The Iranian government harasses, imprisons and tortures journalists on a daily basis. Why? For exercising their fundamental right to freedom of information and expression.
Journalism is not a Crime was set up to support these jailed journalists. The site, which is officially launched on June 9, documents cases where journalists are unfairly arrested, and aids reporters and their loved ones by providing legal and psychological help to those affected.
To launch the campaign, IranWire spoke to Polish satirist, writer and actor Jacek Fedorowicz. He broke all ties with Poland’s national media when martial law was imposed in December 1981. During that time, his work mocked the Communist system and poked fun at state-issued news. A supporter of Solidarność (Solidarity), the trade union launched by Lech Walesa in 1980, and later banned by the ruling regime, his work championed civil resistance through incisive humor. An acclaimed cartoonist, he is the co-author of a series of comic books on the Solidarność movement. Anna J.Dudek spoke to Fedorowicz about censorship, self-censorship and how resistance shapes creativity.
What do you think of when you hear the word “censorship”?
Let's not waste time on trying to prove to the world that censorship is wrong. And I should know how wrong it is, since almost all of my adult life was spent with the stigma of it. Amongst the memories from that time, there are certainly very few good ones.
Some artists say censorship rendered them more creative.
Well, such understanding would mean that suppressing freedom of speech somehow ennobles the artist and his work by making the author use metaphors. Talking about censorship as if it were something of a creativity catalyst is like being happy about warm meal in prison. Let us always remember that real masterpieces are crafted when artists work without censorhip's help.
From 1944 until 1990 almost every piece of writing and art in Poland was censored. Half a century seems like more than enough time to influence both the artists and their audience. What was that influence?
Censorship has left its mark on journalists, writers, painters, comedians... Mostly because it forced subconscious self-censorship, which was extremely hard to shake off. After years or decades of fighting censorship, authors would begin to self-censor. Most journalists had this little censor sitting on his arm, saying: “don't write about this, this will never get published”. As Stefan Kisielewski [Polish writer and publicist who openly opposed censorship; in 1968 he was forbidden from publishing for three years and beaten up by "unknown perpetrators”.] put it brilliantly, censorship was a secret, invisible co-author of all articles.
I was fortunate enough to get away from this quite early. When Solidarność was founded we had a chance of writing practically without censorship. I started exercising this freedom right away.
How? They were always lurking...
From the beginning, Solidarność worked out this peculiar legal formula, according to which some publications were meant for internal use only. This was the key to writing freely. In 1980 and 1981, together with colleagues from Radio Solidarność from the region of Mazowsze, we would record programs that were completely beyond the censors' control. I dare to say we had a bigger audience that the official radio, as people would mostly listen to us at their places of work. Our work and programs were purely anti-totalitarian.
So after Solidarność was founded, writing became pure delight. Since that moment I made a decision never to work for official media.
Satirists and comedians often say that difficult times for society are good times for satire. Can laughter can serve as a shield from brutal reality?
I don't agree entirely. In the Polish People's Republic it was relatively easy to succeed. Imagine this: most of the society is against the system, the same system that doesn't allow artists to talk about the system. So a little bit of courage and determination to give people what they wanted was all you needed. This would ensure success no matter what the artistic value of work was. Then the freedom came and verified everything. In normal times it's not so easy. Knowing all this we have to keep in mind, making the decision about being the government's opponent was not easy.
Were drawings and cartoons that often gave short and to the point commentary of the political reality were different back then?
The differences were exactly the same as with writing. Before regaining independence everything against the regime was applauded. It's more difficult for an artist to function in the world where you can do whatever you want.
In 1984 you created a comic book about Solidarność. Why a comic book?
We suspected that shortly after Solidarność was outlawed the Communist Party would start the process of wiping out the collective memory of Polish society. We were right. We couldn't let this happen, so we decided to produce a historical document about the history of Solidarność. Why a comic book? We wanted it to be appealing to the youth. There were no computers and graphic programs, so I hand drew everything. Over 200 characters from real life — general Wojciech Jaruzelski, Lech Wałęsa, Mieczysław Rakowski, Edward Gierek... The main objective here was the historical truth and resemblance of those I was drawing to their actual counterparts. This could not have been an artistic impression.
Did you feel it was your duty to preserve the memories about this time?
Yes. We all thought that our first obligation is to preserve the truth because we didn't know how long the road to independence was going to be. That's why we came up with the idea for the comic book, that's why we traveled all over the country to record everything that was happening in Solidarność, which later allowed us to publish books on the subject.
When you look at the media today, do you like what you see? Do you feel your efforts weren’t wasted?
I'm not a fan of today's Polish media. Cheap entertainment and mediocrity. But then I say to myself: we worked hard so this country could have its freedom again. Now it does. And if there's freedom and safety, also mediocre media will surface. It's normal. I'm happy about it. God forbid the time comes when I would have to play Messiah again.
This article was originally published to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, which takes place on May 3 each year.
To learn more about issues affecting journalists in Iran please visit: journalismisnotacrime.com