RUTH'S BLOG
As we celebrate our 50th birthday, we know our work is far from done

In 1971, writers and scholars came together with a vision to be a voice for the persecuted. That vision continues today

26 Mar 2021
BY RUTH SMEETH

Clockwise from top left: Poet Stephen Spender, codebreaker and historian Peter Calvocoressi, biographer Elizabeth Longford (© National Portrait Gallery, London) and philosopher Stuart Hampshire (The British Academy)

The founding story of Index is such an emotive one, at least for me. A challenge was laid at the feet of some of the great and the good – a global call for solidarity with those thinkers and creative beings who were living under a repressive regime. Supporting those dissidents who were standing against totalitarianism. Providing hope, solidarity and most importantly a platform to publish their work, to tell their stories.

50 years ago this week, four extraordinary people signed our charitable deeds founding Index on Censorship – Stephen Spender, Elizabeth Longford, Stuart Hampshire and Peter Calvocoressi. Their vision was clear – we were to be a voice for the persecuted, providing a home for dissident writers, scholars and artists and to shine a light on the actions of repressive regimes. You can read more on our amazing founders here –  www.indexoncensorship.org/50yearsofindex

I think we’ve lived up to their vision.

Over the last half century, with the help of so many, we’ve featured the works of inspirational dissident writers from Vaclav Havel to Salman Rushdie to Ma Jian. We’ve covered every aspect of censorship throughout the world from journalists being assassinated to governments restricting access to the internet. We’ve run successful campaigns on issues as varied as libel reform in the UK to hate speech. We’ve exhibited the work of artists and writers from repressive regimes at the Tate Modern and the British Library. And we’ve supported more than 80 Freedom of Expression award winners in the last 20 years – telling their stories and supporting their work.

There have been heartbreaking moments throughout our history, as friends were arrested for demanding their rights to free speech, as protesters were gunned down by repressive regimes, as democratic countries became more authoritarian and people because increasingly silenced. Our hearts bled, but our determination to be their voice, to fight with them and for them became stronger and stronger.

Birthdays provide a moment for reflection. By their very nature, you explore the past – what went well, what didn’t?  What should we be doing in the years ahead, what should we be focusing on. On our 50th birthday, what is clear is that our work is not done. That too many people are still being silenced, so we will keep fighting the good fight.

Because of the impact of Covid-19 we aren’t going to get to have a big birthday party this month (although I’m adamant we will to celebrate 50 years of the magazine next year), but we won’t let our 50th birthday go unmarked either

You’ll have seen our new branding for Index. Next month we’ll have a new design for the magazine, which I hope you’ll love – the team have done an amazing job. We have lots of plans for the months ahead – and I hope that you’ll be with us for the fights ahead.

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