Cartoons and human rights come together in Geneva

February 23, 2021

Kyra Dupont in Geneva Solutions of 23 February 2021 goes into the history that links Geneva and cartoons: “Drawings for peace, the role of Geneva” Geneva is said to be the cradle of comics thanks to Rodolphe Töpffer who was the first to put words on an illustrative sequence in the 1830s. Geneva has remained a vivid breeding ground for cartoons since then. (Credit: Patrick Chappatte) “Töpffer pioneered the genre, his work was a laboratory,” confirmed Zep at the opening of the exhibition, The comic strip, a Geneva invention? last November. The comic artist and creator of the bestselling Titeuf series discovered him at the age of 20 and admits that it is difficult to escape his influence for a cartoonist living in Geneva.

Since then, Switzerland remains the country with the most important press organizations’ ratio in the world compared to its population.

…..there is indeed a Geneva breeding ground for comic strips and press cartoons, two universes which cohabit in “a kinship never totally assumed, a bit like cousins from first-generation families with their own associations, their own interests, but both take part in this great wealth of talent and artists in a very small area with a very small population,” explains Patrick Chappatte, press cartoonist for Le Temps or the Boston Globe, among others. Indeed, political cartoonists are doing more than well in French-speaking Switzerland between Mix and Remix or Burki, which have now disappeared, but also Barrigues, Herman, Benedict, the new artists of the satirical newspaper Vigousse or the recent application La Torche 2.0 which develops press cartoons on smartphones.

Chappatte recalls that the press cartoons developed hand in hand with press freedom and democracy. Today we cannot imagine the front page of our newspapers without them.

“As luck would have it, today we are in a period where press cartoons are heckled and democracy is being questioned everywhere. We are living in a paradoxical era where we can say absolutely everything and send each other the worst things on social networks, and at the same time we bear a cautious attitude in the traditional media, companies under economic pressure, and exercise great caution in crisis management. On the one hand a precautionary principle is applied to humour and opinion, and on the other hand the real reactionaries are completely unleashed on social networks.”

The filtering of the media, the real professional entities, is what is most damaging to democracy and freedom of expression, according to the cartoonist who had to stop drawing for The New York Times when it decided to no longer publish daily political cartoons in its international edition in June 2019. “They took the easiest path in order to not have problems with political cartoons in the future… Did we just invent preventive censorship ? This, in the end, is about democracy,”  reacted Chappatte in his Ted talk, “A free world needs satire”.

Chappatte is the president of the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation. Renamed last October, the Geneva-based Cartooning for Peace Foundation was created in 2010 at the initiative of Kofi Annan See https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/EBEE0ECF-565B-6614-9B67-A6938EB46155. Every two years, with the support of the city of Geneva, the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation rewards a cartoonist for his courage and his role in promoting freedom of expression and human rights in particularly difficult circumstances. Note there is also the US-based Robert Russell Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award [https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/089b7a90-6c76-11e7-9ec2-2b88daf768c2]

This year, Chappatte was also awarded the Fondation pour Genève prize for his outstanding contribution to the influence of Geneva and his commitment to freedom of press and expression. “It’s quite a strong message at a time when press cartoons are being called into question,” says Chappatte, who regrets that the sanitary crisis has delayed the Freedom Cartoonists Foundation’s price to May 2021.

The extremists, the autocrats, the dictators and all the ideologues of the world cannot stand humour…We need political cartoons more than ever and we need humour.

For some earlier posts on cartoons see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/cartoons/

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