Photos by Norma Costello and Pierre Benoit Roux
Femen, the notorious, often topless radical feminist troupe, loves putting on a show, and the baptism of their new Paris squat on Sunday provided a great opportunity. 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 that their previous squat cum HQ was burned down last July. Leader Inna Shevchenko claims the fire was the result of arson, while police maintain that it was an accident.
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 some cops at a Paris squat party to deal with noise complaints. But it’s not often you see a line of riot police outside, unless everything has really gone to shit.
But in this case, the police weren’t there to shut the festivities down or frisk guests for drugs, they were there protecting the squat. For whatever reason, the girls’ plans to hold an anti-religious, queer-embracing, patriarchy-bashing party hadn’t gone down particularly well with France’s growing neofascist movement, and some nationalist thugs had turned up to intimidate the guests.
— Alexandre GABRIAC (@Gabriac) April 18, 2014
France's "favorite fascist" Alexandre Gabriac, a rising star in the right-wing National Front party, 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 house could set on fire."
Of course, nobody was setting fire to anything—all the wannabe Nazis were just ambling around awkwardly until Shevchenko went outside to invite them all in to "dance in the fire" with the feminists. Surprisingly, none of them wanted to do that, and before long they had all shuffled off without causing too much of a fuss.
The far right aren't the only ones unhappy about Femen's presence in Paris.
Their new squat is in Clichy, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, and the posters for the squat party, which they put up throughout the area, 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 dance floor, and a printing room/shop. The above picture was taken in the designated interview room.
There was a lot of tits painted on the walls.
Standing in pride of place in the interview room was Shevchenko'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 Shevchenko 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; it was the destruction of the cross 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," pictured above—grabbed the chainsaw and started screaming about the evils of the patriarchy.
The party was full of cameramen from various media outlets, along with around 20 girls from all over the world who were there to take part in Femen's week-long boot camp for activists.
Shevchenko 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 to chatting with 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 this photo later on, so I suppose she 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 pounding alcopops and chanting "chug" at strangers, but somehow he managed to turn this place into his own personal playground, picking up Shevchenko and twirling her around his head while everyone applauded.
The event felt more like a housewarming and a fundraiser than a radical activist party; the Femen shop was selling ornate head dresses for €30 ($41) 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 that they've already managed to piss off the local community—and they've made their location very clear by painting "FEMEN HQ" on the side of the building. But Shevchenko doesn't seem too worried: Before I left she told me that she gets death threats daily, but said she wouldn't be doing her job properly if people liked her.