MOSCOW — Bare-breasted women protested against Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Hannover, Germany, during an industrial exhibit he attended with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin said he liked it, but a Kremlin spokesman is now calling for the ladies to be punished.
Three members of the women’s rights group Femen took off their tops and shouted slogans against Putin. The demonstrators called Putin a dictator. Protesters also scrawled anti-Putin messages across their backs, many of which included swear words and called for the president to leave Russia.
Despite the women being topless and hostile towards his leadership, the Russian president said he enjoyed the event. Putin said he knew about the protest in advance and said he liked it. He said the public should thank them for helping to advertise the event he was attending with Merkel.
The Femen activists are from Ukraine and have staged protests around Europe against the Kremlin’s arrest and detention of members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot around Europe.
Putin said he didn’t find the protest horrible, but doesn’t think it had a political affect. He said if someone wants to debate political issues, it’s better to be dressed when you do it and not take your clothes off. Putin went on to say that people should take their clothes off in other places.
After Putin’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the protesters' actions ordinary hooliganism. Peskov went on to say that these sort of actions happen all over the world and the ladies need to be punished. A charge of hooliganism carries up to eight years in prison in Russia.
Since Putin took office nearly a year ago, Russia has seen a crackdown on dissent. The fines for organizing or participating in protests against the Kremlin have risen more than 150-fold.
Foreign non-governmental organizations have also been required to register as foreign agents, a term that during the Soviet period was synonymous with espionage.
On Sunday, Merkel said Russia needed an active civil society and freedom for NGOs.
The Kremlin has consistently maintained that it is not cracking down on dissent, merely enforcing the law.