At the start of 2023, Germany’s far right descended on Dresden for its annual “March of Mourning.” Their show of force was a fist meant to punch a hole in Germany’s traditionally subdued “silent commemoration” of the anniversary of the firebombing of the city by the Allied forces in February 1945. “It’s part of an attempt to create an idea of Germans being not perpetrators but victims,” Stephan Petzold, a lecturer in German history at Leeds University, explained to Alexander Wells, who wrote a piece on the subject for us.
In May, Coda Story teamed with the investigative outfit Lighthouse Reports to mine a year’s worth of Instagram and other social media posts of Russian oligarchs and their families. Their accounts, once monuments to unashamed excess, reflected the desperate tactics they used to resist the sledgehammer of Western sanctions, which cost oligarchs a combined $67 billion in the first year of the war alone.
In October, Coda Story took a close look at dissent in Russia. Katia Patin, Coda’s multimedia editor, reported on Memorial, the decentralized human rights organization that had been ordered “liquidated” by Russia’s judges but is still operating out in the open, giving sold-out walking tours of the country’s history of repression in Moscow.
And in December, Coda staff reporter Isobel Cockerel returned from Sweden’s Arctic wilderness to unfurl a wrenching story that explores the fault line between the existential defense of an Indigenous people and a vision of carbon-free mining, a technofix that could help save our warming planet.
These are four of Coda Story’s best stories of 2023. They all began life by asking the same urgent questions that all of our journalism asks: In what places are abuses of power manifesting? How are new forms of authoritarianism impacting people’s lived experiences? What is at stake and why does it matter?
1. Dresden doesn’t know how to mourn its past: A symbol of moral ambivalence and the cost of war in general is transformed into a rallying cry for Germany’s far right.
2. Putin’s Oligarchs: A year in the sanctioned lives of Russia’s richest men: In partnership with Lighthouse Reports, an analysis of 69 publicly accessible accounts on Instagram and other social media platforms of Russia’s wealthiest families under sanctions gleaned unique insights into their lives before and after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
3. Surviving Russia’s control: The downfall of Russia’s most important human rights group has been greatly exaggerated.
4. In the Swedish Arctic, a battle for the climate rages: In Sweden, everyone is aware the climate is in crisis. And everyone has very different ideas on how to fix it.
By contesting historical understanding, undermining empirical science, subverting known facts, deploying technologies to roll back liberties, and operating with impunity across sovereign borders, authoritarians are rapidly adding all manner of cudgels to their toolkit. In 2023, these four stories and others listed below pried open people’s lives in more than a dozen countries to reveal how the unrelenting intrusion of the continuous present (to use Gertrude Stein’s observation about “Mrs. Dalloway”) makes impossible the enjoyment of going about their days.
- Around the world, an estimated 100,000 people work for third-party contractors that supply content moderation services for the likes of Meta, Google and TikTok. In Kenya, content moderators are fighting back against their disturbing conditions.
- A secretive network of wealthy wildlife preservationists are returning species back into Europe — without asking permission first.
- The contested region between China and India is a fulcrum for the national aspirations and self-identity of both countries, as well as emblematic of the new ways strongmen governments are redefining international borders.
- A little known agency enables European Union member states to carry out operations along EU borders with much less transparency, accountability or regulation than what would be required of any EU government.
- Australia searches for national identity in the trenches of World War I and finds a warning for the United States.
- The surveillance cameras of Colombia’s police are no match for the hundreds of “eyes” employed by street gangs.
- An investigation into New Mexico’s child welfare agency finds an overreliance on software meant to safeguard children from harm.
- The medical establishment has a long history of ignoring patients with “unexplained” symptoms. Then came long Covid.
- How American-made surveillance tech helped protect power — and the drug trade — in Honduras.
- A movement to empty Hindu pilgrimage sites of their Muslim residents gains momentum with help from the Indian government.