Dissidents.org is an initiative by Fundación para el Progreso that aims to gather and register testimonies from those who dare to speak out against repressive societies and governments around the world. Our testimonies intend to show the essence of “good rebels”, as for those leaders who have dedicated their lives to promote positive changes, to consolidate liberal democracy and who are constructive nonconformism.
The turbulent waters of the 20th century were characterized by totalitarian governments and unimaginable atrocities. This produced a series of extraordinary figures, capable of facing not only brutal states but also public opinion, their compatriots, and even their relatives. These were individuals who owned strong morals, didn’t hesitate to bet their lives for a better future. They didn’t hesitate to raise their voices when others stood silent. They didn’t just join the masses for approval.
Some of them conquered this with just one gesture, like August Landmesser, a shipyard worker from Hamburg who lived in Nazi Germany, during Adolf Hitler’s rule. In 1936, he stood still while people raised their hands energetically to praise their leader with the fascist salute. The moment was captured in a photograph and became one of the strongest symbols of courage in the world.
Others rejected to yield under the threads of authorities, even when that became a matter of life and death. The Czech lawyer Milada Horáková was tortured by the Gestapo and jailed because of her links to the antifascist movement during WWII. Around ten years later, the arriving communist government, which she opposed for its totalitarian practices, condemned her to death by drowning. Czechoslovakia would stay under the dictatorship for 40 years. Only then, Václav Havel, a restless fighter for democracy who was persecuted for decades, became the symbol of the victory against totalitarianism not only in Europe, but in the whole world. After that, as the president of the democratic Czech Republic, he would continue to condemn Human Rights crimes and to support those who were fighting for freedom in the rest of the world.
August Landmesser, Milada Horáková and Václav Havel were nonconformists who faced governments, mobs and organizations that were committed to strangle the fundamental freedoms of humanity. Likewise worldwide figures as Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Liu Xiaobo in China or Mahatma Gandhi in India, but also within people like the journalists Boris Nemtsov and Anna Politkovskaya who were murdered because they spoke up against the Russian Government.
Nevertheless, the world has long changed and so have the dissidence tools. Social Media and activism have become threats for authoritarian regimes all around the world. It is harder to hide Human Rights abuses, someone’s voice can cross the ocean and reach millions through Twitter. An authoritarian regime can grow overnight, degenerate from a democracy, or fall as quickly. Who are the dissidents who face this reality on the 21st century? We look forward to interviewing some of them.