Thirty years ago this month, the world changed: a border that divided a city for 28 years was brought down. The Berlin Wall was both a physical and ideological barrier, and that night – 9 November 1989 – brought friends and families together and changed the face of Europe.
During those years of separation, many were killed trying to escape from the east to the west. Italian lorry driver Benito Corghi was shot and killed in 1976 while making a delivery and his widow’s impassioned plea to the East German officials in Rome was in vain. Index reported at the time said: “People who gun down other people simply for walking along a road don’t listen to widows.”
Among the many who celebrated the wall’s fall were East German filmmakers, who had endured years of having their work banned, being banished themselves or finding it impossible to work. In 1965 there was a major crackdown on films – many of which were never seen or did not resurface until 1990. In this article from 1991, film historian and critic Ralf Schenk says it was a “cultural crime that was never made good”.
Five years after the fall, British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote an article for Index looking at the aftermath – the good and the bad, the velvet revolutions, the wars and the glimmer of hope that was created.
This week Turkish journalist Ahmet Altan walked free after three years in prison.
Index nonetheless remains concerned that Altan was convicted and is on probation, and his co-defendants – Fevzi Yazıcı, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül – remain in detention after having been convicted of “membership of a terrorist organisation”.
In June 2019 Index on Censorship magazine interviewed Altan in prison about his writing and his family tradition of dissent: “I came out against the unlawful practices of both the era of military tutelage and that of the AKP: I believe I am a target of their anger.”
When Zehra Dogan was in prison, she used inventive means to keep communicating through words and art. The Kurdish painter and journalist, and winner of the 2019 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Arts, was imprisoned over her reports from Turkey’s Kurdish region.
Without access to materials, but with stories to tell, she used dyes made from crushed fruit, herbs and blood to paint, using newspapers and milk cartons as canvases, before being released in February 2019.
We caught up with Dogan to find out what she has been working on since winning the Index on Censorship award.
Index on Censorship defends people’s freedom to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution. We publish censored writers and artists, monitor and campaign against censorship, and encourage debate.
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