I was struck by the amount of graffiti in Seville; as one always is in southern Europe. Italy was pretty much as bad. Churches, monasteries even cathedrals as well as the usual bridges and railway sidings daubed with red, yellow and black writing. For bankrupt Seville with its 50% youth unemployment, getting it cleaned up must be a major headache for the local authority and a waste of valuable resources which might otherwise be channeled into healthcare and education. So nothing is done and now it is more or less out of control.
Why do people do that? One obvious answer is that it is a victimless crime; no-one is going to die.
I knew a guy once, Roman Zsawisa a Polish immigrant who worked for [the then] GLC who studied graffiti and the psychology of the perpetrators. He carried out a lot of wide-ranging research and one of the things he found was that at any given day or week there were only two or three graffiti vandals at work. They used a handwriting expert to examine the graffiti on the tube station walls and he concluded that it was mostly the work of four people and that if you put a one-off special watch on newly cleaned sites, sooner or later one of these or all of these kids would turn up with their spray-cans to disfigure the walls. Then you could take them out, arrest them or whatever and the graffiti would stop. So they did and it did.
Whether those theories apply in southern Europe or not, I cannot say. The graffiti in Seville seemed deliberately aimed at damaging private property [them and us] and disfiguring sacred buildings and statues [discontent manifesting itself against an easy target]. Things that the ‘haves’ hold dear that the ‘have nots’ can attack without worrying too much about reprisals.
Semi-safe anti-authority activism, in other words. Bit like the London riots where people thought they could get away with it; except they didn’t.
But it is bloody horrible, and only serves to make me as a tourist feel unsafe in Seville.
When I get a minute, I will do a blog about Zsawisa. He was a remarkable man, rather like the graffiti artists in fact; completely out of the mainstream.