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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-07-2019 11:11

Vitality in the face of horror and sorrow

He didn’t tend to tell us about the struggles of the past, unless we prompted him to do so.

When Andrew came to visit us in the past few years at the offices of Index on Censorship magazine, he was always full of jokes and stories. But he didn’t tend to tell us about the struggles of the past, unless we prompted him to do so.

Clearly his years at Index were incredibly important to him – Andrew had an extremely long history with us, working with us from the second issue – and he always wanted to stay in touch. So every summer, when he came over to the UK to see his family, he would pop in and say hello, and find out how we were all doing. Sometimes we would ask him if he would write for us again, and most often when we asked he would.

In 2015, he reviewed media freedom over the past four decades in Argentina in a cracking good read. In it he said: “Freedom of expression has moved on a bit. They don’t kill journalists any more. Harassment is more common.”

He added though that “what has replaced censorship is the massive control of the media by the government, through favoured supporters becoming its owners.”

In the past few years, Andrew didn’t really retire. He let us know what was happening in Argentina when he could, and often continued to write about Index on Censorship and the work we continue to do, even in the pages of the Buenos Aires Times.

During Andrew’s time as editor here, he continued his work to bring global attention to the frightening taking place in Argentina.

Another former editor of Index, Judith Vidal-Hall remembers a significant meeting with Andrew.

“Just before he was about to return to Argentina for the first time since his escape from the military junta in 1976, Andrew gave me a bulky package, asking that I take care of it in his absence. It was 1983 or 84 and he did well to be cautious; he was badly beaten up as he prepared to testify to the ‘disappearances’ under the military,” she recalled.

“On his return he opened the parcel – which I’d kept under my bed untouched – and showed me the documents inside. Long lists of names, dates, details he’d recorded between 1973 and his departure three years later. These were the disappeared, the only record at the time, meticulously recorded by Andrew and the reason for the junta’s attempt on his life shortly before his departure.”

When Andrew was the editor of Index, from 1989 to 1993, South America was not his only area of interest. Under his helm, the magazine also published for the first time in English a remarkable series of documents from the KGB headquarters, the Lubianka, including the record of the interrogation of the celebrated Russian writer Issac Babel.

Andrew also brought the playwright Ariel Dorfman to Index for the first time, and worked with him on editing and publishing the play Death and the Maiden in our magazine, before it was seen anywhere else.

Dorfman has continued to support Index through the years, and this week remembered how he first met Andrew Graham-Yooll in 1974.

“I had left Chile a month or so earlier, and he was extremely sympathetic to my plight as an exile and showed enormous solidarity with Chile and its victims. I can remember how we discussed the possibility that Argentina would also succumb to the sort of terror and disappearances that were plaguing Chile and he said that if that were the case he would be the first to denounce it – he never thought he himself would go into exile.” he said.

Dorfman added that the duo “renewed our friendship when, indeed, he was forced to leave Argentina and settled in England, continuing his crusade for human rights and truth in journalism that he had dedicated himself to at the Buenos Aires Herald. We met almost every time my wife and I were in London. I recall that he organised a meeting of exiled writers – and I cherish the many days that this allowed us to spend together!”

For the writer and human rights activist, their relationship was very close. ”He was not only my friend, but my editor. He published Death and the Maiden in Index – the first time it was ever printed. And that initiated my collaboration with Index, which I so value to this day.”

For all of us, those who remember how much danger Andrew put himself in, and his commitment to letting the world know where people were being disappeared or murdered for what they wrote or thought, Dorfman has excellent last words.

“For a man on such a serious mission, of such vast courage, always so close to horror and death and sorrow, Andrew was vitality itself, with a wonderful smile and sense of humour. ‘The bastards won’t take joy away from us,’ he once said to me.”

And now I’ll repeat that and say that death can’t take the joy away from having been his compañero.”

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Rachael Jolley

Rachael Jolley

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