a contradiction.  You say that beautiful girls are synonymous with sale.  Beauty is not synonymous with sale.  If you’re beautiful, that doesn’t mean you have to sell yourself.  There doesn’t have to be any contradiction in this.  Absolutely none.  On the contrary—we hypertrophy beauty, we build it up, and we say it’s not for sale.  That’s the secret.  There’s not much contradiction in it…

AH: It contradicts the standard belief that beauty is ego.

SP: It’s not a standard belief of feminism…

VS: Yes, yes, standard beliefs are nothing to us.  How they think over there.  I think that the old feminism is dying.  All that are left are groups of crazy old ladies who look at New York billboards and say, “That’s bad.  Look, there’s a woman.  Let’s write a report.”  In Ukraine we have enough real problems facing women.  Like prostitution.  We’re not up to ads yet.

If all contemporary cultures are built on the erotic, all cinematography, show business, ads, why doesn’t the erotic have political potential, social potential?  That’s what we’re exploring.  And there’s no crime in that.  On the contrary, we’re doing the right thing—we use women’s sexuality as women’s weapon, women’s instrument…

A woman’s sexuality has always been used against her.  Who was burned for witchcraft in the Middle Ages?

AH: Beautiful women.

VS: Beautiful women!  Beauty has always been punished.  “Don’t be born beautiful”—that’s a Slavic saying.  “Don’t be born beautiful, be born happy.”  Beauty and happiness never went together in the minds of our ancestors.  And we show that beauty can be happy.  That it can be attractive, that it can be a tool to influence social problems.

AH: For us, beauty is the foundation of women’s lives.  It’s the principal thing.

VS: Take away their beauty and they have nothing.  (Laughs.)

AH: That’s how it is.  (Laughs.)  It’s the main thing, because what is for European or even American girls the image of a beautiful, a well or even defiantly dressed [girl] is for us the image of a normal, ordinary girl.  We go around like that.  We live like that.  That’s our standard of beauty, our norm of dressing, our norm of conduct.  We ask that people respect that, that they behave normally toward it.

VS: For us the mini-skirt is the national costume.

AH: Our national costumes are all above the knee.

VS: Yes, there was no Victorian period in Ukraine, understand?  Here they never forced women to wear bonnets.  Here women are in decolletage like this (gestures), all the time.  They’re always in cocktail dresses, even when they go to buy water.  Here there was always a cult of femininity, a cult of women’s hips.  It was always here.  And our local women understand this, they’re raised that way, that’s how they go around.

And some foreign guy comes and thinks that if she’s dressed like that it means she’s a prostitute.  Somewhere at home in Iowa he saw a prostitute, and he tries to superimpose one culture on another.  But that’s not how it is!

We’ll explain right away—don’t take a short skirt as an offer of sale.  An offer to love and take pleasure—maybe.  But in no way is it an offer for you to drive by and give money and…

SP: Can you tell me about yourselves—where you’re from, where you grew up?  How you became so active.

AH: It’s a little complicated, because when we talk about ourselves we talk about FEMEN.  That is, now really every day, every second of life is FEMEN.  Women, their problems, our girls, our activities—that’s really what we are.

But we can say—we’re from a medium-sized city, Khmelnitsky.  I came from a village to study in Khmelnitsky.  Victor and I met there, and Alexandra, and other girls.

VS: To put it bluntly, we moved to Kiev to do…

AH: To create a movement here.

VS: We’re typical “conquests of the capital.”  Like New York gets 10,000 people a day who want to live there.  That’s exactly how we ended up in Kiev.

AH: We followed a standard plan—everything happens in the capital, through the capital.  Everything is here.

VS: All the world’s events happen either in New York or Los Angeles.  They don’t even happen in Washington.  It’s normal.

We came here with a very precise goal: to start FEMEN.  We always had plenty of fantasies and we always worked on those kinds of projects before FEMEN.  Now we don’t do anything else.  Now we have money.  They give us money.  We have sponsors—rich people not connected to politics.  American journalists.  Jeff Sander…[inaudible]…media magnate.  He’s American.  He has the newspaper Korrespondent, BigMir—internet.  He’s a young American businessman.  And an internationally famous musician, DJ Hell, from Germany.  He’s the first producer of ProDJ.

SP: How did you meet him?

VS: He called us himself.  He came.

AH: He read about us in the German press.

VS: Yes, in Deutsche Zeitung.  A German newspaper ran a huge article about us.  He called himself.  He had his representatives here find us immediately.  And he said—I want to participate in your actions.

SP: And why is he so interested?

VS: Well, first of all, he’s a person who has it together.  He’s older, 50.  He’s one of the founders of electronic music.  He’s got it together, he understands the essence of a problem.  Plus the format of actions. He’s a famous European.  He has wild performances.

AH: He likes the themes we’re developing and what we’re doing.  He sees himself in us.  That’s why he said—you’re really close to me, I understand you.

VS: He had already come twice to Kiev and took part in actions.  And then he played us his music in a nightclub.  Like he plays at Love Parade in Berlin in front of a full stadium.  He gathers our group of thirty people and plays for us in a nightclub.  That’s the kind of person he is.  Plus he contributes money…

AH: We try to use all available resources to support the movement and [our] ideas…You have to understand that for a lot of people it’s important to have the support of famous people.  That is, if those kinds of people support it, there must be something to it.  We understand that and are very grateful to our supporters.  We’re self-sufficient, we carry some weight, but when we add the support of famous people of that kind of scale, it gives us another plus.  And I think that allows us to increase our popularity even more.

We try to do it in an educated way.  Not just to have a standard concert, but to involve them directly.  Because nobody’s interested in DJ Hell as just an artist.  DJ Hell in an action, as a social unit—that’s interesting.  So he participated directly in our actions.

VS: He was barefoot here on Maidan [Independence Square].  They broke his hands.

AH: In a theatrical performance.  He was our main sex tourist.  (Laughs.)

VS: He played a sex tourist.  He did a great job.  He was in ecstasy.

AH: Everyone was happy.  It was cool.

SP: Why do you have such passion for FEMEN?  Why did all this start in Khmelnitsky?  Did you have some kind of experience?

AH: No.  That’s the eternal question.  None of us ever got hit in the head.

VS: We didn’t get electrocuted.

AH: And lightning never struck.  I think that any intelligent person, anyone who’s not indifferent, who lives in this country has to see the problem…of women and feel a desire to do something, to join together, fight against and resolve this problem.  So FEMEN appeared; we want to work; and we work.

VS: …We were sitting in Khmelnitsky in the ZAGS—the place where people get legally married…we sat there on a Saturday, and there were lots of weddings.  We were having a bad time, we sat on a bench and smoked in front of the ZAGS.  And brides kept coming out with their grooms.

AH: They were really young—all about 18.

VS: Yes, all really young, beautiful, carried out in the arms of their grooms.  We’re thinking—yes, now he carries her in his arms, and after two months she’ll be standing in the kitchen scrubbing pans.  Then we thought about divorce statistics.  60% of people get divorced.  Only 40% of marriages survive the first 10 years…

AH: When a girl gets married at 17 she doesn’t graduate from college.  The problem isn’t divorce.  It’s that when she gets divorced she’s out on the street without an education, without work, with a child.  It doesn’t matter to her husband.  She’s thrown out…and we asked why.  When a woman gets married in our country, her life is completely crossed out.  She doesn’t exist anymore.

VS: Her whole world is compressed into the family.  Into her husband.  And when that’s ruined, she becomes helpless.

AH: That’s when we became interested in women’s problems.  What they are and why.

VS: And we said, let’s do something.  A movement.  And we started thinking about it.

SP: How old were you then?

VS: It wasn’t long ago, God!

AH: Three years ago.

VS: Three years ago…but I’m already an old guy, I’m already 32…we decided, we understood right away that unless we made some kind of media project, we wouldn’t exist at all.  And we took a course on media right away.  We sat down and said that if we create a movement, every one of our steps has to be written about in the press.  If it’s not in the press, it didn’t exist.  And we work on that principle.

AH: We work to shape opinion.

VS: We don’t rehabilitate anybody.  We’re lobbyists…We want to make a strong social movement.  In terms of forming opinion, in terms of current thinking.  That’s why the press is our main megaphone.

AH: You could even say that it’s thanks to the press that we have our legislative initiative.  In our country it’s not realistic to write a letter to lawmakers and have them read it.  Never.  The letter just disappears…

VS: We’re not even registered [as an organization].  We don’t have the right to send a letter.

AH: Well, as a citizen you have a right to send a letter.  But it’s meaningless.  It’s really thanks to the press, and especially the foreign press that created pressure.  Once, I remember, it was really funny, we met a police official who’s responsible for the problem of human trafficking and prostitution.  You know why?  Thanks to the press.  We announced that the police were doing nothing.  He found [our number], called, invited us over, and said—what are you saying, we’re doing nothing?  Tell me what you mean.  It was only thanks to the press that he decided pay attention to us and ask us what we meant.  Till then it wasn’t necessary for him.  It was only when he was accused of something that he became available.  In this country everything works that way.  We understand that, and that’s why we work so actively with the mass media.

VS: The wife of the mayor of London read about us in The Daily Telegraph and called the British embassy in Ukraine.  The embassy asked lawmakers what was going on in Ukraine.

Russians have the saying, “No one is a prophet in his own country.”  …Here that’s an iron rule.  As long as they don’t talk about you in the west…you’re nobody…and your opinion will carry no weight.  That’s why we’re very focused on the media, and I think we do that better than anyone else in the country.  And all because we have such bright girls.  We can bring one girl with a sign and she’s filmed by 10 video cameras and 40 cameras.  Because we know how to do it.  We have a name.  We make an announcement to the press, and if it says FEMEN the question of whether or not to go doesn’t even occur to them.  We have authority.

AH: We already work based on announcements.  So even if we don’t have an action, we can make an announcement and it will appear in the press.

VS: …We can make a statement about any problem in Ukraine and attach some erotic photos on the theme.  Our genre is social erotica.  We take great photos.  You’ll see on Monday….we’re having a little show on Maidan.  You can participate.  (Laughs.)  We’ll take your photo, send it to the people who gave you your grant.  Look how I’m studying from the inside!

SP: Participant observation…

VS: I’m serious.  You’ll get completely carried away.  It’s true, tits get shown, but it’s no problem, you’ll cut those out…

1 comment
  1. martindufresne said:

    Lots of insights in this lengthy interview. Thank you very mnuch, Ms. Pinkham. I will be curious to read your review of Kitty Green’s film “Ukraine Is Not a Brothel: The Femen Story” if you get to view it.

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