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Five years after terror attack ‘The Charlie Hebdo spirit has completely disappeared’

Man holding newspaper showing gunshot blood illustration

Thierry Barrigue posing with Swiss satirical newspaper Vigousse on January 7, 2015

(Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott)

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdoexternal link survived the attack that decimated its editorial office in Paris on January 7, 2015. But the “Charlie spirit” is dead, says Swiss press cartoonist Thierry Barrigue with the bitter observation that “Fear has triumphed”.

In the aftermath of the carnage that killed 12 members of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo – as well as five others – the expression “I am Charlie” became a motto to defend freedom of expression. But this moment of ephemeral communion quickly passed, strangled by the dictates of the internet and the difficulties of the press. Thierry Barrigue, the founder of Vigousseexternal link, a satirical weekly in French-speaking Switzerland, is worried about the future of press cartoons. Five years after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has the cartoonist profession changed?

Thierry Barrigue: Yes, the profession has changed enormously. Beyond the loss of these friends and their irreplaceable talent in the attacks, the press cartoon took a nasty blow. It is doing very badly because of the self-censorship imposed by publishers.

Newspapers are dying and disappearing. Designers no longer manage to make a living from their profession, or they bend to the constraints of the internet and of those imposed by people with unhealthy views on the idea of freedom.

Words 'I am Charlie' crushing a terrorist

Drawing by Charlie Hebdo designer Coco, published in Vigousse after the attack

(Coco / Vigousse)

What must be done to safeguard this freedom of expression?

We can no longer be content to draw in our corner, on a sheet, in our respective offices. We have to go back into the field, onto the streets, and into schools to secure the future of cartoons. Freedom of expression and critical thinking must be incorporated into school curricula in order to train a new generation to regard cartoons as essential to a democracy.

The satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo survived the attacks, but is the Charlie spirit still alive?

No, the famous expression “Je suis Charlie” [I am Charlie] lasted for one big demonstration in Paris, attended by heads of state who locked up press cartoonists in their own countries. The Charlie spirit lasted as long as an emotion. But it lives on through the magazine, which survived thanks to donations received after the attacks.

But in people’s minds the Charlie spirit has completely disappeared, because we are in a society that is legitimately afraid of the future. Now newspapers are afraid to publish cartoons, afraid of reactions online, afraid of anonymous internet users. However, it is not with fear that freedom of expression will advance; on the contrary, it will be pushed back.

Has fear won?

Yes, unfortunately, fear has triumphed. I say it with great emotion. Among colleagues, we are united, but the lack of support from society is glaring. There are always people who enjoy humour. We have our audience, but it’s not enough to support cartoonists.

Cartoon of man with a pencil at gunpoint

The cover of Vigousse a week after the Charlie Hebdo attack: "Humour. Let's not give up."

(Barrigue / Vigousse)

Despite everything, are we seeing the emergence of a new generation of press cartoonists?

Of course, the young designers are there. We have ten at Vigousse. They represent a young generation that still manages to make a living from their profession. There is still, and always will be, a resistance, a desire to perpetuate the expression of satire and criticism through drawings.

Is there a “before and after” Charlie Hebdo in Switzerland, within the editorial staff of Vigousse?

Obviously, if I said the opposite it would be hypocritical. We no longer publish caricatures with the same lightness that we had in the 1970s and 1980s. There is obviously a kind of an awareness of the responsibility we have when drawing this or that subject. We are indebted to those who died. They hover over our pages; we think of them.

As we are not directly threatened in Switzerland, we are not afraid. However, we have become aware that drawing is a vector of misunderstanding revealing the suffering of society and the world. We thus have an additional responsibility.

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