In 1968 Andrej Sakharov wrote a ground-breaking essay against nuclear weapons and the arms race of the Cold War. The Soviet authorities could not appreciate this and later banished the respected Russian nuclear scientist to a flat in Gorky. At that time, the young Lyobov Potapova was living in the same building. She was too afraid to talk to the famous dissident. Now, she is the director of the Sakharov Museum. Hardly anyone still visits the museum, while Sakharov's essay is very relevant, 50 years after publication. Potapova: ‘Not a single world leader has his qualities.’
In January 2017, the largest demonstrations since the revolution of 1989 began in Romania. A year of protest followed in the country that is plagued by corruption. Two men about the desire for change and the heat of battle, then and now. Priest Constantin Jinga was shot during the revolution against dictator Ceaușescu in 1989: “That was the happiest day of my life.” Theatre maker Vlad Dragomirescu was born in 1989 and now takes to the streets as often as possible: “The revolution is far from complete.”
In 1990, images of emaciated children, locked up like animals in Ceaușescu’s orphanages shocked the world. Since then, Romania has made major changes; it is even called a ‘model country’. But Visinel Balan (30) and Daniel Rucareanu (40), who both grew up in one of Ceaușescu’s homes, are still, almost thirty years after the fall of the Romanian dictator, fighting for a better system of care for children. One of them does this by bringing up contemporary scandals, the other by looking at the past.
In Bucharest it's as easy to score your 'soya latte' as it is in Amsterdam; the centers of major European cities are in some respects hard to distinguish. Nevertheless it seems for some years now that the gap between Eastern and Western Europe has been growing instead of diminishing. In the East/West series we investigate clichés, (pre)judgments and misunderstandings between one another.
Ioana Tudor will not speak a word for five days. In Bucharest’s city centre, she repeats the silent strike her father held 27 years ago in protest against the Romanian government. The action completely changed his and his family’s life, but in Romania too many things stayed the same.
Protest and activism are not exactly in the Czechs’ DNA. Once in a while, a lone activist desperately tries to shake up the people. Eighteen-year-old student Jan Zajíc set himself on fire in 1969, hoping to be the spark that would incite the masses to rebel against the Soviet Union. More than 45 years later, with his infamous actions, the activist Otakar van Gemund (46) again tries to encourage the Czech people to protest. “I have to do it because nobody else will.”
Meet Constantin Jinga: he was shot during the Romanian Revolution but still calls that day one of the happiest of his life. Or read about Mirka Chojecki-Nukowska, who did not feel like a hero, but still put up resistance – until she had to flee Poland. Meet the people who forgot their fears and accidentally became heroes, who fought in revolts that changed the world or ended in repression and disillusion.
26 years ago, Hungary was the first country to break open the Iron Curtain: this event formed a prelude to the fall of the Wall and the unification of Europe. One generation later, Hungary is also the first European country to close itself off again with a fence – and the number of countries that are following suit is growing. However, this time, the fence isn’t there to keep people in but to keep them out. How did this happen? A tale in video and text of two men at the border, who suddenly find themselves in the centre of historical attention.
For fifteen years, Peter (76) worked for the Stasi at Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous border crossing of the Berlin Wall. During his time at the Wall, he worked on a facial recognition method to improve passport controls. In 1989, Elke (46) joined the street protests that ultimately led to the fall of the Wall. She now works for a company that develops facial recognition software. It is used, among other things, for European border control, which is getting more stringent everyday.
When a regime changes over night, certain stories become homeless. Logic and language change, new taboos form. ToldUntold is an attempt to find and tell untold stories from before 1989. Watch, read and listen to them here.
When he was nineteen years old, Andreas Möller (71) was a Stasi prisoner for two years. Today, he fights for more openness and acceptance of GDR history. Christian Schaft (23), youngest member of Die Linke in Thuringia, rather looks to the future – however tough that may be.
Photographer Neringa Rekašiūtė (27) grew up in a free and independent Lithuania. Still, she fears Russia. And she's not the only one: to arm itself against the Russians, Lithuania reinstated the draft early this year. Violonist Misha Furman (67) understands her anxiety. He grew up in Soviet Lithuania. “Fear is in our DNA.”