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Interview with Boris Efimov
Political cartoonist, Pravda

Boris Efimov being interviewed for the filmInterviewer: How long have you been working as a political cartoonist?

Efimov: I consider the beginning of my career as a political cartoonist being from the summer of 1919. Which means that next year, if I am still alive, I will have been working 80 years.

Interviewer: You must have recorded in your work a lot of political events that you have seen in the course of your life, all the history of the Soviet Union.

Efimov: Absolutely. The Soviet Union was created before my eyes, and before my eyes it was liquidated. Under Soviet power from 1917, for about 90 years. I saw everything with my own eyes, heard everything, I witnessed a great deal and took part in a great deal.

Interviewer: How was the West depicted in your cartoons? Were there certain images that you would use?

Efimov: Cartoonists' images reflect reality, what is going on in the world, what is going on in our country. Cartoons are a mirror to reality. In my caricatures and political drawings, I portrayed the West. Although the West is a very broad term, but if you take it to mean everything outside our country, it seemed to us unfortunately for many years something of an enemy, something contradicting the order and values we had in our country. It is not because people wanted it to be that way, that we should be the opposite of the West. It just happened that way. I should say that there were two types of cartoon. There was the humoristic cartoon, funny, kind, entertaining, but there was also cartoons that were bitter, mean, offensive, exposing, those which are used as satiric weapons for those countries that consider themselves in "danger". You must know that good relations were not brought to our country in the last 100 years, a whole lot of history which we already know and is irrelevant. Although I did many simply humorous cartoons, happy ones that entertained people, at the same time my job as a political cartoonist was also to expose and make fun of or brand a disgrace whichever of our enemies the given occasion demanded. That was my main task. For us the Spanish Franco was our enemy, but Spanish Dolores was our friend. Unfortunately we rarely got the opportunity to draw them because all our efforts went towards caricaturing the Fascists and Hitler, and those who were attacking our country.

Interviewer: How did you portray Allied images of the West?

Efimov: When the war finished, and our allies stopped being our allies, there was created a situation where we started to depict them as a kind of enemy, as aggressors. During the war I was already caricaturing the Americans with dollar signs. It was, of course, still something both unclear and also unpleasant. But that was the politics of the Soviet Union at the time. The same was true of the politics of the West. We portrayed Churchill and Truman as aggressors and warmongers, and the West portrayed Stalin and Molotov as aggressors and warmongers as well.

Cartoons are the first thing that a reader of a newspaper looks at. He takes it in more quickly and more completely than any long article you would read. A cartoon instantaneously gives you both the event and the commentary about that event. That is the nature of a cartoon: fast, funny and persuasive.

If you need an example here is one: I was often impressed by Churchill, by his will, by his wonderful oratory talent, his jokes. I really liked him. And then it was announced that he was our enemy, and we had to draw cartoons about him, and when I drew him looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of Hitler, that was, for me, not convincing and not pleasant. I realized that Hitler was a real Fascist enemy, and that Churchill was a big government figure.

I understood that this was not true, and I didn't believe it in my heart, in my soul, but that was government policy, and it was a situation against which I could not act.

I want to say that I was convinced that the thoughts and feelings that I put into my cartoons were the thoughts and feelings of millions of people. But we were simple people; we didn't do politics. Those who sat at the very top did the politics. We were the executives, and it was sometimes the case that I had to do something that went against my convictions, but I thought first of all that those at the top knew better about politics. Later I knew that whatever my objections might have been they would have brushed me away like some kind of pawn.

What happened during those years in any newspaper, any magazine, any home, of any conviction, people disappeared. You would arrive in the morning and ask where is Yuri? Well, they had taken him away in the night. You couldn't discuss it any further. The maximum you could say was, "He turned out to be an enemy of the people". And that was all. You didn't go back to the subject. I couldn't really believe that we had so many enemies of the people, but to discuss it was not done. And then you involuntarily thought well maybe they're not arresting people for nothing, maybe there's something in it, maybe it turned out he was guilty of something.

But when they arrested my brother as editor of the newspaper Pravda, I realized what was going on. And I prepared myself for my own arrest, since I was as guilty as he. But it never happened. I was left in freedom; I was left alive, and I continued to work. Not straight away, for roughly a year and a half, I was unemployed. They threw me out of the newspapers and magazines where I worked, because I was already known as the brother of an enemy of the people.

But then something strange and inexplicable happened. At the same time that my brother's case ended, and he was executed, I was asked to go back to work. It was some gruesome kind of reckoning I don't know what. I could have refused, right? I could, out of principle have said, "No! You killed my brother, I'm not going to work." But they would have sent me to the same place. I did not have the right to do that, because you can direct your own fate, your freedom, your own life, but I had my parents, our parents. I had a wife; I had a young son. If I had done that, they would all have died. So I went back to work. But you need to know that my work was directed towards fascism, towards Hitler. Hitler had already gone against the Soviet Union in the war, and I considered that, despite what my relationship with Stalin was like, my work was needed for the country, for Soviet power, needed as a weapon against Fascism.

The question of whether people believed in something positive, despite these terrible hideous atrocities that were going on in the country, I would say that they wanted to believe. Because to not believe, you know, is already the end of a person. A person has to believe in something, has to have some kind of hope, or it is already the end of him. So they wanted to believe that this was happening by chance, only now and again, that everything would be all right. And then people living in this country, you know the English expression, "Right or wrong, my country". Right? Where were people meant to go?

It was their country where they lived, and not everyone had somewhere else to run to. All, the majority, millions, had to stay in the country and live under the conditions which existed in that country. People had to believe, and they had to live.

Propaganda was certainly huge, broad, and I would say skillful, talented. Propaganda used music, and poetry and songs and paintings and cartoons. All this was managed by a system, which went from the top down to the bottom, which made people first of all somehow forget, although everything defended all these atrocities, which they committed. At the same time it somehow hypnotized people, that these things were only occasional, that they were necessary, that there in the West it was a lot worse, that here in the Soviet Union it was good. And they told us about the wisdom of Stalin, his kindness and that we shouldn't despair. And people had no way out but to believe. What alternative did they have? Not believing? That would lead to certain death. You had to live under the conditions that existed all over the country. That's what propaganda is.

In my opinion, propaganda appeared together with Soviet power, after the October revolt. Before I think people didn't even know the meaning of the word. People knew it existed, but it didn't have such a wide meaning or scope. All of the 70 years of Soviet power, all were based on propaganda. Sometimes propaganda suggested something correct and fair, and sometimes suggested something completely absurd, inhuman, against nature. But the strength of propaganda always overcame. People started to believe in something.

So today, when there is no propaganda in the sense that there was then, people don't know what to believe in, who to believe. If you sit in front of the television, and one politician appears, and talks about various things, and you believe him. And then another politician appears and you also believe him. Because there are not the same stable propagandistic truths. They are not there. And that is why, I think, the role of religion is so important today. That at least is some kind of stronghold for people to hang on to. Something that people organize themselves with, that they need to believe in God, that is also a kind of propaganda.

The role and meaning of propaganda are very great, very great. Propaganda was born together with the Soviet regime in 1917, and through all 70 years of its existence propaganda helped to consolidate society, held it in some kind of unified, strong community. And when the Soviet Union disappeared and propaganda disappeared with it, there was left a sort of emptiness. Because where, on the one hand, there used to exist one united strong propaganda of the Soviet regime, there now exists several propagandas. Every group, every party has their own propaganda. All this is confusing. It creates some kind of instability. People are disappointed. They don't know who to believe. Now the absence of any kind of unified propaganda is a great misfortune for our country. And I hope that there will be a propaganda that will propagate truth, decency, legality and kindness.

And now when people are convinced that this past propaganda carried with it so many lies and propagated a lot of things that were not necessary to the people. Now when it is gone, and people don't know what to believe, people think that some kind of propaganda is necessary so that people believe in something.

Interviewer: What was propaganda in your opinion?

Efimov: In my opinion, propaganda was always a weapon in the hands of the politicians who held the fate of the country in their hands. But the people themselves only suffered because this propaganda did not take in to account their interests, but led to something mutually hostile, some kind of confrontation. And if that kind of propaganda disappears, it will only be to the gratitude of ordinary people.

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