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Valeria Costa-Kostritsky

From The Blog
17 February 2020

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.’

From The Blog
19 December 2019

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.’

From The Blog
29 October 2019

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.

From The Blog
26 April 2019

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.

From The Blog
20 November 2018

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.

From The Blog
25 September 2018

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.

From The Blog
30 July 2018

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.

From The Blog
14 June 2018

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.

From The Blog
23 May 2018

‘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.

From The Blog
4 April 2018

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.’

From The Blog
19 June 2017

‘Do you know any of them?’ a man asked me as I was looking at pictures of missing residents of Grenfell Tower on the railings of the Methodist church nearby. I told him I didn't. ‘They're all dead,’ he said. There was a protest on Friday at Kensington Town Hall. The council owns Grenfell Tower, which was managed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. ‘Don't destroy where we live. We've got people sleeping on lawns. We can't let them destroy where we live,’ a young woman said into a megaphone. ‘You told them to stay inside,’ another woman said. ‘You killed them. Justice will be served to them. We're not dumb. Our eyes are not closed. We know exactly what you've done. Don't let them sell your house. Don't let them kill you.’ A group of people had entered the town hall during the protest and there were reports of an occupation on social media but the crowd outside was calm. No one from the council came to talk to the protesters. ‘We're going back to the scene of the crime. Let's go back orderly. We'll represent Notting Hill,’ a man announced.

From The Blog
1 June 2017

On 18 May, Le Parisienreported that parts of the 18th arrondissement, between La Chapelle métro station and the Périphérique, had been ‘abandoned to men only’: Women don't have a place any more. Cafés, bars and restaurants are forbidden to them … Groups of dozens of men, street vendors, dealers, migrants and smugglers, hold the streets, harassing women.

From The Blog
5 May 2017

In the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday 23 April, Gwendoline, an 18-year-old from Hénin-Beaumont, a small northern town of 26,000 inhabitants, voted for the first time, for Marine Le Pen. Le Pen cast her own ballot in Hénin-Beaumont too. The Front National mayor, Steeve Briois, was elected in one round of voting in 2014. I met Gwendoline in a windswept railway station parking lot, on 1 May, as we were waiting for a bus to take us to Hénin-Beaumont. Our train had been cancelled. She laughed at how grim her bank holiday Monday had turned out to be – stuck in a car park on her way back from a funeral, with a mock baccalauréat exam to look forward to the next day. When the bus finally arrived, it took us very slowly across former mining lands, around a slag heap, not far from Oignies, where the last French coalmine closed in 1990. Gwendoline said that everyone in her class who was old enough to vote, voted for Le Pen. There wasn’t much to do in town, she said, maybe go to Auchan, the biggest shopping centre north of Paris, in the next town. ‘It's Hénin-Beaumont, it's not marvellous,’ she smiled.

From The Blog
5 April 2016

In March 2014, Robert Ménard, one of the founders of Reporters without Borders (he isn’t involved anymore) was elected mayor of Béziers, a small city in the South of France, with the support of the Front National. Ménard is not in the FN but has said he agrees with 80 per cent of what they say.

From The Blog
8 January 2016

French law allows naturalised citizens to be stripped of their citizenship if they commit a serious crime. Three days after the 13 November attacks in Paris, President Hollande announced that he wanted to extend the law to all citizens with dual nationality, a measure originally advocated by the Front National. The proposal will be debated in the National Assembly at the beginning of February. Rachid Ait El Haj, Bachir Ghoumid, Attila Turk, Fouad Charouali et Redouane Aberbri are in their late thirties or early forties. Four of them were born Moroccan, one Turkish, but they have all spent most of their lives in France and acquired French nationality. Last October they found out they’d lost it. ‘I was at home with my daughter, watching BFM TV,’ Attila told me. ‘They said five men – including one Franco-Turk – had been stripped of their French citizenship. It had to be us.’

From The Blog
31 March 2015

In November 2011, Bocar, a teacher in his early thirties, had just had dinner with his parents and was leaving their flat in the centre of Saint-Ouen, a suburb of Paris, accompanied by his two younger sisters, aged 16 and 21. ‘I saw a group of eight or nine police officers, from the BAC,’ he told me (Brigade anti-criminalité). ‘One hurried towards me, took my arm and pushed me to the side. I asked him what he was doing. “Police,” he said, and shoved me to the wall. I tried turning and he shouted: “Police! Do you want me to taser you?” So I told him to do whatever he had to and that I would do the same and file a complaint to Internal Affairs. He realised there was something wrong then – saw that I was educated and knew what my rights were. I could feel his colleagues were embarrassed. Some were keeping my sisters to the side. The officer kept behaving in an intimidating way, checked my ID, didn’t find anything – I have no criminal record – searched me, and after 20 minutes he let me go.’

From The Blog
9 December 2014

In the lobby of the House of Print, Grozny's nine-storey press building, there used to be eight or ten gas masks in a box. I remember thinking that it wasn't many for such a big building, and being told, jokingly, that if something bad was to happen, the masks were only for the security personnel. I thought about those gas masks last week, as pictures of the House of Print on fire appeared on the internet.

From The Blog
18 November 2014

On 22 October, the French journalist and LGBT activist Caroline Fourest was convicted of slandering a young woman called Rabia Bentot during her weekly slot on France Culture, a public radio station. She has said she will appeal.

From The Blog
20 June 2014

I took a cab from Bedford station to Yarl’s Wood last Sunday. Britain’s biggest immigration detention centre for women is on the edge of a business park in the middle of the countryside. The guard at the gate said there were ‘people around the premises’ when I asked him about the protest I’d come to join, but he wouldn't tell me where they were. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ he said. I walked away through the business park, past a giant warehouse that looked like an empty distribution centre, past the Red Bull Racing wind tunnel, until at last I saw a group of people protesting by a gate. But I was inside the business park and they were on the other side of the fence.

From The Blog
20 January 2014

In 1999, Sweden passed a law that made it a crime to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. It was the first law of its kind in the world, and is now sometimes referred to as ‘the Swedish model’. The Swedish government has been keen to export it. In 2009, Norway and Iceland adopted equivalent legislation. France passed a similar law at the beginning of December, and there have been calls for the UK to do likewise, not least since last month’s raids on sex workers’ flats in Soho.

From The Blog
29 August 2013

‘There are two Trappes,’ Myriam said. ‘There’s the nice bit you’ve seen – with individual houses and gardens – and the bit where we live. If you ever want to come back I can show you around.’ Trappes is a suburban town 30 kilometres west of Paris. Last week, around a hundred women and men marched there in protest against islamophobia. A few days before, a 16-year-old girl wearing a hijab had reportedly been attacked by two men.

From The Blog
10 June 2013

Last Wednesday afternoon, Clément Méric, a 19-year-old university student, was punched by a skinhead wearing brass knuckles on rue Caumartin in Paris. He fell and his head hit a pole. He was declared dead the following afternoon.

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