PARIS – From their bunker at an undisclosed address in southern Paris, the staff of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are soldiering on a year after coming close to annihilation in a jihadi attack.
Two weeks after the massacre, driven by principle and sheer determination, they overcame their grief to put together a “survivors’ issue.
The overriding impulse, says new boss Laurent Sourisseau, was to keep publishing a magazine that would honor his slain colleagues.
Charlie Hebdo’s top cartoonists, beloved in France and known by the nicknames Charb, Cabu and Wolinski, died in the massacre along with nine other people.
Sourisseau, nicknamed Riss, who lost the use of his right arm but survived the attack by playing dead, has the sense they are looking over his shoulder.
“For me, they are no longer here but they have not died,” he told AFP in an interview.
“I wonder sometimes if I’m in some ways doing the paper that they would have done,” he said, adding that he wants the surviving Charlie Hebdo to be “worthy of them.
Being under round-the-clock protection by five bodyguards is “just a little constraining,” he said.
But he takes grim pride in keeping the paper going after jihadi brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi were convinced they had finished it off that blood-drenched January day a year ago on Thursday.
Riss, 49, said his “combat newspaper” would not compromise in its defense of secularism.
That promise was kept Wednesday with a no-holds-barred special anniversary edition, fronted with a Riss cartoon of a fugitive “killer” God.
Inside, he wrote a blistering editorial against religious fanaticism.
“Charlie should be there where others dare not go,” he said. “For this cover cartoon, I wanted to go beyond one or another religion and touch on more basic things. It is the idea of God itself that we, at Charlie, contest. You need to shake up people’s ideas or they stay stuck in their positions.”
He said the team, bolstered by a handful of newcomers, was beginning to overcome the grief and fear to be able to laugh a little.
“Charlie has always been a combat newspaper, but a funny, kidding combat,” he said. “Otherwise we would have stopped long ago. It’s a nice place again” — despite the intensive security.
“It hasn’t been easy for anyone,” he acknowledged. “Everyone has had to overcome personal anguish. But everyone got on deck. If the paper is here, it’s thanks to them.”
The past year has been one of “weekly struggle: struggles for our ideas, but also to prove to ourselves that we were still capable of doing it. It’s the ultimate test, to see if you live or die, if we believe in our ideas to the point of getting through this year and coming out a winner.
“If the paper had disappeared, our ideas would also have disappeared a little.”
Moved by the outpouring of support Charlie Hebdo received after the massacre, Riss has also been pleased to see circulation boom — from around 30,000 before the attacks to 80,000 today.
But there has also been disappointment in the ranks of readers.
A priest wrote in complaining that he was among some 1.6 million people who marched in Paris four days after the attacks, but now: “I find your cover scandalous.”
Riss commented wryly: “It’s as if January 11 was a contract: I marched for you, so now tone it down.”
Underscoring his determination to stay true to the magazine’s principles, Riss said: “The Charlie spirit is everywhere in the world, but you need a chemical agent” to bring it out.
“Everywhere, people share our values but don’t speak out. Charlie can help them express themselves,” he said.