Welcome back to Politically Cartoonish, WWAC’s new monthly political cartoons column! As always, WWAC seeks to examine a variety of viewpoints and issues in consideration of its international audience. Readers can (and please do!) send political cartoon suggestions to the author via her Twitter handle: @youandyourego.
March opened up with International Women’s Day on the 8th as depicted by Damien Glez for African opinion, art, and lifestyle website This is Africa (TIA). Although naturally focusing on African women, Glez’s image can be also be interpreted as a commentary on the continued oppression of women of the Global South. (The “Global South” was previously known as “Third World,” “developing,” and/or “underdeveloped” countries and describes nations that have been negatively impacted by European colonialism and that still struggle to maintain stable economies. Note that the “Global South” also includes countries that aren’t necessarily located in the southern hemisphere.)
International Women’s Day, in Glez opinion, is just lipservice paid by privileged people and countries to the women of the Global South. He has a fair point: International Women’s Day as we know it was adopted by the United Nations, a transnational organization dominated by the richest and most powerful countries of the world. These privileged countries, depicted in Glez’s cartoon as a smiling white man, do little to help women in less privileged countries and even add to their burden whilst, more generally, largely ignoring them. You only have to compare the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reduce poverty and encourage worldwide economic development by 2030 to the organization’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were supposed to be accomplished by 2015, to realize that the best intentions of privileged countries have done little to benefit women in other countries. It also cannot be a coincidence that Glez chose to draw the figure representing privileged countries as a white man, as they are currently the most privileged group in the world.
Another transnational organization that arguably excludes nations from the Global South is the European Union (EU), depicted here by Petar Pismestrovic with its doors firmly shut to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Titled “Alibaba,” the cartoon references the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (some readers are more likely to recognize Ali Baba in the Disney character of Aladdin, especially as depicted in the sequel “Aladdin and the King of Thieves“) from One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern and South Asian fairytales.
In the story, Ali Baba is able to enter the Cave of Wonders, which is filled by the thieves’ hoard of gold, by repeating the secret password “Open sesame!” In Pismestrovic’s version, President Erdoğan, seeking to make good on his campaign promises in the form of a drum off to the side labeled “election campaign” in German, hopefully says “Open sesame!” to enter the EU Cave of Wonders so that Turkey can make use of the economic connections within the organization. In actuality, Erdoğan has been more combative than hopeful, accusing EU member states Germany and the Netherlands of “Nazi methods” after both countries canceled rallies supporting Turkey’s EU membership. It’s important to note, however, that Pismestrovic’s cartoon is only the latest chapter in Turkey’s decades-long quest to even be considered for EU membership, an issue that many Turkish politicians, including Erdoğan, have claimed is partly due to Islamaphobia. To be sure, Pismestrovic’s cartoon is amusing, but it’s also far from accurate.
Incidentally, the European Union marked its 60th anniversary on March 25th, an occasion that Markus Szyszkowitz illustrated in “EU Birthday.” Despite the cake commemorating the event, the rest of the cartoon is not as celebratory as you would expect. The EU is depicted as a fistfight in reference to divisive issues within the organization. With the United Kingdom’s impending Brexit from the EU and France and the Netherlands contemplating the same, other member countries are also considering leaving the EU. It’s a cyclical problem. The more countries that leave the European Union, the weaker the institution seems and the more nervous the remaining member countries become.
This nervousness, along with rising nationalism within member countries and the belief that the EU is not effective, has led the citizens of Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Sweden to favor leaving the European Union. It’s a complicated issue that Szyszkowitz’s cartoon barely scratches the surface of. The depiction of Europe as a bemused Europa (who serves as the source for the continent’s name) is also questionable. The citizens of Europe are absolutely not confused about EU infighting. They’re the ones who are pushing for their respective countries’ exits, which led to the conflict. The dilution of the issue, along with the unfinished quality of the art, renders Szyszkowitz’s cartoon ineffective and inaccurate.
Meanwhile, Hassan Bleibel‘s cartoon depicts the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. Titled “Spring Tears,” the cartoon depicts a presumably Middle Eastern woman crying over a dying flower with petals labeled Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. The cartoon’s title, as well as the image of the dying flower, during a season where most plant life is being revitalized, is a reference to the Arab Spring of 2011, when a wave of protests, sparked by the Tunisian Revolution, erupted against corrupt governments in Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. It was a hopeful time; many people, the protesting citizens, as well as the foreigners observing from the outside, were optimistic about the changes that the demonstrations would bring to the Middle East. Ultimately, only Tunisia, with its new constitution, was changed for the better; a 2016 Amnesty International report reflecting on the after-effects of the Arab Spring revealed that activists and critics in Egypt and Bahrain have been jailed and silenced while civil wars have broken out in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria (the Syrian regime barred the cinematographer who worked on a documentary on the Syrian conflict from attending the Oscars earlier this year).
Tunisa, as the one country that had a somewhat positive outcome after the Arab Spring, isn’t included as part of the flower that represents the dying hope for positive change after the Arab Spring, but it’s not exactly clear to me why Bleibel also did not include Egypt and Bahrain. One possible explanation is that Egypt and Bahrain are not undergoing civil wars. The human right abuses by the countries’ respective governments against their own people, however, still warrant grief and should be included in any discussion or depiction surrounding the Arab Spring. By omitting Egypt and Bahrain from the cartoon, Bleibel is omitting them from the conversation surrounding the after-effects of the Arab Spring. Ultimately, Bleibel’s cartoon is a limited and inaccurate picture of the issue.
As the Middle East deals with the aftermath of the Arab Spring, another political spring is brewing: Joep Bertrams‘ cartoon “Spring in Russia” references rallies in Russia on March 26th in what has been called the biggest political demonstration in Russia since the 2011-2013 anti-government protests.
The 2011-2013 protests initially began as objections over the 2011 legislative election results and were compared to the Arab Spring that occurred earlier that year, but as with the Arab Spring protests ultimately ended after severe government crackdowns. The protests March 26th did little better: approximately 1,400 protestors, including government critic Aleksei Navalny, were arrested that very same day after they tried to carry out unsanctioned coordinated marches in cities across Russia.
With the world media depicting Russia and Putin as symbols of insidious power in the past few months, it’s a bit jarring to see a political cartoon where Putin is vulnerable and harried by small, but deadly wasps(/protestors); he looks a bit meek, a bit morose. Even Putin himself has since recognized the threat these protests pose to his power, warning of political chaos and comparing the protestors to the Arab Spring (a comparison that Bertrams also adopted in the cartoon title). Putin also called Western criticism of the Russian government’s handling of the demonstrations interference with internal Russian politics, a common tactic with Russian politicians. The U.S. State Department, it must be noted, was one of the institutions that condemned the Russian government’s actions. The White House, however, has remained silent on the issue.