In the very centre of our city, in the King Držislav Street, not so far from the Square of the Victims of Fascism, there is a graffiti glorifying totalitarian Nazi and Ustasha regime. Ein volk ein reich ein führer (One people, one nation, one leader, transl.note), stands on the wall, sealed with a letter U and a swastika. Unfortunately, it is just one of numerous examples. Kill the Serb, Take the Serbs to Jasenovac, Sieg Heil, Mamić is Gypsy and Mamić is Serb have been freely painted on several façades, underpasses, tram and bus stops, bridges and traffic signs all over Zagreb.
If you decide to take a walk all around the city of Zagreb one day, you will certainly become the owner of a respective photo gallery. Graffiti Vandalism Management Plan of the City of Zagreb was adopted in 2015 with five crucial goals representing also prevention measures: adoption of institutional framework, graffiti database, protection of properties, sanctions for the graffiti vandalism offender and conduction of information campaigns.
Last year City Administration in its Report on the implementation of the Management Plan stated that a team was appointed headed by Grgo Jelinić, a contract was signed with Hidrostres company to remove graffiti from the City area, an amendment of the Article 235 of a Criminal Code was initiated replacing the imprisonment with a fine and a graffiti city map was created, while video surveillance was installed on numerous locations.
On paper it should be functioning. Why haven’t they removed most of the hatred graffiti and why there are new graffiti emerging all over the City? There are several reasons for this, and the main one is the fact that the City Administration generalises about the graffiti being aesthetic matter without problematizing those graffiti calling for hatred and intolerance, and they are not being removed timely (or at all).
It is a deep trap to consider those hatred graffiti as a mere act of vandalism, as pointed out in the reports of appearance and the measures of the prevention of graffting. Contextualizing the growing phenomenon and survival of such graffiti in Zagreb, but also elsewhere, we must talk about the dangerous expression of hatred towards members of national and religious minorities, towards all “the others” and “the different”. Hatred graffiti do not exist isolated from anything else, they are part of an atmosphere of hate that has been spreading with impunity and in an unbiased manner in our country. They have become a part of the normalization of hate speech, which has acquired alarming proportions in Croatia.
In the City of Zagreb’s Report on the removal of graffiti, the emphasis is placed on the fact that graffiti “distort the city’s appearance”, “spread and create a sense of indifference and neglect” – talking in general about all graffiti as an aesthetic issue. “Our children and young people need to learn to preserve and respect their city instead of destroying its façades, and that is why we launched an action to educate and inform them in order to preserve the attractiveness of Zagreb,” Milan Bandić said.
It is not about Zagreb’s attractiveness, it is about suppression of human rights. This should be the primary focus. Due to the generalization of graffiti issue and putting everything in the same basket, there was no consideration in Zagreb of the need for priority elimination of hatred graffiti, at least not in practice. On the other hand, there is no consideration of the cultural and historical protection of graffiti, which have become symbols, which are valuable and loved – a kind of artwork, a testimony of time.
It is clear that a distinction should be made between those graffiti written with the intent of explicit and clear hate speech and those that can represent a visual or verbal attempt to create an aesthetic subject, as these are two substantively different categories. In the case of the first, an urgent intervention is needed, and in the case of the second we need a designed policy that would define a relationship to a specific urban culture that is not necessarily supported or affirmed and represents an important part of the city’s visual identity. We need different policies and we need to distinguish those fine shades, and there are very few people in the City of Zagreb thinking about that.
There is also a question of money. It is estimated that the average graffiti damage done on the Down Town’s façades amounts to 2000 HRK, while the price of removal and protective coating amounts to about 5000 HRK. For buildings that are not owned by the City, the removing of graffiti is co-financed by the City at a level of 60 percent, which is also one of the reasons for the removing “deadlock”. Except in the City centre, where things happen a bit faster.
It is important to pay attention to the fact that most hatred graffiti are located in the New Zagreb part of the City and in the western part of the town – Trešnjevka, Rudeš, Voltino. However, it is in the City’s primary interest to remove graffiti from the Down Town – in order to brighten up the scenery for the sensitive tourists’ eyes and the specific desirable aesthetics.
The fact that hatred thrives among us, “ordinary citizens,” blessing intolerance from the city façades on a daily base, seems to be less important.