Princess Leia about to go into battle against Darth Vader’s troops: With a little imagination, this could be a scene from a Star Wars film. But this is not Alderaan, it’s Belarus. In 2020, tens of thousands of people protested peacefully against the country’s longtime ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, with many of the female demonstrators wearing white dresses. Lukashenko ordered the protests to be put down by force. The woman in this photo wore a wedding dress as a symbol against the violence. The contrast could hardly be greater.
Hugging for freedom
wearing white or red, the demonstrators stand out against the military uniforms of the Belarusian security forces. This young woman was also protesting against Lukashenko, but instead of putting on a wedding dress she used physical contact as a symbol and gave this apparently very young soldier a hug. She was demonstrating for peace and freedom, but the soldier didn’t appear to know quite how to deal with the situation. Both of these photographs were taken by the Belarusian photographer Violetta Savchits.
Hands on shields
Peaceful demonstrators confronted by belligerent-looking security forces: We change countries but the theme remains the same. Here, people in Istanbul were demonstrating for their rights. The demonstrators went right up and touched the plexiglass shields of the Turkish police with their open hands. In Turkey, it’s not just demonstrators but also journalists who have come under political pressure. The photographer Yasin Akgul has not yielded, and has been managing to take striking pictures like this one. But the fact that powerful photos can also have bad repercussions is shown by the next picture.
Unspectacular picture — unexpected consequences
If the man in uniform weren’t standing there, this could be a holiday snapshot in which a couple is seen arriving at a hotel and hotel staff are waiting for their luggage. But in fact it shows Cumhuriyet journalist Kadri Gursel, who had served a prison term for his work, being released from jail. His wife welcomed him at the prison gate, and the two of them fell into each other’s arms. The photo moved so many people in Turkey that the authorities reacted. “Since then, prisoners have no longer been released at the prison gate […] but at a remote roadhouse on the highway,” said photographer Yasin Akgul. “That is the other side to this successful picture.”
Death without a goodbye
More than 400,000 people have died in Brazil of COVID-19, making it the country with the most coronavirus deaths in the world after the United States. And what has Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, been doing? He has downplayed the crisis, described the coronavirus as a “slight flu” and barely imposed any measures to protect the population. The result can be seen at mass graves like this one in the Sao Luiz cemetery on the edge of Sao Paulo. Funerals have become a lonely, sterile routine; mourners no longer have the chance to say farewell to the deceased.
A bridge for a roof
These homeless people in Sao Paolo can barely protect themselves against COVID-19. Only a thin blanket lies between them and the hard ground, cars driving all around them. At least the bridge provides some sort of roof over their heads. This photo is also by the photographer Lalo de Almeida, who wants to draw attention to the major social crisis in his country. He photographs people whose biggest problem is not face masks and hygiene but getting enough food for themselves and their children. The graffiti on the bridge pillar showing Bolsonaro as a puppet of ex-US President Donald Trump is unlikely to do much to cheer up these people without a proper home to live in.
Here, instead of sleeping under a bridge, people have taken shelter near gas pumps. Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos, was the biggest refugee camp in the European Union until it was destroyed by a fire in September 2020. After the fire, the displaced residents had nothing left and had to sleep out in the streets — or, as here, under the roof of a gas station. The outlook for these people, who have only a small chance of being granted asylum, is anything but rosy.
Small steps to a better life?
When the already dire situation on the island of Lesbos was made worse by the pandemic, some of the 12,000 refugees living there were taken to the Greek mainland. Among them was this small girl seen here walking to a bus at the port of Piraeus near Athens. These two photos from Greece were taken by the photographer Louisa Gouliamaki.
Before the war in Libya, these were apartment blocks. Today, it’s hard to believe that people still call them home. These buildings are in the old part of the city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, where nine years of civil war ensued after longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was swept away by the Arab Spring. The country’s infrastructure, shown by the Irish photojournalist Ivor Prickett in his photos, reflects the conflict.
Candy floss or popcorn?
This candy stall on Martyrs’ Square in the center of the Libyan city of Tripoli looks almost surreal. Candy floss or popcorn? That is the question here, one that could hardly seem less important in a land ravaged by civil war, death and destruction. But it also conjures up a sense of normality. Many emotional wounds can be salved with sticky-sweet treats — at least for a while. This photo was also taken by Ivor Prickett, who has visited Libya twice since 2011.
All the above photos are taken from the book “Photos for Press Freedom 2021” published by Reporters Without Borders.
This article has been translated from German