The Postage Stamp That Has France in a Frenzy

Not everyone in France is thrilled with the new postage stamp featuring a youthful Marianne, one of the symbols of la République Française, that François Hollande unveiled at the Élysée Palace on Bastille Day — as part of a tradition in which each new French president chooses an image of Marianne to appear on stamps. ...

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images & http://www.elysee.fr/
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images & http://www.elysee.fr/
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images & http://www.elysee.fr/

Not everyone in France is thrilled with the new postage stamp featuring a youthful Marianne, one of the symbols of la République Française, that François Hollande unveiled at the Élysée Palace on Bastille Day -- as part of a tradition in which each new French president chooses an image of Marianne to appear on stamps.

The controversy erupted after one of the artists behind the stamp revealed over Twitter that high-profile Ukrainian FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko -- whose controversial feminist group often stages topless protests -- was one of the inspirations for the postage design, along with French women such as actress Marion Cotillard and French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira.

"For me, Marianne, who is represented bare-breasted, would probably have been a Femen in 1789 (the French revolution) because she fought for the Republic's values -- liberty, equality and fraternity," artist Olivier Ciappa told AFP. (This isn't the first time Ciappa's art has drawn fire in France; his exhibit showing photos of same-sex couples was vandalized in June, and he received death threats.)

Not everyone in France is thrilled with the new postage stamp featuring a youthful Marianne, one of the symbols of la République Française, that François Hollande unveiled at the Élysée Palace on Bastille Day — as part of a tradition in which each new French president chooses an image of Marianne to appear on stamps.

The controversy erupted after one of the artists behind the stamp revealed over Twitter that high-profile Ukrainian FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko — whose controversial feminist group often stages topless protests — was one of the inspirations for the postage design, along with French women such as actress Marion Cotillard and French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira.

"For me, Marianne, who is represented bare-breasted, would probably have been a Femen in 1789 (the French revolution) because she fought for the Republic’s values — liberty, equality and fraternity," artist Olivier Ciappa told AFP. (This isn’t the first time Ciappa’s art has drawn fire in France; his exhibit showing photos of same-sex couples was vandalized in June, and he received death threats.)

France’s right-wing Christian Democratic Party isn’t appreciating the comparison and has called for a boycott of the stamp, while Ciappa penned a rebuttal for Le Huffington Post noting that French students overwhelmingly voted for his design in a national competition before it was approved by Hollande.

But perhaps the most pointed response came from Shevchenko herself, who tweeted, "FEMEN is on French stamp.Now all homophobes,extremists,fascists will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter." (Shevchenko was recently granted asylum in France after facing threats in Ukraine over a protest where she sawed down a crucifix in solidarity with the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.)

By Tuesday, the stamps will be available at post offices across France. But it doesn’t seem like anyone will be holding their tongues until then.

<p> Lydia Tomkiw is a freelance journalist and graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. </p>

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