Femen love putting on a show, and the baptism of their new Paris squat didn’t break that tradition. The girls invited friends and the media to their satanic-themed party on Sunday to flaunt the new international Femen HQ – their move there prompted by the fact their previous squat-cum-HQ was burned down last July. Leader Inna Shevchenko claims the fire was the result of an arson attack, while police maintain that it was accidental.
Regardless, they have a new place now, so I went down to their opening party to check it out.It’s fairly common to spot environmental protection officers at a squat party, there to complain about the noise. But it’s not often you see a line of riot police outside, unless everything has really gone to shit.But things hadn’t gone to shit here – in fact, quite the opposite; the police weren’t there to shut the party down or frisk everyone for drugs, they were there protecting it. For whatever reason, the girls’ plans to hold an anti-religious, queer-embracing, patriarchy-bashing party hadn’t gone down particularly well with members of France’s growing far-right movement, and some nationalist thugs had turned up to intimidate the guests.
Even France's "favourite Nazi", Alexadre Gabriac, had promised to come along, sending a very poorly veiled threat Femen's way in the above tweet, which translates to: "If they play with the flames of Hell too much, their place could set on fire."Of course, nobody was setting fire to anything – all the far-right lot were just ambling around awkwardly, until Inna went outside to invite them all in to "dance in the fire" with them. Surprisingly, none of them wanted to do that, and before long they had all shuffled off without causing too much of a fuss.
— Alexandre GABRIAC (@Gabriac) April 18, 2014
The far-right aren't the only ones unhappy about Femen's presence in Paris.Their new squat is in Clichy, a predominantly Muslim area in northern Paris. The posters for their squat party, which they stuck up throughout the neighbourhood, feature a woman with three breasts whipping the bare asses of a bishop, a rabbi and an imam. As you can imagine, this is not the best way to ingratiate yourself into a deeply religious district.The squat was way fancier than any of the crusty places I've visited in Barcelona, or any of the free party communes I've ended up at in Riga. The walls were all painted a uniform off-white, there was a large upstairs patio, a dancefloor-cum-training area and a printing room/shop. The above picture was taken in the designated interview room.It felt a bit like Gloria Steinem had barged Kevin McCloud out of the Grand Designs job, taking a very simple approach to the redesign: "Just paint tits everywhere."Standing pride of place in the interview room was Inna's chainsaw, charred from the fire at their last squat and one of the few possessions she managed to bring from Kiev to Paris. The tool was what Inna used to saw down a cross outside a Ukrainian church in support of Pussy Riot, and it's now become an emblem of Femen International as it was the cross destruction that forced her to seek political asylum in France.As I was taking photos, Jacob – an 83-year-old who hates "misogyny of all forms" – grabbed Inna's chainsaw and started screaming about the evils of the patriarchy.
The party was full of cameramen and videographers from various media outlets, along with around 20 girls from all over the world, there to take part in Femen's week-long boot camp.Inna hopes that the training will help to spread Femen's message of topless protest worldwide, as well as allowing her to prepare new recruits "morally and physically" for the group's "naked war".I got chatting to one of the recruits, Roberta from California, who seemed a little lost – or maybe just not entirely aware of what she was getting herself into. "It's like, I don't really want to do the Islamic protest in the States," she said. "I don't agree with that. And I'm not sure I want to do the topless thing, either."Mind you, she got topless for the photo-op later on, so I suppose things might work out after all.Then the DJ got topless.And then this guy, a soldier, took his shirt off, too.This situation was a little confusing; he looked like the kind of dude who'd be far more at home using his leave to hit up the closest Oceana and spend the entire evening tipping WKDs down people's throats. But somehow he managed to turn this place into his own personal playground, picking up Inna and twirling her around his head while everyone else applauded.The event felt more like a flat-warming / fundraiser than a radical activist party; the Femen shop was selling ornate head dresses for €30 (£25) and people were mostly sitting around drinking and smoking weed. But I suppose they just want a bit of peace while they're at home, especially considering the fact their last squat was burned to the ground.Whether or not they'll be secure in their new HQ remains to be seen, given the fact they've already managed to piss off a large amount of the local community – and have made their location very clear by painting "FEMEN HQ" on the side of the building. But Inna doesn't seem too worried; before I left she told me that she gets death threats daily, adding that she wouldn't be doing her job properly if people liked her.