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Valeria Costa-Kostritsky


17 February 2020

‘Daddy won’t come back’

The man who spoke to me on the phone from Morton Hall detention centre in Lincolnshire asked me not to use his name. ‘At 10.30,’ he said, ‘they put us on a bus and took us to a private airfield in Doncaster although they were fighting for our case outside. I see police. I see dogs. It was like hell. We were watching other detainees going inside the plane. We were shaking, thinking any moment it’s going to be us.’

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19 December 2019

Dans la salle d’accouchement

I had a baby on Tuesday, a strange day to give birth in Paris. It was the 13th day of a massive strike against pension reforms, and unions had called for a big day of protest. We took an Uber to the hospital on Monday evening. Across the city, entrances to the Périphérique were at a standstill. Our driver said he wouldn’t be working the next day. ‘There’s no point. Paris is going to be blocked, with protesters going from République to Nation.’

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29 October 2019

Liberté, égalité, paternité

Place Edmond Rostand in Paris was packed on Sunday 6 October. Smartly dressed families kept arriving. They had gathered to oppose a new law that will extend assisted reproduction to lesbian couples and single women. Some of the protesters wore sweatshirts with the logo of the anti-gay marriage movement La Manif pour tous (‘Protest for all’). Children waved flags saying ‘Liberté, égalité, paternité’. The sound system blared Céline Dion’s ‘Parler à mon père’ and Stromae’s ‘Papaoutai’ (‘whereareyoudad’). A series of speakers described the new law as ‘against nature’. ‘Fathers, are you there?’ they shouted.

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26 April 2019

The Death of Alan García

On Wednesday 17 April, early in the morning, the police came to former president Alan García’s house in Lima to arrest him in connection with the multibillion-dollar corruption case surrounding the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. García told the officers he would call his lawyer, locked himself in a room and shot himself in the head. He died a few hours later in hospital.

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20 November 2018

In Donetsk

After we crossed the second checkpoint in Marinka, the taxi driver told me the clocks had gone forward. Donetsk time is Moscow time. It isn’t far from the frontline, but Donetsk city centre is calm at the moment. You could almost forget there’s a war going on.

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25 September 2018

The policemen waved back

Most countries in the world consider the breakaway republic of Abkhazia still to be part of Georgia. It has been recognised only by Russia (in 2008), Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and – since May 2018 – Syria. According to the Abkhazian authorities, on 8 September, at around 11 p.m., Gennady Gagulia, the 70-year-old de facto prime minister, died in a car accident on the road between Psou, on the Russia border, and the capital, Sukhumi. He was returning from a meeting with Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, where they had signed a treaty of friendship and co-operation. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) announced that a 22-year-old man had crashed into Gagulia’s car. He was arrested; drugs were at first said to have been detected in his blood, but the prosecutor has since contradicted those reports.

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30 July 2018

In Persan

Sunday, late July: the small suburban towns of Persan and Beaumont-sur-Oise are almost empty. Persan, the last stop on the H line, is half an hour from the Gare du Nord, through a landscape of woodland and fields. It was a beautiful day. A man was fishing by the banks of the Oise; two others were chatting in front of a hairdresser’s salon. The day before, thousands of people from Paris and the banlieues had filled the streets; some had arrived by bus from further afield, among them party leaders from the left-wing NPA and La France Insoumise, anti-racist activists, relatives of people who had been killed by the police, girls wearing T-shirts saying ‘Justice for Adama’ or ‘Justice for Gaye’, and a man with a placard: ‘The State protects Benallas, we want to save Adamas.’ Adama Traoré died two years ago in police custody in Beaumont-sur-Oise. His family and friends had organised the march to demand justice – yet again – after his death. A few days before the protest, Le Monde revealed that a man in a police helmet who had been filmed assaulting May Day protesters in Paris was not a police officer but a close aide of Emmanuel Macron.

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14 June 2018

In Belfast

On Sunday, 10 June, around midday, women gathered at the Titanic slipways in Belfast, a ‘regenerated’ area of former docks, to take part in the Processions, a march to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, which was taking place in several cities across the UK. At the front of the procession, women walked quietly. At the back, there were banners, some men and loud chanting. Two weeks after the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, women were demanding abortion rights in Northern Ireland. In the morning I had travelled from Dublin to Belfast on a bus full of women who had canvassed before the referendum.

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23 May 2018

May ’18

‘Give us back May 68!’ a group of students shouted in front of the Odéon in Paris. On 7 May, the theatre had scheduled a May 68 commemoration. First there’d be a play, then some intellectuals and artists would talk. ‘We must emphasise the importance of the Odéon,’ the blurb said, ‘which … was the main platform for “everything is possible”. There, on the stage, everywhere in the theatre, a community of young people tried to invent a utopia and to live it. This was a contradictory and experimental space for speaking out.’ The students outside the theatre fifty years later had been protesting against a law that changes the conditions of access to university and introduces academic selection. They demanded to be let into the Odéon to take part in the discussion – to no avail. Inside, an audience mostly composed of smartly dressed white older people listened politely to the speakers. The theatre’s director called the police, who sprayed tear gas and arrested four students.

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4 April 2018

Waiting for ‘Swan Lake’

The date of the Russian presidential election last month was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the day Russia claimed Crimea, 18 March 2014. In the main streets of Sevastopol, loudspeakers blasted old Soviet songs. ‘Russia, better with you,’ the posters said. A young woman who sold me a sim card told me that the city had come up with the idea of giving a medal to people who had voted both in the referendum on joining Russia – which wasn’t recognised by Ukraine or most other countries – and in this election. ‘They say it’s to mobilise our moral spirit, so it will mobilise the moral spirit of pensioners. And because everything in this country is bullshit, they haven’t made enough medals,’ she said. ‘Will you get one?’ I asked. ‘Well, maybe,’ she said. ‘If I vote.’

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