It is quite often we express our ideas by writing a blog post, making a photo, but rarely we use cartoon form. It is unfortunate, since cartoons often offer more impact.
The power of a good cartoon is its capacity of displaying a whole dilemma in just one image. They are able to simplify hugely complex issues often adding a note of humour.
It is comfortable for an ordinary person with no illustration and pairing skills that, it is all about the idea that is represented in a cartoon, you don’t have to be a good sketcher.
A powerful element of cartoons is that you can’t choose not to see it, like you can with a written piece of journalism. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. Within seconds, politicians, multinationals and other forces of power are put in the spotlight. For instance, a big controversy arose after a publication of cartoon of “Muhammad overwhelmed by fundamentalists” in 2006 by publishing house Charlie Hebdo The magazine has been the target of several attacks with 12 people been killed. There were several attacks in Paris related to the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo and it initiated an intense debate in a country. In 2020 a history teacher Samuel Paty from Paris, who discussed the Charlie Hebdo caricatures in class, was beheaded on by an 18-year-old Chechen refugee who was shot dead by police.
The difference with photography is that it’s more than just a snapshot. An editorial cartoon represents a whole body of thought, an idea, a human value and/or an opinion. This leads to cartoons being the catalyst for conversation and dialogue.
This is why Cartoonists often fill the position of a human rights defender, because their cartoons make situational and cultural issues visible and evoke important conversations, holding up a mirror to authorities and ourselves.
In this sense, editorial cartoons are called the checks and balances of democracy and are an outlet for sharing different perspectives between different worlds and backgrounds.
Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Panevėžys Faculty of Technology and Business (PTVF) hosted a pilot session for young people. The seminar was led by Justinas, the founder of Abroadship.org.
This youth programme, on initiative of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lithuania, is coordinated by the Dutch Educational Organisation The Next Movement and co-created with the Andrei Sakharov Research Centre for Democratic Development, Lithuanian NGO Inovatyvi Karta, Art and Residency programme Artihost.eu and Global traveling and learning platform Abroadship.org.
The first phase of the program
In honor of 100 years of bilateral cooperation between Lithuania and the Netherlands, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lithuania invited young people to share their ideas about the future society. This cooperation and strong relationship are based on shared values, respect for human rights, the importance of democracy, the rule of law and the promotion of human security.
The Caricature of the Future program consists of two phases. The first was cartoon thinking, encouraging critical thinking, in which participants shared their perspectives, perspectives on a wide range of issues, and then drew sketches based on human rights, heroism and various national and global issues such as climate change, tax evasion, child exploitation.
The second stage in the Seimas
The second stage – sketches drawn during the first stage, the proposed ideas of young people will be sent to cartoonists from all over the world, who will choose what they would like to turn into professional cartoons. The cartoons will be solemnly shown during the exhibition 3rd November 2021. Depending on the global pandemic, program participants will be invited to join the exhibition in person or online. The cartoon exhibition, based on the ideas of young people, will be presented in Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and will travel to different Lithuanian cities to promote dialogue.
Cartoons draws attention
PTVF students and other registrants who participated in the program are happy with the event that this concept also came to Lithuania, that such topics are discussed in Panevėžys. Sometimes people don’t seem to think about global issues that directly affect everyone. During the program, participants expect to draw attention to the most sensitive issues in the world with their drawn cartoons.
During the programme we discussed two heroes of the past – Jan Zwartendijk and Andrei Sakharov – along with a brief explanation of the relationship between heroes and critical thinking.
In the course of time, mankind has always had the need for examples of how to behave during challenging or dangerous times. Individuals that met those needs were given the status of “hero”, and the general public was reminded of their example through statues and other public tokens.
In some cases:
(a) this heroic status was imposed by authorities as part of their political agenda.
(b) in others the heroic status changed over time as a result of socio-cultural changes and the resulting re-evaluation of their deeds.
Lithuania was literally littered with statues of Lenin and other Communist leaders, and after the reinstitution of independence they were removed. Some wound up in Grūto Parkas as a reminder to future generations. The statues were given a “second life”, however with a fundamentally different meaning.
In The Netherlands, military commanders who fought in the Dutch Indies against fighters for independence were considered heroes; however, in the current perception they were fighting a “wrong war”, and in some cases would now be considered war criminals. Statues come and go, depending on the political climate, and those that disappear the soonest are those that have been put up for political purposes.
Some individuals, however, committed heroic deeds without considering these actions heroic themselves, and never sought any public recognition. They took seriously what they perceived as their social responsibility, and the possible consequences did not deter them from following their conscience. They just did what they believed they had to do.
Jan Zwartendijk (1896-1976) was director of a Kaunas-based factory of the Dutch electronics firm Philips, and simultaneously an honorary consul in what was during the interwar period the Lithuanian capital. When the Soviets invaded Lithuania, Dutch Jews living in Lithuania turned to Zwartendijk with the request to issue them a visa to Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean. When other Jews, who had fled to Lithuania from Poland following the occupation of their country by the Nazis and Soviets, got word of this they also turned to Zwartendijk, and in the course of several weeks the latter issued almost 2,500 visas.
Thus Zwartendijk managed to save thousands of Jews from almost certain liquidation when the Nazis invaded Lithuania a year later. Zwartendijk never talked about what he did, and died in 1976. Only in the 1990s his deeds became public knowledge and gradually his children broke their father’s silence. He is now widely recognized for what he did.
Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was a brilliant physicist who at a very young age became involved in the Soviet nuclear program. Generally considered “father of the H-Bomb”, he soon became appalled by the way the Soviet leaders were playing the nuclear card. While belonging to the highest circles of Soviet leadership, he repeatedly spoke out against what he considered to be dangerous “nuclear games”, much to the irritation of Soviet leaders. In 1968 he published his first analysis of the dangers, as a result of the Cold War. When the authorities demanded he withdrew his text, he refused and told them he merely wrote down what he believed in. A year later he was one of the founders of the first human rights movement in the USSR, and during the subsequent decade he became the undeclared leader of the human rights movement in his country. When in 1979 he openly criticized the invasion of Afghanistan, he was exiled to the town of Gorki, where he spent seven long years under constant surveillance and intense psychological pressure organized by the regime. After his release in December 1986 he lived three more years, campaigning for human rights and the development of a parliamentary democracy in his country. He actively supported Lithuanian political prisoners and national self-determination.
In spite of all his contributions, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, Sakharov never asked for any honors or recognition. He just followed his conscience, did what he believed he had to do, and accepted the inevitable consequences. To many he became a source of hope, and a living example.
People like Zwartendijk and Sakharov live also today, often undetected, following their “internal voice” with the full understanding that the consequences could be serious. That they take action does not mean they don’t feel fear. Rather, fear does not deter them, and is considered a normal human reaction and not a reason to go against one’s own beliefs.
By bringing A. Sakharov and J. Zwartendijk into the public domain we aim to re-address the ideals they stood and fought for, and use them as a source of inspiration for a new generation that so much lacks such moral examples. Through their stories we can shine a light on the collective progress we as a civilization have achieved in a relatively short time frame following their epochs, while simultaneously highlighting just how fragile it all can be.
As history has proven to have an unfortunate proclivity of repeating itself. Horrific events from past generations that are so often drivers of societal mobilization for change evaporate from the civic consciousness, once again setting the stage for destructive elements to crop up seemingly without notice, until inevitably we reach a point of no return.
Younger people are both the victims as well as the catalyst of this revolving cycle. Their lack of historical context or an emotional connection to the past, makes it all the more difficult for them to see the immense value in understanding the struggles faced by generations past. As well as the role of heroic yet all too human figures of the time in helping orient our societies towards the right path forward.
In a way, the unmatched human progress that followed the horrific epochs of the Great and Cold wars, have had a blinding effect for the many who now reap its rewards. We are collectively subdued by it, believing that the progress and human rights we are blessed with today are inevitable and permanent qualities of life, when in reality they are malleable and constantly under attack. If we lose vigilance, we’re but a moment away from reverting back to a setting not too dissimilar from one seen in an Orwellian novel.
It is thereby increasingly important for young generations to display the desire to look critically at the world around them, have the ability to parse through the seemingly endless streams of data and identify fact from misinformation. All while showing a willingness to engage in honest and well intentioned dialogues with those standing on the opposite end of an ideological spectrum, with the hope of establishing a common set of facts and values and working towards bridging the divide.
- Cartooning the future programme (4 hours): we ask YOU to share your ideas about how YOU hope the future should look, what are today’s issues you’d like to see solved or changed?
- Online: A global network of over 700 cartoonists will turn YOUR ideas for OUR future into life, through the power of CARTOONS.
- Exhibition: The cartoons, based on your ideas, will be shown in exhibitions and shared with decision makers
Meeting at Seimas in Vilnius: Join the DIALOGUE and help SHAPE the future WE need!
Who can participate?
The programme is entirely free. The programme is designed for youth (15-35 years old), who are curious to share their vision on how the future should look, interested in dialogues with peers and who are keen to practice or develop new competences on critical thinking and resilience.