‘Patriarch’ plus ‘topless woman’ equals — click here

Let’s face it. In the age of search-engine optimization, it’s oh so tempting to blog about a news story that allows you to put “patriarch” and “topless woman” in the same headline.

Obviously, we are talking about yet another story linked to the Pussy Riot case.

In this case, the news story focuses on a bizarre scene at the airport in Kiev. This was of immediate interest to me since (a) I am Orthodox and (b) I am headed to Kiev in a few weeks. Is the phenomenon described in this story becoming more common? Consider me intimidated.

As you would imagine, several Orthodox folks sent me links to the following report. Each email asked the same journalistic question and, thus, I will pass that question along to GetReligion readers.

Step one: Look at the small photo at the top of this story.

Step two: Read this short NBC News story (this is the whole piece), which accompanied — as you would imagine — a careful, yet colorful collection of photographs of this confrontation. It’s all about the facial expressions.

A topless woman confronted the head of the Russian Orthodox Church as he arrived in Kiev … in the latest in a string of eye-catching stunts pulled by a Ukrainian feminist group.

An activist from the Femen women’s rights group rushed towards Patriarch Kirill with bared breasts, yelling “Get out!”, the Russian state news agency reported, before she was bundled away by security guards.

The European Pressphoto Agency reported that the Femen protest aimed to highlight a demand for greater independence for Ukraine’s main orthodox church, which still answers to the Moscow Patriarchate.

“Regrettably, people are trying to mar the Patriarch’s visit to Ukraine through these stunts,” the head of the patriarch’s press service, Deacon Alexander Volkov, said, adding that such incidents signal “a deep spiritual crisis in some social circles.”

So what is the key news element of this story, asked my Orthodox correspondents, that is obvious in the photos, yet does not appear in this short report? What is the missing symbolic detail?

Well, how about the words “Kill Kirill”? That seems like a rather significant detail to omit in the story and it’s not a detail that would take up a lot of space. It’s true that the woman’s options for hiding a weapon were, well, limited by roughly 50 percent. Nevertheless, the word “kill” is often seen as a threat.

In fact, the Associated Press brief that made it onto a few news websites even managed to work this fact into print.

A topless activist bearing a threatening message on her body tried to attack Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, on Thursday to protest what her group says are anti-Ukrainian policies by the church and the Kremlin. The protester, a member of the Ukrainian women’s rights movement Femen, managed to get within a yard of Patriarch Kirill at the airport in Kiev, but she was stopped by a security guard and a priest. The woman, identified by Femen as Yana Zhdanova, had the words “Kill Kirill” written on her back in large black letters. She was detained by the police.

Truth is, I thought that the “Kill Kirill” was interesting, but that was not the missing journalistic detail that bothered me the most when I read that NBC News report. You see, the AP report, short as it was, managed to give me the name of the woman who attacked the patriarch. Ditto for this more detailed news story in the KyivPost.

Why did that matter? I was curious to know if this was one of the Femen activists who, in another eye-popping YouTube attack, used a chainsaw to hack down a memorial crucifix in Kiev — a symbolic attack done in support of Pussy Riot.

As it turns out, the woman lunging at Patriarch Kirill was not the same woman who wielded the chainsaw in the earlier event, at least according to this Huffington Post item. But was Zhdanova part of that earlier media storm? That seems like a relevant detail to me, that is if we are discussing a news event, as opposed to a photo op that is sure to add some zing to a website’s search-engine statistics.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • geoconger

    Why is “Kill Kirill” written in English? Great for Western newspapers but for a Russian or Ukrainian audience would not the slogan be unintelligible? Is anyone asking this question?

    • Steve Florman

      That was my question as well. This was a publicity ploy, not a serious assassination attempt, obviously. But it’s equally obvious, by this Ukrainian woman’s use of the Roman alphabet and the English word, that the intended audience was Western and probably American.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    I agree with geoconger’s remark. Why is “kill Kirill” written in English, not Ukrainian or Russian?

    I suspect it is because their “protest” is aimed at the West and/or the western press…

    and I suspect they are funded and encouraged by the west. Why? Because most of their protests are against religion, not Putin, who remains popular for his fighting corruption and criminal gangs in that country.

    Why is an organization that is supposed to be founded to oppose prostitution and tyranny desecrating churches, and destroying a cross commemorating those Uniate Christians (i.e. Ukrainian Catholics) killed in Soviet terror ?

    So who funds them? Supposedly their members dues…but I don’t believe this.

  • northcoast

    Oddly the alphabet not used here is named for St Cyril, evidently pronounced with a “K” in Russian. I would be most surprised if non-Russian Ukranians would have a high opinion of PM Putin or his policies toward former USSR satellite countries, and he seems to have a good relationship with the Church.

  • Bob

    Pretty sure that a smattering of English is so universal even in foreign countries that most if not all Ukrainians, along with everyone else, would understand.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Another reason for English may be that there is a bit of a play on words in English between “kill” and “Kirill” that makes the slogan ring a bit better than it would in Ukrainian. English also does play way better on a world stage than Ukrainian would.

  • David J. White

    I had the same thought. I am reminded of the incident during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein claimed that the Coalition forces had bombed a baby-milk factory, and when journalists were given a tour of the bombed building, it was complete with a handwritten sign reading “Baby Milk Factory” — in English. This is all clearly street theatre aimed a Western news media and a Western audience.

  • northcoast

    We are used to seeing signs in English at protests around the world. I wonder if your protest sign is more likely to be appear in the Western news if it is in English.