Three women, identified as Inna Shevchenko, Aleksandra Shevchenko and Oksana Shachko, travelled all the way from Kiev, Ukraine to Davos, Switzerland to protest on the eve of the World Economic Forum meeting of world leaders, leading industrialists and wealthy business tycoons held in the final week of January. They wanted to express anger at the increasing divide between the world‘s poor and rich and deteriorating conditions of the have-nots around the globe.
Braving subzero temperature, the trio protested in their unique but provocative style, which may look highly immoral to societies like ours, as they all pulled off their shirts showing their painted topless upper with slogans like “Crisis. Made in Davos,” “Gangsters’ party in Davos” and “Poor because of you.” They were stopped at the main security check post and arrested while trying to cross the fence.
There was nothing “nude” in the brief episode when they pushed and shoved the police, chanting slogans and showing frustration at the transcendent gathering inside the cosy main building well concealed from the outside where three topless women were staging a symbolic fight for the underdog of the world. Their courage, determination and love for fellow human beings had an element of spirituality which was far superior to the mere physical. I wonder if many were just focusing on their bodies than their elemental love for mankind and its age-old hunger and other sufferings.
FEMEN, set up in 2008 in Kiev, had revolutionised the concept of protest. It has won international acclaim for organising protests against raging social issues involving women, like sex tourism, international marriage agencies and sexism. Female university students aged 18 to 20 are the real power of the group which also had male supporters on the list.
Presently, the group comprises 20 topless and 300 fully clothed activists. Most of the demonstrations are held in Ukraine but they have also visited more open international venues, showing their outreach and widening of objectives which now also include the plight of the world poor. But it also increases the perils for the group and it was not for the first time that they ran into trouble in Davos.
The group told media in Kiev on 21 December, 2011 that their three female activists were seized by police in Belarus, forced to strip, threatened with violence and then abandoned in the woodland. They were arrested in the Belarusian capital Minsk after staging a typical bare-breasted protest on the steps of the KGB state security headquarters, mocking authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Swiss police took a softer approach with the detainees than their Belarusian counterparts. According to Davos police spokesman Thomas Hobi, the three women were taken to a police station and told that they did not have permission to protest. After being identified, they were released without charge.
Their march came to a premature end as expected but they had their message broadcast live and sent across today’s borderless world within seconds which according to the statement released by the group, was to ‘Stop the Davos conspiracy!.’ But they have exposed the futility of annual World Economic Forum held since the late 1990s, which has sharpened the ire of anti-globalisation activists, who claim that around 2,500 elites in attendance merely deepen systemic poverty around the globe.
It is believed that the Davos ritual, far from doing anything for the poor and ailing economies of the third world countries, has increased alienation among the world’s teeming poor. As a reaction to the increasing homogeneity among the leading capitalist the centres, the World Economic Forum has given birth to institutions like the World Social Forum, a gathering of anti-capitalist groups and individuals instituted to forge a united front against the perceived and actual exploitation by the rich industrialist north.
FEMEN protest should not be seen in isolation. Already groups like Occupy Wall Street, which is the original protest that began the worldwide movement beginning 17 September, 2011 in Zuccotti Park in New York City’s Wall Street financial district, are out against social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed as well as corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government, particularly from the financial services sector.
The protesters’ slogan “We are the 99 percent” refers to the growing income and wealth inequality in the US between the wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of the population. The protests in New York City have sparked similar occupy protests and movements around the world.
Here in Pakistan, we are not seeing any movement like this as we have issues like Memogate and movement by the far right parties against MFN status to India and the opening of NATO supply lines. Perhaps, someday we may find some time to take to the streets for real issues like hunger, malnutrition etc that kill more people than other crimes in a calendar year.
The writer is an Islamabad-based senior correspondent for a foreign newswire and a PhD scholar at NDU. He can be reached at [email protected]