Thoughts on FECO - by Tjeerd Royaards
FECO or the Federation of Cartoonists Organisations was founded 1983 in by three cartoonists from the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain. According to their website, they now have chapters in over 30 countries. The goals of FECO are to provide information on cartoon contests around the world, to safeguard author's rights and freedom of opinion, and to support cartoonists who have been victimized for political or professional reasons (this last goal is listed on the website, although not every board member agrees this should be part of the mission of FECO).
FECO is one of the major players in the field of cartooning. But it is not uncontroversial. One critic is Iranian cartoonist Kianoush Ramezani, who has fled Iran because of his work. He has been living in exile in France since 2010. He is highly critical of FECO's activities in Iran, in particular the fact that FECO cooperates with the Iranian House of Cartoon and the Tabriz Cartoon Association (until quite recently the official representative of FECO in Iran - according to FECO they did not pay their contribution, so they no longer have this role). Ramezani: 'The world knows these two organizations are part of the propaganda of the Islamic State of Iran. They are directly responsible for the exile of numerous Iranian cartoonists, for repression and torture. The world knows all cartooning events are managed by them with an enormous budget of the regime.'
In an open letter to FECO, Ramezani calls upon the organization to stop its cooperation with the Iran House of Cartoon and the Tabriz Cartoon Association. Several board members of FECO have responded this his letter.
French cartoonist Brito mentions the many the talented cartoonists in Iran: 'I consider it our duty not to close doors and windows of the world to cartoonists from Iran. And I think that, perhaps, one of the possible ways to do that is to participate in Iranian contests. Personally, I never participated in any Iranian contest and that I don’t intend to do so, but I defend the right of any cartoonist to do this. If we boycott Iran, why not boycott Russia, China, Cuba, the United States of America or Israel?'
Dutch artist and one of the founders of FECO, Peter Nieuwendijk, writes the following in a personal statement in response to Ramezani's letter: 'We are NOT Amnesty International. We are NOT Cartoonists Rights Network International. We are no politicians, we are no judges, we do not condemn. We are cartoonists. We draw about problems; we make people think and laugh, help them to decide, so they can form their own conclusions.'
Judge and Condemn
As editor of a cartoon platform that also has the mission to stand up for freedom of expression and to support cartoonists in trouble, and as an editorial cartoonist myself, I can't help but agree with some of the points raised by Kianoush Ramezani.
In February, we wrote about the Holocaust Cartoon Competition organized by the House of Cartoon in Iran. We noted that the competition was 'politically motivated, politically funded, and politically controlled by the Iranian government.' This competition is not looking for independent cartoons, but for images that will support the politics of Iran.
Brito raises a fair point when he asks why we should boycott Iran and not other countries. But to me, the delineator is quite clear. Yes, I disagree with many of the policies of the US and Israel, but any competition taking place in these countries will be independent of the state. I can make a hard-hitting caricature of Obama or Netanyahu and send it in for a competition in these countries. I could of course also send a caricature of Rouhani or Khamenei to an Iranian cartoon competition, but I doubt it would be published, let alone selected as prize-winner. US cartoonist Daryl Cagle made a great protest cartoon which he entered into the Holocaust Competition. I doubt we will see it on Irancartoon.com.
Brito goes on to note that in some countries censorship can be insidious, less visible than in Iran but no less damaging. Althoug this is undoubtedly true, we have to draw a line somewhere. And I think putting an end to cooperation with openly state-sponsored cartoon institutions of authoritarian regimes is a good place to start.
Ramezani points out that boycotting these two organizations would not mean a total boycott of cartoonists in Iran. He argues that FECO should connect with independent Iranian cartoonists.
To me, the core of cartooning is independence, and its foundation is freedom of expression. In a world where truth is often in the eye of the beholder, these two values should be paramount to cartoonists and the organizations that represent them. Contrary to what Mr. Nieuwendijk believes, I do feel it's our duty to judge and condemn those who threaten our freedom to draw what we want, and those who would use cartoons for propaganda and political purposes. I wholeheartedly agree that we should not lose touch with the cartoonists in Iran, but I do not believe that working with regime-sponsored institutions to that end is a constructive way to do that. We should find a way to connect with independent Iranian cartoonists, however difficult that may be.
I'd be very interested to hear what other cartoonists (and people interested in cartoons) think about this. Feel free to share your point of view in the comment section below.
Update: Just before publication of this post, Daryl Cagle mentioned new developments on his Facebook page. He states Bernard Bouton, secretary-general of FECO (and also a member of the Cartoon Movement community) has resigned from FECO. In recent days, Bouton has been criticized for participating in the Holocaust Competition. According to Cagle, ‘the French cartoonists, the largest part of FECO, are calling for new elections to replace the FECO board and to disassociate FECO from Iran's infamous ‘House of Cartoons’. We will continue to follow the story, and will report any new developments.