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Cagle, Shooty and Oh, the Irony!

That’s me (left), America’s ambassador to Slovakia Theodor Sedgwick (center) and Slovak cartoonist Martin “Shooty” Sutovec (right).  I recently traveled to Slovakia for the opening of a joint exhibition with Shooty, sponsored by the US Embassy in Slovakia.

Shooty is one of my favorite cartoonists and an important voice in Slovakia.  I’ve written earlier about the former Slovak Prime Minister Fico, suing Shooty and his newspaper, “SME”, over a cartoon (below right) that depicted the Prime Minister as being “spineless.”  Shooty won the case, which dragged on for quite some time in the courts; the Prime Minister is appealing the decision.  I was impressed to learn that the US Embassy in Slovakia had a representative attend every day of the trial, to demonstrate America’s concern for press freedom in Slovakia.

This is Shooty's cartoon that insulted the Prime Minister, motivating him to sue. The doctor says it must be a "phantom pain" implying that the Prime Minister is "spineless."

It is typical for government officials to sue cartoonists in civil court in countries that have no mature tradition of press freedom.  In Slovakia, officials have prevailed in many of these suits against journalists and they view the process as an opportunity to generate income, as well as to chill the press.

Shooty is certainly no fan of Fico, a former communist who clings to his totalitarian roots.  In the last election Shooty made a plea for donations on his Facebook page and raised over 60,000 euros for a billboard campaign against Fico, renting space for his anti-Fico cartoons on close to 200 billboards throughout the country.  Fico’s coalition lost the election by the narrowest margin - narrow enough that Shooty can be credited with tipping the election away from the knuckle-dragging past to a more progressive parliament. Many see Shooty as one of the most important voices in Slovakia.

Here is one of Shooty's billboards bashing Fico; it says, "I've had enough. Have you?"

Shooty also does some ambitious work with political organizations in other formerly communist countries, where ghosts from the past threaten the political future.

This got me thinking about msnbc’s Keith Olbermann. I’m the editorial cartoonist for msnbc.com and I work under the same ethical rules as Olbermann, who was famously booted off the air for a short time because he made modest donations to three Democratic candidates in the last election, without msnbc’s prior approval, in violation of msnbc’s ethical rules.  Media organizations in America often have rules that restrict the political activities of their journalists.  Shooty is held up as a hero for activities that likely wouldn’t be allowed if he were working as a newspaper editorial cartoonist in the USA. I’m struck by the irony.

Here is a video of US Ambassador Sedgwick introducing our exhibition when it opened on the town square in the central Slovakian town of Banska Bystrica a couple of months ago. The exhibition just finished a run in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, yesterday and continues on a tour of ten cities in Slovakia.

Here are a few of Shooty’s recent cartoons …