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October 24, 2021

The war of stamps

Several hundred people rallied in Paris demanding the prohibiting of the feminist organisation ‘Femen’ and the expulsion of its leader, Ukrainian militant Inna Shevchenko, now a political refugee in France. The protesters denounced a pretended complicity between the acting socialist power and the provocative actions of the feminist group. Half a year ago, a row started over a postal stamp. Each French president of the 5h Republic chooses his own model of representing Marianne, one of the plastic symbols of French republicanism, which will be popularised through a stamp. Francois Hollande however decided to allow French high-school students choose from several variants. The winner was designed by Olivier Ciappa, who left many people puzzled when he confessed that one of his sources of inspiration was the aforementioned Inna Shevchenko.

Those who oppose this project invoke, first of all, the pretended hatred against religions and the outspoken enmity toward the Christian faith. The arguments seem obvious: the Femen leader ran from her country after she cut with an electric chainsaw a commemorative cross in Kiev, meant to honour the memory of the victims of atheistic communism. Other fellow organisation members protested inside Catholic churches – at Koln they even climbed a Christmas altar with the slogan `I am God` painted under their bare breasts – or under the window from where the Pope preached in the St Peter Square. The Brussels arch-bishop was even sprayed with holy water, like in a counter-exorcism. In Berlin, in front the ‘House of Barbie’ (the symbol-toy of a girl archetype deserving contempt) a ‘crucified’ doll was set ablaze, in a unique association of religion with consumerism. And the retirement of Benedict XVI (seen as a most reactionary Pope) was celebrated at Notre-Dame of Paris through as radical request (written, of course, under the nude breasts): `Pope no more`. They also hit the mosques and burned Islamic flags.
How legitimate this new way of protest is? And how anti-religious? The criticism came not only from Christians and Muslims. They were accused that, despite their intentions, they emphasise the image of womanhood that depends on male recognition, especially erotic. That they advertise themselves using the most specific methods of the very system they reject. That they are manipulated (by patriarchal males, by destabilisers of nations, by shady politicians). We must admit that Femen speculated some of today’s opportunities: the advertising nude, the iconography of the disarmed victim, the conscience of a millenary injustice, the crisis of traditional forms of protest. In a world that impatiently waits for women to get nude in public, on TV (there are also some farcical forms like the so-called `Naked News`) or in various others occasions (concerts, happenings, parties), using the naked body as a protest billboard can be regarded as a salutary flat note. As this is no work of art whose message makes people peacefully meditate in a gallery, but on the contrary is an inevitably ambiguous blitz on the edge of hysteria, such actions are a disturbance in themselves, like any protest which one does not empathise with. Or they provoke hilarity. Vladimir Putin, one of the targets of these protests, only is amused by their amazon-like jumps, which casts a serious doubt over the real political effects. As they are not used to such excesses, clergymen are ashamed to see women get nude in public, a sign of a depraved sexuality, of a devilish carnival.
Yet, beyond the foggy ideology of the new spectacular feminism, there are some painful ‘historical’ truths. One can debate the issue of how oppressed women were in past societies (especially before the modern revolutions), but what upsets most is the ‘theology’ of inequality. In today’s Orthodox church, for instance, the usual practices prove mentalities hard to justify by anything else than the arbitrary of discrimination: men usually receive the Eucharist before women, same as the anointment with holy water. Only a relic of the past, some may say. But this is not true, because ‘founding’ texts of Christianity still make pretexts for mentalities that uphold the formal authority of the man that generates many acts of abuse. And this is not about limiting the freedom or instating a subtle slavery, but configuring a horizon of the couple relation that deprives Christianity of much of its noblesse. A recent poll conducted among the Catholics of the world demonstrates that, in regard to private ethics (family, couple, gender differences) the majority no longer share the teaching of the Church, although they assume Christianity, some even with fervour. Could it be just a relaxation of morals? The Russian punk band `Pussy Riot` went to prison for singing against ‘Czar’ Putin in an Orthodox church. The Russian Orthodox Church did not protest against an obviously disproportioned punishment, in the name of the vocation of a Christianity of ‘the weak.’ It only proved, once again, to what extent it owes its influence to political autocracy. All in all, Inna Shevchenko’s gesture of bringing down a cross has a deeper symbolic value: the Christianity is slowly rotting, like a piece of wood, and risks being pushed to the ground too easily.
Set aside the ambiguities of such feminism (an antagonistic one appeared in France, inspired by Sophocles’ Antigone), there still remain several matters of dispute: what is the place of religions in a secularised society? How politically neutral the religious option is? How can one efficiently counter all kinds of authoritarianisms? How can one avoid becoming a pawn in ambiguous political wars, without renouncing one’s own opinion?

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