The letter Rupert Besley (PCO committee member) sent to Catherine Bearder.
Dear Mrs Bearder,
re Greek cartoons in Brussels exhibition
I am writing to you both as a constituent of yours and as Committee member of the UK Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation, representing the views of our membership.
I would be grateful if you would read carefully the letter attached, sent for two purposes: firstly, to seek clarification and understanding of your reasons for excluding from exhibition 12 of the 28 cartoons submitted (as reported 12 Sept), and secondly, because we feel it right to give you relevant background that may enable you to see these cartoons in a different light and so perhaps to re-consider your judgement in this matter.
With thanks and best wishes,
Dear Mrs Bearder,
re axing of cartoons from proposed EU Brussels exhibition
As a resident of the Isle of Wight, I am one of your constituents and, as one with long held sympathies for LibDem thinking, I do remember voting for you as MEP in the European elections. However, I am bothered by reports of your censorship/exclusion of cartoons for exhibition at Brussels (as relayed by MEP Stelios Kouloglou on 12 Sept), which strikes me as neither liberal nor democratic.
References to Nazism, as you know all too well to your cost, are difficult territory and I well understand the wishes of the EU to steer clear of such. There are, of course, sound reasons, not least historical, to justify the inclusion of such in an image (eg in graphic portrayal of empire-building), but I can accept the EU’s preference to avoid all such allusions. Even so, we should not forget the difference between pro-Nazi material (as banned by the European Parliament) and references, as here, that are not actually pro-Nazi.
What is harder to follow is any reasoning for removing other cartoons that carry no Nazi reference and nothing more offensive, it would appear, than implied criticism of the disparities within the EU. Surely the EU is big enough to take such on the chin. Instead, by rejecting such opinion, it demeans itself as an institution at the same time as contradicting the very principles of free speech and democracy for which it stands.
I write also as one who has worked as a cartoonist for 40 years and is currently a committee member of the UK-based Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation (PCO). There is background and context to this exhibition which we feel you ought to know.
Earlier this year, in the wake of the Brexit vote, our colleagues in Greece invited the PCO to join forces with them to put on an exhibition of EU-themed cartoons in Athens under the title ‘Sweet Europe’. The resulting show (seen by large numbers in May, passing through the central Metro station) was hugely impressive (from top cartoonists) and a great success. If you haven’t already seen the catalogue, I can email you a copy and would recommend a reading of the Foreword by the President of the Hellenic Parliament, one of the bodies sponsoring the show. Both the content and the form of the exhibition and accompanying publication were of the highest standard, better than any we can remember from this country.
Despite the serious economic problems facing all in the country, the Greek Cartoonists’ Association generously enabled all this, without financial contribution from us, and even paid for two of our contributing members to travel and stay as guests for the occasion. Since then, we here have been trying to reciprocate by finding a venue and sponsors for the exhibition to be staged in this country – but so far without success.
Instead we are embarrassed and dismayed to find that cartoons, most (or maybe all, I’ve not yet fully checked) of which featured in Sweet Europe have been rejected by our own MEP. This is a bad state of affairs, wholly contrary to the principles that underlay this collection of cartoons from the outset. It was noticeable that, whilst most of the cartoons from the Greek side were, unsurprisingly, critical of EU politics, the contributions from UK cartoonists were largely anti-Brexit and pro-EU. At no point did those in Greece sponsoring, hosting or organising the exhibition seek to interfere with content or to exclude opinions they did not share. Democracy and free speech.
In this light we ask you to explain your reasons for removing these cartoons. If you are unable to provide clear justification, we request that you reconsider your judgement, given that these are cartoons that do not infringe EU values.
With thanks and best wishes,