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Baring Breasts For Saudi Women Drivers (And Frying Eggs On Ukraine's Eternal Flame)


Femen activists protests outside the Saudi embassy

Femen activists protests outside the Saudi embassy

What do a World War II monument and driving rights for Saudi women have in common? At first glance, not much. In Kyiv, though, these two seemingly unconnected things have triggered some distinctly creative protests by young Ukrainians.

Last week several young people fried eggs over the eternal flame on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a protest against the imprisonment of a young performance artist who had done exactly that a few months earlier. A few days earlier the nubile young women of the Femen group bared their breasts as part of a quirky demonstration for the rights of Saudi women.

The Park of Glory in Kyiv is a typical Soviet monument to the heroes of World War II (or “the Great Patriotic War,” as it is still referred to in this neck of the woods). A stark obelisk splits the sky, and an eternal flame surrounded by a bronze garland burns day and night. (A prominent Ukrainian writer recently got herself into hot water by describing the obelisk as a “phallus,” but that’s another story.)

Last December Anna Sinkova and two friends fried sausages and eggs over the eternal flame. They were approached by the police, who did nothing to stop the young women from apparently preparing breakfast.

Sinkova said the goal of the action was to draw attention to the often miserable treatment of World War II veterans in Ukraine and the Soviet-era monument’s waste of natural gas.

Not long after that Anna was arrested. Charged with desecrating a grave, she remains in prison today and faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. The reenactment of her egg-frying feat by three unidentified men on June 20 is an effort to bring attention to her fate. Police have opened a criminal investigation into the sympathy protest and are looking for the three unidentified men.

Meanwhile, the activists of Femen, a group of young women who have made a name for themselves with their topless demonstrations for feminist causes, decided to throw their support behind Saudi women who are not allowed to drive under the country’s strict interpretation of Islamic law. Baring their breasts while covering their faces with black hijab, the Femen activists drove past the Saudi embassy chanting “Cars for women, camels for men.”
This is not the first time that Femen has supported women in an Islamic country. Recently they demonstrated in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death for adultery and murder. Other events that prompted Femen demonstrations were a visit to Ukraine by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, sex tourism, sexual harassment in universities, beauty contests, and Ukraine’s all-male government.

Eggs and bosoms: at first glance there’s not much that connects them, aside from both of them being somewhat round in shape. But they have inspired quite a unique form of protest in Ukraine, a country whose authorities have not shown much taste for freshness or humor. Particularly since the last presidential election.

-- Irena Chalupa

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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