What we want to do
Gandhi. Mandela. Martin Luther King Jr. These dissidents are household names, but there are many dozens of people like them, less universally known, whose stories are also breathtaking. They are human treasures, and our aim is to collect them for a global audience.
Our collection of stories will on one hand be a memorial to these dissidents, and on the other entertain and inspire our audience. We will tell them as dramas, taking advantage of our human desire to be placed under the spell of a good story.
We will make stories in animated film, podcast and text forms in a range of languages, and they will be available for free online.
A few brief portraits
In the long term we would like to have a collection of many stories. Just a few of the people we would like to make stories about are below.
Lillian Ngoyi and Helen Joseph
Lillian Ngoyi (1911 - 1980) and Helen Joseph (1905 - 1992), South Africa - Ngoyi was a widow with two children, working as a seamstress, when she joined the African National Congress. Joseph was a teacher from England who had moved to South Africa at the age of 26. Both women campaigned against apartheid and for women’s rights, marching together to protest against the government’s repressive policies against women on 9 August 1956 (the anniversary is now celebrated as Women’s Day in South Africa). Both women suffered persecution at the hands of the government over long periods. Ngoyi died before seeing the end of apartheid, but Joseph lived to see it. The two women are buried by each other’s side.
Václav Havel, Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic (1936 - 2011) – A playwright, Havel became a prominent critic of the communist and Soviet-influenced Czechoslovak government of the 1960s-1980s. He was one of the organisers of Charter 77, a document calling for the civil rights which were already written into law to be recognised. He also wrote the famous ‘Power of the Powerless’ essay, which identified the smaller and larger ways in which everyday people could act against repressive regimes, and why they should do so. When eventually the government fell in 1989, he became the first ‘free’ president.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Argentina - In Argentina during the Dirty War of the late 1970s and early 1980s, women wanting to know where their sons had disappeared to would regularly ask at the ministry of information. Bumping into one another often, they formed a group, and despite government repression would each week congregate in the Plaza de Mayo, wearing scarves embroidered with the names of their sons, demanding to know their whereabouts. Some of their number subsequently disappeared.
Fathi Eljahmi, Libya (1941 - 2009) - A Libyan democracy advocate and stubborn thorn in the side of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. On one occasion, strongmen threatened to rape his daughters unless he apologised for criticising the regime. He told them he would rather die than apologise for speaking the truth. On another occasion he and his wife were stabbed, and the perpetrators terrorised his children by licking the blood from the floor. Eljahmi died from ill health as a result of imprisonment.
Víctor Jara, Chile (1932 - 1973) - A famous singer and theatre director amongst other things, Jara was at the Technical University in Santiago the day the coup of Augosto Pinochet began in 1973. As he and the others at the university spent an anxious night at the campus, surrounded by tanks, with heavy gunfire ringing, Jara sang to lift morale. Captured in the morning along with the others, he was eventually recognised for who he was. After a few days imprisonment, Pinochet’s agents crushed the bones of Jara’s hands, then taunted him, asking him to sing them a song. He raised himself and sang ‘Venceremos’ (We Will Overcome’). He was shot 44 times.
Mohandas Gandhi, India (1869 - 1948) - Becoming leader of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi campaigned for Indian independence, greater women’s rights, religious tolerance, economic equality and the easing of poverty. Imprisoned several times, he eventually lived to see Indian independence, but was assassinated by a Hindu extremist. His birthday is celebrated as the International Day of Nonviolence.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma/Myanmar (1945 - ) - Joining the protests against the Burmese junta in 1988, she soon became a democracy leader, drawing on the popularity of her father, Aung San, the father of the Burmese nation. She survived at least two assassination attempts, and was put under house arrest for close to twenty years, while her portrait hung in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country. In 2012, she was elected to the Burma/Myanmar parliament after limited democracy was restored to the country.
Lech Walesa, Poland (1943 - ) – Mechanic and electrician, he worked in the Gdansk shipyards from the 1960s. He organised non-communist trade unions, and in 1981 became the leader of the largest of them, Solidarity, which had almost 10 million members, after emerging only a year earlier. Throughout the 1980s he and Solidarity persisted in defying the government amidst ongoing persecution, until semi-free elections were promised, to be held on 4 June, 1989. Watching the military crackdown that was at that moment taking place against democracy advocates in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, many Poles feared a similar event taking place in their own country, but it was not to be; Solidarity-aligned parties won a majority of seats, and in 1990 Wałęsa was elected president of Poland.
Anton Vladimirovich Antonov-Ovseyenko
Anton Vladimirovich Antonov-Ovseyenko, Russia (1920 - 2013) – A historian. His father was a famous Soviet revolutionary military commander executed in one of Stalin’s purges in 1938, and his mother committed suicide in prison in 1936. With this background, Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko was himself imprisoned in the Soviet gulag in 1940, where he spent 13 years. On one occasion, he was forced at gunpoint to read one of Stalin’s speeches over prison radio. Upon his release, he wrote books documenting the atrocities of Stalin’s regime, and in the 2000s set up the GULAG Museum in Moscow. “It is the duty of every honest person to write the truth about Stalin,” he wrote in the preface to one of his books.
Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko
Anatoly Tikhonovich Marchenko, USSR (1938 - 1986) – A labourer, Marchenko was arbitrarily imprisoned at the age of 20 after being in the vicinity of a bar fight. After a few years in prison he tried to escape to Iran, but was caught and given an extended sentence. During this time he began to write about his experiences in the network of Soviet prison camps known as the gulag, hoping to make it known that the network continued to operate despite the death of Stalin. Of his 48 years he spent 20 in prison; he died during a hunger strike demanding the release of political prisoners in the USSR.
Aminatou Haidar, Western Sahara/Morocco (1966 - ) - Imprisoned without trial in Morocco for four years between 1987-1991, Haidar routinely underwent interrogation and torture. Because she was blindfolded the entire time, she developed an extreme sensitivity to daylight. She had peacefully campaigned for independence for the Sahrawi people in the west of what is known as Morocco. She still does.
Sophie Scholl, Germany (1921 - 1943) - A member of the White Rose group, she distributed anti-war leaflets in Munich during the Second World War until being caught along with the rest of the White Rose. At her trial, she said: “I am, now as before, of the opinion that I did the best that I could for my nation. I therefore do not regret my conduct, and will bear the consequences that result from my conduct.” She was guillotined.
Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr, United States of America (1929-1968) – Pastor and civil rights activist, he led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott which aimed to highlight the injustice of racial segregation, and continued all his life to campaign non-violently against racial discrimination. In 1963, he helped organise the March on Washington, and there delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Living through investigation and intimidation by the FBI, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by a racial extremist.
Vladimir Bukovsky, Russia (1942 - ) - A Russian neurophysiologist allowed to travel to an international conference, Bukovsky was the first person to expose punishment psychiatry in the Soviet Union, the practice of chemically altering a person’s brain as a form of torture and intimidation. For this he served 12 years hard labour and was himself subjected to punishment psychiatry, until he managed to flee to Britain, becoming an academic, and much later a Russian presidential candidate.
Riyad al-Turk, Syria (1930 - ) - First imprisoned in 1952, after protesting the military regime that had come to power via a coup in his native Syria, he has spent most of his life behind bars. During a period of 18 years of solitary confinement, one of his only diversions was to collect grains of cereal from his soup and arrange them into pictures on his cell floor.
Other stories are those of Nelson Mandela, Anna Walentynowicz, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malalai Joya, Ken Saro Wiwa, Ibrahim Rugova, Chico Mendes, Min Ko Naing, Wei Jingsheng, Salih Mahmoud Mohamed Osman, Andrei Sakharov, John Lewis, and Oscar Romero, amongst many others.
If you would like to suggest a story, please email us.