Monday, July 22, 2019

War Between Russian State and Russian Graffiti Artists Continues Unabated

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 19 – While it seldom makes the headlines, the war between the Russian authorities and Russian graffiti artists continues unabated, with the former regularly painting or paving over the works of the latter and the latter both exploiting such actions and putting up more graffiti.

            The conflict is complicated, Tatyana Uskova of MBK news says, because many residents don’t like the graffiti even if they agree with its content and the authorities often destroy it even if it is patriotic and pro-Kremlin, perhaps fearing that by not doing so, they would be opening the floodgates for other kinds (

            The latest round in this ongoing fight occurred in Yekaterinburg this week where the authorities paved over the works of graffiti artist Pokras Lampas who had drawn the 6600 square meter picture with the approval of the authorities for an international arts festival in that Urals city, Uskova reports.

This is only the latest in a long line of official actions that are in many ways internally inconsistent. Not long ago, Yekaterinburg authorities also painted over an approved graffito reading “This inscription was made legally like the other works in the framework of the Wall Graffiti festival.” 

Like officials in many countries, many in Russia do not know quite how to handle graffiti. Some favor painting or paving over all of it perhaps because it represents the unwelcome intrusion of the voice of the people; others want to legalize it in ways that will reduce its impact on the population.

Earlier this year, Uskova notes, the legislative assembly in St. Petersburg considered whether it would be possible to move in that direction by allowing graffiti if its authors received permission to put it up in advance. But so far that measure has not received final approval (cf.

Perhaps the most interesting official responses involve graffiti which is pro-Kremlin as in the case of writings about the annexation of Crimea.  In general, the authorities have painted over these as well, but sometimes to contradictory effect: the artists or others add details on top of these paint jobs which sometimes undercut the original messages.

Thus in Moscow and Crimea, Ukrainians have left Ukrainian-language comments where the Russian authorities have painted over pro-annexation graffiti, a development that can’t please the powers that be and one that they have then countered by painting over the comments, the MBK journalist says.

In other cases, residents paint over graffiti they don’t like and/or approve of but they do so in such an incomplete way that everyone can see what was there before they did so. Indeed, their actions may have the effect of calling even more attention to the messages the graffiti artists wanted to deliver in the first place.

According to Uskova, some graffiti artists plan on this and take advantage of these acts of destruction to ensure that they will get the attention they want.  Consequently, the journalist says, the war between the state and the graffiti artists will go on unabated, with neither side giving in however the other side acts.

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