We didn’t know them but feel our friends were killed, says founder of Czech satirical cartoon

Tomáš Baldýnský, photo: Filip Jandourek

Perhaps the best known Czech satirical cartoon is Zelený Raoul, which often employs extremely graphic images to poke fun at a wide range of targets in the pages of Reflex magazine. Following Wednesday’s horrific attack on the offices of France’s Charlie Hebdo, I discussed the possible implications for political and religious satire with Zelený Raoul founder Tomáš Baldýnský. My first question: Has the comic strip every included images that might be considered offensive to Muslims?

Tomáš Baldýnský,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“I believe so, yes. I haven’t checked. But yes, of course. We really try to insult everybody, so why wouldn’t we insult Muslims?”

Yesterday some media outlets were pixilating images from the covers of Charlie Hebdo. How would you view that kind of cautious approach that some people are taking?

“I think it just depends on you. Either you’re brave or you’re not. It’s your decision and you will be judged accordingly.”

So do you think reproducing or producing such images is a risk worth taking?

“Yes. I think so. I think it’s worth taking the risk. This is freedom of speech and you should be able to publish whatever you think is funny.

“The thing about satire is that it’s not something that creates itself. Satire is a reaction to something. There has to be somebody doing something, and you react to it with your joke.

“This was the decision of the writers of Zelený Raoul – we have to be insulted by someone to insult him back. I think that if the people who do something would behave not insultingly, there would be no insults against them from the people who do satire.”

Can you imagine that cartoonists in the Czech Republic or elsewhere in Europe might now be more careful?

“There are good things about this country. One of those things is that people tend not to care about what’s happening abroad. Jokes about Muslims and fundamental Islam and whatever are not really common here because people tend not to care about anything.

“Mainly Czech caricaturists are insulting Czech politicians, the Parliament, celebrities. None of those people seem to be dangerous. So I don’t think there will be some kind of new censorship or self-censorship of humour.

A cartoon tribute drawn by MacLeod,  photo: CTK
“The question is if what happened doesn’t make people who do satire feel they are part of some larger group of international humorists.

"I think this is now happening, because we all feel that friends of ours were killed, even though we didn’t know this magazine, and I just heard the name for the first time yesterday.

“So perhaps it will open a bit the limits of Czech satire and perhaps they will look abroad and try to be part of a larger movement and larger things around the world.”