Déjà vu During the USSR's August Putsch, a photographer shot an iconic image of five protesters. 28 years later, he's discovered that one of them is Nobel Prize-winning economist Esther Duflo.
Dmitry Borko started his week by posting a bit of history on Facebook: The Russian photojournalist had discovered the story behind one of his own photographs, a shot he took on August 19, 1991. In the photograph, a group of young people has climbed onto a trolley near the White House in Moscow to hold up a poster that says “Fascism won’t fly.” Borko wrote that he did not know the people in the photo but had always dreamed of finding out who they were.
The photographer noted that this particular shot has been published on multiple occasions, including in his own book 1991/1993 and in a project by the human rights group Memorial that was dedicated to the events of August 1991. In the latter project, Borko’s shot was featured as the cover photo for an entire section.
Borko recently received a Facebook message from a woman (he did not reveal her name) who recognized herself and her friends in the photo. She wrote, “At the time, I was about to start my second year at the Second Med [i.e. the N.I. Pirogov Russian National Medical Research University] — I was training as a pediatrician, a neonatologist. The boy in between the girls is my childhood friend from [the Pushkin Museum’s Young Art Historians’ Club]. He became a chemist, and he lives in Boston now. Just today, he flew in to Moscow for a couple of days. On the right, the person raising his fist, that’s his classmate. […] And now, most importantly, the girl in white pants holding up the sign is Esther Duflo. A week ago, she won the Nobel Prize in Economics! She was my good friend from France, and she would spend the holidays with us. She even spent almost an entire year with us in Moscow. Now, she teaches at MIT in Boston. She’ll be turning 47 soon.”
Along with her husband, Abhijit Banerjee, and her colleague Michael Kremer, Esther Duflo received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for an “experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” The three economists developed effective measures to fight poverty in developing countries, but their most important achievement involved introducing a strict, experimental approach to economics that closely mirrors that of the natural sciences. Duflo was the second woman and the youngest person ever to win the prize.
The award-winning economist has a number of ties to Russia. She studied Russian as a high school student, spent 10 months in Moscow in 1993, and received her master’s degree in history and economics from the École normale supérieure in Paris with a dissertation on the history of the USSR’s first Five-Year Plan.
“I understand that no photograph can make anyone come back to life or bring the past back to us. But sometimes, old photos weave miraculously into the present, and that’s when you know that you didn’t take all those ” Dmitry Borko wrote.
Cover photo: Cyril Fresillon / CNRS Phototheque / AP / Scanpix / LETA