Prof. Dr. Mitja Velikonja

University of Ljubljana

Yugoslavia after Yugoslavia –
Graffiti about Yugoslavia in
post-Yugoslav urban space





Case study 2

In a passageway in the centre of Ljubljana, for 25 years now there has been a graffiti depicting a sinking ship named Yugoslavia. During that time, many other new graffiti and tags have been added around it, but the image has in essence remained intact. I view it as a symptom of the ambivalent, even polyvalent relationship of Slovenians towards their Yugoslav and socialist past.

In this study, my starting point is this very feature of contemporary urban culture, one of the hundreds that I have photographed during the last several years or whose photos I have received from other “graffiti hunters”. As Barthes (1992, 15) says, each photograph brings about “something threatening”, it “brings back death”. Among the heap of graffiti and street art that I have photographed or obtained by other means, I am interested in this research in the opposite: “bringing back life” – the motive therein, the existence of “Yugoslavia after Yugoslavia”. In short: I was fascinated by a picture of it in a field quite neglected by research – the contemporary subculture of graffiti and street art. In other words, I wondered what its relationship to the former common state, its socialism, anti-fascist struggle, its leadership, and its ideology was: both in a positive, affirmative sense, and in a negative, hostile manner. The central question of my research was how contemporary authors of graffiti and street artists (de)construct the Yugoslav era; what kind of pro-Yugoslav or anti-Yugoslav graffiti and street art there is; what antagonisms they reflect and create at the same time. In short: what the walls of the post-Yugoslav homelands say about the homeland that was former Yugoslavia. Or if we were to use Foucault’s terminology: What kind of political subjectivity is created in this process? In this regard, this analysis is complementary with other analyses dealing with the construction and presentation of the Yugoslav era in advertising, popular culture, design, art, and last but not least, political discourse.

I. Introduction and Definitions of Political Graffiti and Street Art

The study is part of my wider interest in researching cultures of post-Yugoslav collective memory, post-socialist ideologies and urban subcultures; specifically, the exact points in which they overlap. I have been collecting these materials by means of “ barefoot culturology” from the late nineties onwards, particularly in the northern parts of the former federation (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia). In this period, I discovered more than 270 examples of graffiti and street art, most of which I photographed,1 while also finding a smaller portion in other sources (books, newspapers, articles, and catalogues). I followed the usual three-part organisation of this kind of fieldwork which was suggested, among others, by Collieri (1996, 167-173): preparatory observation, structured research and final analysis.

I define graffiti and street art as a form of specific aesthetic expression in a public space with a clear message: it is temporary, it can be destroyed, it is illegal (condemned as vandalism in the eyes of dominant discourses and institutions), it is critical of the existing, it is represented by an image or object and/or word, it always interacts with its environment (the graffiti’s “text” must always be read together with its physical and social “context”), it is in constant interaction with its environment (almost always several at once), it shapes its subculture (with its ethics, unspoken rules, its stars, innovators, epigones, imitators, experts etc.) and its authors are in most cases anonymous. Their characteristics include untranslatable plays on words and motifs, humour, paradoxes, loanwords and the use of paraphrase, rhymes, aphorisms and witticisms. They are created and collected primarily by young people – a rather profiled medium, generationally speaking. Graffiti are intended to “entertain, provoke and make us think” (Sterk 2004, 68); they are a “mode of communication that is personal and free from the usual social limitations which, as a rule, prohibit people from expressing the richness of their thoughts” (Abel, Buckley 1977, 3).

Graffiti are two-dimensional wall paintings, and their main types are the tag (logo and signature of the graffiti’s author), the piece (abbreviation of masterpiece, a high-quality and complex graffiti), the throw-up, or bomb (a quickly made graffiti), the roof-top (a graffiti on the upper part of a building), the character (a caricature from popular culture), the wall of fame (walls where the most elaborate graffiti of the wider and local scene of the graffiti’s author are located one next to the other), and the mural (most often legally-painted large-scale illustrations on buildings). Street art developed later, during the last 20-25 years, which is why it was labelled as post-graffiti art, and in most cases it is three-dimensional (stencils, stickers, public installations and visual interventions, paste-up posters, cuttings etc.). The next important difference is aesthetic: I classify graffiti into auratic creations, it is a case of a “‘here’ and ‘now’ art piece”, which has “a singular presence in the place where it is located” (Benjamin, 1998, 150) – they are in some way always unique, unrepeatable. Stickers, posters and stencils, however, are in a way post-auratic: free from originals and “rituals” (Ibid, 154, 155), they can be infinitely technically reproduced, and can be set up in a public space by practically anyone. Furthermore: the essential feature of graffiti and street art is that they are an illegal medium of social groups with a communication deficit – used by those who cannot otherwise express themselves (see also: Chaffee 1993, 12, 16, 17).2 In this sense, McLuhan's maxim that the medium is a message is a viable reference here: a graffiti, the very act of its creation, is in itself a message, regardless of the specific content, since it publicly reveals something that is not contained in other media. Likewise, it is also important which graffiti remain and on the other hand which are erased, removed and enhanced or have their meaning replaced – how quickly this is done, by whom and in what manner.

For this study, it is important to distinguish between so-called aesthetic or subcultural graffiti and political graffiti. The latter engage more directly in social criticism, and in accordance with that I treat them as a significant political medium: in addition to the usual characteristics of the subculture (specific aesthetic form, the illegal aspect, etc.), they have a clear political agenda. The contents of political graffiti are definitively superordinate to form: aesthetically speaking, they are poorly made most of the time, they contain neither the standard finesse of the genre nor insider secrecy, their goal is political propaganda, a call to action, mobilisation, and they are a trigger for it (see: Velikonja, 2008 and 2013). Crossing (as well as crossing out, or crossing over), i.e. drawing graffiti over existing ones – which is an exception in the unwritten ethics of graffiti drawing – is a rule here.3

II. The Method Question:
Semiology between Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches

Graffiti and street art, particularly those which are politically-oriented, are almost impossible to research from the author's perspective, because authors are as a rule anonymous or difficult to track down – drawing graffiti is still prohibited and oppressed. Even when I was completely certain of who the author was – based on various information and sources – the author himself did not want to admit to it in conversation. In certain cases, the authors are explicitly known and their graffiti signed: right-wing fan groups (e.g. “Torcida”, “Viola”, “Delije”), the extreme right-wing (with the abbreviations of their organisations, e.g. “Radikalna Ljubljana”, or the “Autonomous nationalists of Slovenia”), or the clerical fascist groups (e.g. “Serbian Action”, whose graffiti also include its Internet address).

For this reason, I explored graffiti at the image’s very location, not in the place of its origin, or in the place where it is observed, i.e. where its effect is produced.4 However, I must direct attention to the significance of its environment: to understand a graffiti, it is not sufficient to have a “good eye”, or to interpret its composition or the power of the image itself, but its location as well. Contextual knowledge is important: social and ideological knowledge is perhaps even superordinate to form in that regard. In other words: a visual analysis should be carried out together with the non-visual background that places the image aesthetically and ideologically, with all its completeness.

This is why choosing semiology as the main research method makes sense. It explores images together with their ideological environment – more precisely, it explains how images (de)legitimise the existing balance of power. In other words: semiology breaks down the ideological justification of social structures, i.e. the way in which certain groups set up their own ruling position based on their symbols and narratives and based on which others dispute it. This is expressed in different fields, including the field of political graffiti. During the research – referring to the classic works in the field of semiology (Barthes 1990, 1992, 1993, Eco 1998, Hall 2012, Guiraud, 1983) – I used the semiological method in two steps. In the first, I was interested in how both pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav ideologies were constructed in graffiti and street art. I followed the descriptions of Yugoslavia, its socialism, its leadership, anti-fascism, etc. – simply put, the period between 1941 and 1991 in contemporary graffiti and street art; in the same way, I also followed descriptions of the opposite, the anti-Yugoslav, anti-socialist and anti-Partisan ideologies. The third chapter, therefore, encompasses the “denotative level” (Barthes 1990, 200), the description, the "literal meanings of symbols” (Hall, 2012, 405), the discursive construction of the meaning of such graffiti and their classification.5

In the second step, in chapter Four, I delve into the “connotative level” (Barthes, 1990, 200, 201): what the “higher” meaning of graffiti and street art is in the semiotic sense, how “connotation 'trims' the denoted message” (Barthes, 1990, 201; 1993, Barthes, 1993, 111-117; see also: Guiraud 1983, 33, 34). Hall (Ibid.) claims that symbols “acquire their full ideological value – and can therefore act openly to articulation with wider ideological discourses and meanings – at the level of their 'associative' meanings (i.e. at the connotative level)”. To use Eco's analytical words (1998, 184), “a message is received in a concrete and fixed acceptance that qualifies it”. I investigated how the pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav graffiti are involved in current ideological and political conflicts on the post-socialist and post-Yugoslav mental map, thus (also) how they criticise and antagonise other ideological discourses and practices. They are, in fact, as a rule, translated into the categories of the recent past and its protagonists. In other words: in this second step, I deal with issues such as what kind of “Manichean ideology”, what kind of “fundamental opposition” (Eco, 1998, 148, 168, 169) is created by writing graffiti like “OF” (Oslobodilacki Front – Liberation Front), “Tito lives”, “Long live 29 November”, or spraying red stars and the like and what all these really mean; and also, what graffiti of opposing contents mean today (“Tito is a criminal”, “NDH” [abbreviation of Nezavisna Država Hrvatska – Independent State of Croatia], “Death to communists”, etc.).

I thoroughly reviewed the collected material on multiple occasions, upon which I refined and classified it. Before the actual analysis, I would like to explain some methodological specifications of the study. First, this will be done in regards to the combination of qualitative and quantitative research cases. The semiotic approach is as a rule used for the analysis of specific examples in the studium and punctum methods (culturally accepted, or non-coded image parsing – Barthes, 1992, 27-29, 410-412); of a dominantly hegemonious, conducive or oppositionally and globally contradicting position or code (Hall, 2012, 410-412), or with a “play of oppositions” and a “fixed scheme”, that are constantly repeated in certain cultural artefacts (Eco, 1998, 160-162). I selected the analytically connected denotation-connotation pair in the Barthesian sense which I combined with the other, quantitative method. The content analysis registers the frequency with which the same motif or image is repeated. In the analysis I connected the two, firstly by counting how often a certain group of motifs reappears, and subsequently exploring their denotative (descriptive) and connotative (meaning-centred) dimensions. Second, the primary visual structure of graffiti is multimodal, composed of text (specifically abbreviations of different organisations and groups, names of protagonists, political salutes and brief calls), images (political symbols, emblems, historical specifications etc.) and colour, whereby sometimes only the first or only the second element appears. It is, however, essential to always analyse them as a unit.

Furthermore, the fate of graffiti and street art is such that they almost always experience some kind of change: they are crossed out, amended, painted over in white, muddled or expanded through text or images. Political graffiti and street art are a kind of wall feuilleton, a series: a medium for the battle between various graffiti artists, documenting graffiti battles or cross-out wars where one layer comes right on top of the other, the original message is destroyed, restored, altered, destroyed again and so on.6 In short, they are hardly ever analysed in isolation. This is also how I divided them: into those that have, despite everything, remained more individual, less confronted and less antagonised (groups 1 and 2) and those that were completely antagonised (group 3).

Fourth: Some graffiti isn’t necessarily connected to the Yugoslav, socialist or Partisan experience: the red star wasn’t only a symbol of Yugoslavianism, socialism or Partisanism, i.e. of the period between 1941 and 1991, much like Nazi symbolism and imagery – whether global (the swastika, Nazi salutes, other Nazi symbols such as 18, 88, the Totenkoph), or local (symbols of the Ustashas, Chetniks, Home Guard) – were not always the antithesis of anti-Yugoslavianism. Both are also more general symbols of left-wing and right-wing sub-politics. The vast majority of the analysed graffiti truly refers to the Partisan and Yugoslav era, while some don’t as they are “timeless” symbols of socialism or communism or Nazi fascism. The same applies to what they condemn: graffiti like “Death to clero-fascism”, “Fuck nations” and the like can refer to current clero-fascists and Nazis or to those of the past, in the same way that “Socialism is a disease” or “Death to communism” can refer to socialism of the past or its present-day “leftovers” (for example, udbomafija – the State Security Mafia – in Slovenia etc.). I have taken into consideration only those which in some way had a connotation with the Yugoslav socialist experience or which were “translated” into it.

Fifth. Analyses of this type treat that which was immediately destroyed and that which remains with equal importance. Despite the fact that such urban visual creations can be destroyed by definition – the lifespan of contemporary graffiti is several months, rarely several years – in traditionally antifascist areas (Primorska, Istria, Kvarner in Slovenia), post-war graffiti can be spotted to this day, some of which bare a clichéd witness to “Trst Gorica Rijeka Istria” (Prestranek, 2015), while others are dedicated to the Partisan army (Vela Luka, 2008). “Long live Marshall Tito”, “We want Yugoslavia” and “This is Yugoslavia” (villages in the Gorizia Hills, 2013) can also be found. Despite having faded, they can still be read and understood. To this I can also include the huge “stone graffiti” visible from tens of kilometres away, with slogans spanning across dozens of metres of stone, placed in honour of Tito and Yugoslavia during the initial post-war decades and remaining to this day (I found several examples in Primorska, Istria and central Bosnia). Two graffiti dedicated to Stalin have remained for decades, surviving even the cruel confrontation with the Inform Bureau: the first one alongside the Tito graffiti in the main street in Ljubljana, Dunajska (Becka) Street, and the second one in Kopar. This serves as further proof of the fact that graffiti are visible to all but noticed by few.

Sixth. It is practically impossible to determine the exact number of (political) graffiti because they exist one day and are gone or perhaps changed the next. It is impossible to simply “scan” a single let alone multiple cities at the same time to obtain an exact graffiti count. Be that as it may, the quantitative aspect of the analysis should not be disregarded, as it is relevant from a research standpoint as well. That is why I didn’t treat the graffiti count I included in the research as an absolute value, but rather as a share in relation to others.

Last but not least, I analysed only some examples of graffiti and street art products: if the same graffiti, stencil, poster or sticker appeared multiple times, I counted them as one. This skews or minimises their presence in urban environments: for example, stencils with Tito’s portrait and the “Republic Day” slogan were present on every corner in central Ljubljana during the nineties – which is why I only recorded two of its variations (the red one and the black one) in this study. The same goes for the most common phrases and symbols (“steel repertoire”, “SF-SN” [abbreviation of Smrt Fašizmu, Sloboda Narodu – Death to Fascism, Freedom to the People], “Tito”, the red star, the emblem of OF [Oslobodilacki Front – Liberation Front], the hammer and sickle etc.), given that there are many variations on the theme and that they are also presented through different techniques (graffiti, stencil, sticker, etc.). That is why this needed to be treated through primarily qualitative means, not just the quantitative method which would only measure the frequency of their occurrence.

III. Denotative Level – Classification of Pro-Yugoslav and
Anti-Yugoslav Graffiti and Street Art

As Rose (2012, 108) says, semiology assumes that “the constructions of cultural differences are expressed through the agency of signs on the image itself”. Based on the thesis that views photography as “self-understood proof” (Rose, 2012, 300), i.e. “standardly precise perception” (Collier and Collier, 1996, 7), I recorded groups of repetitive signs and categorised them. I further divided the collected corpus of 275 photographs of graffiti and street art into three large sign categories according to their themes (whereby the first two were divided into three smaller groups) which rather precisely articulate the pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav ideologies. The first category, comprised of 206 examples, includes pro-Yugoslav symbols, divided into those with Partisan and NLW – National Liberation War (1. 1), SFRY – Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1. 2), and Tito (1. 3) motifs. The second large category stands in contrast to the first. It includes a total of 43 photos depicting anti-Yugoslav symbols, divided by analogy into three archetypal motifs: the rejection of NLW (2. 1), the rejection of SFRY (2. 2) and the rejection of Tito with the glorification of other leaders (2. 3). The third large category includes examples of “iconoclasts” and the battles between certain motifs, of which I’ve recorded 21 examples, whereby it is practically impossible and to a larger extent nonsensical to separate the layers of antagonistic graffiti and text/images that were added.



The content of certain graffiti and street art conveys a lot more than their bare quantification. That is why it is essential to expand the quantitative approach with the qualitative, content-focused method. Given that the pro-Yugoslav examples outnumber the anti-Yugoslav examples fivefold, I will henceforth cite more of them. Some will be left in their original Serbian/Croatian/ Bosnian or English form. The text or description of the graffiti or street art will be written in cursive while their location and recording date will be included in the brackets.

IV. Connotative Level

We will begin with a Barthesian question: When it comes to this type of graffiti, which ideologies or ideological formations are they fragments of? To find that out, we must expand denotation and classification with connotation, with a quest for broader codes and with maps of meaning.7 While the first level of analysis primarily establishes the similarities in meaning and their classification into groups, the second deals with their differences: I will thus now focus more on the construction of meaning through their antagonisms. In fact, any meaning system connotes with not only its constitutive relation, but also its contrast, its opposing side – the content of the ideological “thesis” and “antithesis” is generated from their mutual polarity.

In regard to their type: the majority of the graffiti rests on ideological contradictions – socialist federalism versus nationalism. The name of the country (Jugoslavijo!!! [Yugoslavia!!!] /Rijeka, 2015/), or its abbreviation (SFRJ [SFRY] /Ljubljana, 2014/), its organisations (SKOJ [YCLY – Young Communist League of Yugoslavia] /Belgrade, 2012/, JNA [YPA – Yugoslav People’s Army] /Banja Luka, 2009/, ZKJ [LCY – League of Communists of Yugoslavia] /Maribor 2011/), symbols (hammer and sickle /Banja Luka, 2012/, the Coat of Arms of Yugoslavia /Maribor, 2015/), and national holidays (Živel 29. November - Dan republike [Long live 29 November – Republic Day] /Ljubljana, 1999 and 2010/, 27. april [27 April] /Maribor, 2014/) are strung together. The anti-Yugoslav discourse focuses on denouncing the organisations of that era (e.g. JNA zločinci [YPA criminals] /Zalosce, 1996/), or establishing the national states of the Yugoslav people (Nek se ne zaboravi 10. 4 [10 April must not be forgotten /Omis, 2005/). As a rule, the graffiti from one side of the spectrum are crossed out or amended with a new text or image: in one example the symbol of the Ustashas was crossed out and amended with the inscription Goli otok and the image of a five-pointed star (Ljubljana, 2010).

The second ideological opposition relates to the personality cult: Tito versus his political opponents. We can thus find stencils with Tito’s face (Prizren, 2008; Ljubljana, towards the end of the nineties), street-art installations (Tito’s old statue painted in gold, bearing a drawn blue heart on its chest /Maribor, 2015/), graffiti with his name written in different ways (I’ve tracked them practically all over the former Yugoslavia), streets bearing his name (Tito Way /Ptuj, 2014/, Titova cesta [Tito’s Street] /street leading to Trnovo, 2013/), as well as different slogans and pledges referring to him (Mi smo Titovi [We are Tito’s] /on the Sarajevo-Doboj motorway, 2014/, Tito je naš [Tito is ours] /Zagorje, 2014/). His opponents, of course, depict his enemies from that time (Vuk Rupnik, vstani! [Stand up, Vuk Rupnik!] /Ljubljana, 2014/, Momčilo Đujić [Momcilo Djujic] /Banja Luka, 2015/, Ante Pavelić [Ante Pavelic] /Ljubljana, 2012/). Even here we encounter a fierce wall battle: in Ljubljana (2015) the original graffiti saying Josip Broz Tito vaginalni izbljuvek (vaginal discharge Josip Broz Tito) was expanded with a Živio (Long live) comment adorned with red stars.

The third ideological polarity is between anti-fascism and fascism. We encounter repetitions of Partisan salutes (Smrt fašizmu [Death to fascism] /its variations occur across the former Yugoslavia/), abbreviations of organisations (OF [LF – Liberation Front] with a picture of Triglav /re-occurring across Slovenia/), celebrations of Partisanism and the rejection of collaboration (artivistic intervention Banja Luku su oslobodili antifašisti, a ne četnici [Banja Luka was liberated by anti-fascists, not Chetniks] /Banja Luka, 2012/, Rozman with an added swastika /Maribor, 2015/), names and the faces of fighters (Ivo Lolo /refers to Ivo Lola Ribar, of course, Zagreb, 2015/), as well as conflicts with ideological opponents (Fašisti v fojbah [Fascists in foibe] /road towards Ilirska Bistrica, 2015/). Supporters of the fascist ideology countered with salutes, slogans and symbols used by the Chetniks and Ustashas (S verom u Boga [With Faith in God] /Banja Luka, 2015/, Za dom spremni [For home (land) – ready] /in multiple locations in Croatia/, with the letter U and a Catholic cross /in multiple locations in Croatia/ etc.), self-identification (Osvetnici Bleiburga [Avengers of Bleiburg] /on the motorway between Ilirska Bistrica and Ljubljana, 2014/) and their own sites (Jasenovac ’43 with the SS sign /Sarajevo, 2015/). Graffiti authors have clashed here as well: for example Smrt levemu terorju! [Death to left-wing terror!] and the symbol of the extreme-nationalist group, the Autonomous Nationalists of Slovenia, were added to the OF [LF - Liberation Front], NOB [NLW - National Liberation War] and red star symbols (ANSI; Ljubljana, 2011).

V. Ideological Strategies of Graffiti and Street-Art Subcultures

Graffiti authors and street artists introduce into political discourse new forms of expression, a new language, a new diction, and something which we will analyse in further detail – specific strategies of expression. Graffiti is “a clear message” – virtually bereft of any needless adjectives, metaphors, complications, interpretive openness or Aesopian ambiguity. It breaks away from the clench of polysemy and standardisation. It differs from other, significantly more elaborate media used in the antagonistic construction of the past, e.g. books, films, shows, poems and videos etc, which approach the subject through a scientific or artistic lens. Not only because it does not have time for it, but also, and primarily even, because there is no need for such an approach: the graffiti author and street artist say what they have to say quickly, bluntly, as effectively as the Ramones, with knife-sharp precision. Slovenian street jargon would describe it as “šus”: nothing should be added or taken away, we can only (dis)agree with it. As such, graffiti are a part of all contemporary political activism and are increasingly becoming integrated into mainstream modes of communication since the supporters of current ruling ideologies are opting to use them all the more often.8

The first ideological strategy of pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav graffiti and street art is provocation and criticism: if aesthetic graffiti represent an attack on established, “high art”, if they are a form of counter-art (kept outside of galleries, temporary, illegal, unsigned – simply put: not compliant with the conventions of institutionalised art), political graffiti represent an attack on dominant institutions and ideologies. That is the origin of the obsessive use of Yugoslav, party, Partisan and similar kinds of jargon and symbolism in places (and at times) where (and when) it “hurts the most”. The following examples demonstrate the importance of location.9 Slogans like KPJ [LCY – League of Communists of Yugoslavia] and Tito could have been spotted on the building of the archdiocese in Split (2005); towards the end of the nineties, one of the government buildings in Ljubljana was covered with symbols of the most prominent factors in the former Yugoslavia (KPJ [LCY], Tito, SFRJ [SFRY], OF [LF], Partija [Party]), Svetlana Makarovic, a poet critical until the point of revisionism, hung a conspicuously large red star (2015) on her balcony at a retirement home with a direct view of one of Ljubljana’s main access roads. Something similar is also occurring in post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina where Yugoslavia-nostalgic graffiti primarily target the boards of different entities, or in Croatia where – during a visit of the current Culture Minister – anonymous culprits wrote Hassanbegoviću ustaša [Hasanbegovic, you’re an Ustasha] on the entrance wall of the Croatian History Museum due to his inclination towards the movement (2016). This is a typical example of a discourse twist because the context decidedly enters into the field of the text itself. The second strategy is the affirmation and continuity of the previous identity in the present time, i.e. a resistance to historical revisionism and the planned expunction of the Yugoslav and socialist period. Graffiti with this theme convey that not everything started in 1991. A particular example on a secondary school in Maribor declares that the students were truly Born in SFRJ, and Grown in SERŠ [Born in SFRY, and Grown in SERŠ – Electrical Engineering and Computer High School] (2011); however, a stencil from the late nineties found in multiple locations across Ljubljana repeats the slogan Born in SFRJ four times as it alludes to Springsteen’s chorus Born in the USA. The third example is from the Drvar battlegrounds (2009), where a now undoubtedly grown-up Dzana from Sarajevo has identified herself to this day as Titov pionir [Tito’s Pioneer] to this day.

Pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav graffiti are spatial markers as well: the third strategy is marking the turf. The supporters of Yugoslavia, socialism, Partisanism and Tito declare that they are “still here”. The presence of the SFRJ Coat of Arms (Maribor, 2015), as well as the simple Tito graffiti, found practically all across the former Yugoslavia, are a true testament to that. The fourth strategy is the perpetual antagonisation of the existing, a counter-punch to the prevalent discourses and symbolic dominance over them. A poster in Maribor (2014) calls attention in this way to the hardships of many young people: Rojen v Jugoslaviji – Šolan v Sloveniji – Nezaposlen v Evropi [Born in Yugoslavia – Educated in Slovenia – Unemployed in Europe], while a graffiti in Labin (2007) calls for the resurrection of Yugoslavia: Stvorimo je opet 1945-1990 [Let’s recreate it 1945-1990]. And the final ideological strategy within the graffiti and street art culture is the semiotic guerrilla. One graffiti from the end of the nineties in Ljubljana symbolically restores Tito to his Pioneer salute which Slovenian punks had ironically changed towards the end of the seventies into Za domovino s punkom naprej! [For the Homeland with punk – Forward!] – it can now be seen that it once again says Tito instead of punk. In Croatia, the original pro-Ustasha graffiti – the capital letter U – is commonly changed into Nisam išao U školu [I didn’t get an edUcation] (2016). The supporters of Janez Jansa, a right-wing politician, have been changing the original OF [LF] with the Triglav Partisan symbol into JJ with the Triglav; while Jansa’s critics keep restoring the original OF [LF] and the cycle continues. While the Triglav – as the undoubtedly most significant geographic landmark of Slavic culture – remains the same, as a common thread, its current political interpretation is undergoing changes.

VI. Conclusion: Too Much and Too Little of Yugoslavia

In the concluding section of the research paper, I return to the introductory questions: What kind of socialist Yugoslavia with all the contradictions of its “fulfilled utopia”, about which Suvin (2014) excellently warns, have street artists sprayed on the walls of post-Yugoslav cities? Which of its aspects are celebrated and which are denounced? What ideologies are at play in the diametrically opposed graffiti motifs on the subject matter? I find that there are two answers to the posed questions: a historical one and a contemporary one. From the historical perspective, some graffiti are exclusively connected to the past. The analysis of their ideological formations demonstrates that the evaluation of those times in our history is still entirely polarised, antagonistic. Much like Eco explains on the example of popular novels that the “schematisation and Manichean division is always dogmatic and intolerant” (1998, 170), there is no dialogue here either, nor is there a productive resolution of conflict, nor truce, nor atonement, nor alternative – what remains is only the unbridgeable dichotomy between the pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav sentiments. And so the game of political ping-pong continues.

These unique ideological twins depict, mirror and create a fundamental and unsolvable political controversy of transition: between the once-dominant ideologies and practices (Yugoslav multiculturalism in the form of brotherhood and unity in the enthnocultural sphere and of socialism in the socio-economic sphere) and their new replacements (ethno-nationalism in the enthnocultural sphere and neoliberalism in the socio-economic sphere). Anti-Yugoslav, anti-socialist and nationalist graffiti are in fact just the street’s appropriation of dominant political discourses, reflecting the “street’s view” of the current hegemony. Graffiti can therefore also be what Haraway calls a “communication of power” (1999, 391), to which we could respond by referencing Foucault (1978, 95): “where there is power, there is also resistance”. If nothing else, the pro-Yugoslav and pro-leftist graffiti on urban walls are a form of expression: they amaze people, empower them, lift their spirits and boost their moral strength: (Chaffee 1993, 20). The fact that pro-Yugoslav sentiments outnumber their anti-Yugoslav counterparts on walls attests to the fact that the former is marginalised, that it faces a communicational deficit and that graffiti are one of its rare media of expression. They are “a weapon of the weak”, to cite the effective phrase of James C. Scott.

The fact that there is no “synthesis” between the Yugoslav “thesis” and the anti-Yugoslav “antithesis”, which is still quite literally demonstrated on walls as a “red” and “black” truth (literally red graffiti versus black graffiti), is a fruitful research topic while also being exhausting and obstructive in a political sense. The reason for this is not the past in itself: graffiti that refer to the divisions from the past actually speak about the confrontations in the present. The second conclusion is in my opinion much more important and of a wider scope, and refers to the present state. Despite the fact that the frame of reference for this kind of urban calligraphy is the recent past, i.e. some form of Yugoslav exceptionalism,10 we encounter in it an explicit criticism of the current, the existing, the post-Yugoslav here and now. It is in fact the actualisation of (the former) multiculturalism, the (former) socially more just society, for the purpose of criticising (the current) ethno-nationalism and (the current) social injustices birthed by the new capitalism. Much like other media, graffiti (re)produce relations of power in society, while also attacking them – a perpetual (counter-)hegemonic battle exists here as well.

In other words, contemporary political battles are translated into the time and categories of the NLW and Yugoslav socialism. Examples of such graffiti express disappointment with the outcome of the transition (Bili smo 3 blok, sedaj bomo 3 svet [We were the 3rd block, now we will be the 3rd world] /Ljubljana, 2010, 2012/; Poslje Tita dopala nas kita [After Tito we got dick] /Zagreb, 2015/), an escape into nostalgic day-dreaming (Dok je bilo Tita bilo je i šita! [During Tito there was also shit-o!] /Split, 2011/), or treat historical revisionism sarcastically (Janezu Janši v trajni spomin s slikami pohabljenih žrtev nacizma [For Janez Jansa to never forget the pictures of maimed victims of the Nazis] /Ljubljana, 2009/; Skini Fak Of, Če bi Hitler praznoval, ne bi ti slovensko znal with the OF symbol [Remove the Fuck OFf, if Hitler won, you wouldn’t be speaking Slovenian] /Ljubljana, 2010/), glorify historical leaders while degrading their successors (Tito je živ, a Tuđman ne! [Tito is alive, Tuđman is not!] /Rijeka, 2015/), prefer the former international community over the current one, (Bolje Yu nego EU! [Better Yu than EU!] and the hammer and sickle /somewhere in Croatia, 2012/), recognise fascism in current right-wing movements (SKOJ [YCLY], hammer and sickle above the graffiti of the right-wing National Alignment /Banja Luka, 2012/; Antifa Area Since 1941 added under the Slovenia graffiti of right-wing organisations /Ljubljana, 2016/), lash the opportunism of the current ruling class (Druže Ramsfeld mi ti se kunemo… [Comrade Rumsfeld we bow to you…] /Ljubljana, 2003/), project current political divisions onto those from the past (a sticker with the politicians from the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenacka Demokratska Stranka – SDS) with the added slogan Dost je!!! domobranske vladavine [Enough!!! of Home Guard’s rule] /Ljubljana, 2013/) and ironically equate the former international federation of Yugoslavia with the current international union – the EU (E/Y/U /Zagreb, 2015/). Something similar can also be found on the anti-Yugoslav side where the present is criticised from the perspective of the past: current events are parsed in the categories of the former Yugoslavia (SDP = Jugoslavija [SDP = Yugoslavia] /Rijeka, 2015/).

In conclusion: pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav political graffiti and street art are a kind of “Litmus paper” for current social events and for evaluating the past. Anonymous considerations thereof can primarily be seen on walls. In the view of the graffiti artists supporting Yugoslavia, its socialism, antifascism, etc, such examples are nowadays far too scarce which is why with their work they strive to restore a symbolic “balance” in the public space by literally restoring things “to their rightful place”. On the other hand, according to those opposed to Yugoslavia and everything connected to it, such sentiments are far too frequent which is why adhering to the generally common ideological mantra of the post-Yugoslav right-wing, they cross-out the “continuation” of the aforementioned sentiments at every turn. In light of the increasingly intensifying economic, political and overall social situation in post-socialist post-Yugoslavia, as well as the ever-deeper polarisation across the mentioned antagonisms (socialism vs. neoliberalism, multiculturalism vs. ethno-nationalism), we can expect even more intense street interventions of this kind.11

VII. Selected bibliography

Abel, Ernest L.; Buckley, Barbara E., The Handwriting on the Wall – Toward a Sociology and Psychology of Graffiti, Greenwood Press, Westport (Connecticut) & London (UK), 1977.

Abram, Sandi, Komodifikacija ter komercializacija grafitov in street arta v treh korakih: od ulic prek galerij do korporacij: v: Abram, S.; Bulc, G.; Velikonja, M. (ur.), Veselo na belo – Grafiti in street art v Sloveniji, Časopis za kritiko znanosti, Ljubljana, št. 231-232, 2008, str. 34-49.

Barthes, Roland, Retorika Starih, Elementi semiologije, ŠKUC, Filozofska fakulteta, Ljubljana, 1990.

Barthes, Roland, Camera lucida – Zapiski o fotografiji, ŠKUC, Filozofska fakulteta, Ljubljana, 1992.

Barthes, Roland, Mythologies, Vintage, London, Sydney, Auckland, Bergvlei, 1993.

Benjamin, Walter, Umetnina v času, ko jo je mogoče tehnično reproducirati: v: Izbrani spisi, Studia Humanitatis, Ljubljana, 1998, str. 145-176.

Castleman, Craig, Getting Up. Subway Graffiti in New York, The MIT Press, Cambridge (Massachusetts), London (UK), 1999.

Chaffee, Lyman G., Political Protest and Street Art – Popular Tools for Democratization in Hispanic Countries, Greenwood Press, Westport (Connecticut), London (UK), 1993.

Collier, John Jr., Collier, Malcolm, Visual Anthropology - Photography as a Research Method, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1996.

Eco, Umberto, Il superuomo di massa – Retorica e ideologia nel romanzo popolare, Bompiani, Milano, 1998.

Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality – Volume I: An Introduction, Pantheon Books, New York,1978.

Guiraud, Pierre, Semiologija, Prosveta – Biblioteka XX vek, Beograd, 1983.

Hall, Stuart, Ukodiranje/razkodiranje: v: Luthar, B.; Jontes, D. (ur.), Mediji in občinstva, Založba FDV, Ljubljana, 2012, str. 399-412.

Haraway, Donna J., Opice, kiborgi in ženske – Reinvencija narave, Študentska založba, Ljubljana, 1999.

Kropej, Monika, Grafitarske bitke. Sprej kot sredstvo (sovražne) komunikacije: v: Abram, S.; Bulc, G.; Velikonja, M. (ur.), Veselo na belo – Grafiti in street art v Sloveniji, Časopis za kritiko znanosti, Ljubljana, št. 231-232, 2008, str. 255-265.

Rose, Gillian, Visual Methodologies – An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, Sage, Los Angeles & London & New Delhi & Singapore & Washington DC, 2012.

Suvin, Darko, Samo jednom se ljubi. Radiografija SFR Jugoslavije 1945.-72., uz hipoteze o početku, kraju u suštini, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung – Southeast Europe, Beograd, 2014.

Šterk, Slavko, Umjetnost ulice – Zagrebački grafiti 1994-2004, Muzej grada Zagreba, Zagreb, 2004.

Tasić, David, Grafiti, Založba Karantanija, Ljubljana, 1992.

Velikonja, Mitja, Politika z zidov – Zagate z ideologijo v grafitih in street artu; Časopis za kritiko znanosti; Ljubljana; št. 231-232; 2008, str. 25-32.

Velikonja, Mitja, Nadaljevanje politike z drugimi sredstvi – Neofašistični graffiti in street art na Slovenskem; Časopis za kritiko znanosti, Ljubljana, št. 251, 2013, str. 116-126.

Zimmermann, Tanja, Novi kontinent – Jugoslavija: politična geografija “tretje poti”; Zbornik za umetnostno zgodovino, Ljubljana, Vova vrsta XLVI, 2010, str. 163-188.

Zrinski, Božidar; Stepančič, Lilijana (ur.), Grafitarji – Graffitists, Mednarodni grafični likovni center, Ljubljana, 2004.









1 The others were photographed by Monika Kropej, Elena and Mateja Fajt, Sandi Abram, Nena Mocnik and Vjeran Pavlakovic, for which I hereby thank them.




2 See Abram 2008 for a brilliant analysis and criticism of the commodification and commercialisation of graffiti and street art (street-gallery-corporation).




3 Other slang expressions for this are “backgrounding”, or “going over” (Casteleman, 1999, 43-46), as well as “buffing”, simple writing over graffiti. This occurs in a very special way: in terms of disciplining the bad, or those who show disrespect (in relation to other authors), who provoke, battle for territory (i.e. mark it) etc.




4 In the words of Rose, “site of the image itself”, rather than “site of production”, i.e. “site of audiencing” (2012, 19 -40).




5 Even though it is, of course, absolutely clear that there is no complete denotation, meaning that each symbol has certain connotative dimensions at this level. It is therefore necessary to recall Hill’s warning (2012, 406) that the two terms are “merely useful analytical tools, not meant for analysing the presence/absence of ideology in a particular context, but the different levels at which ideologies and discourses intersect”.




6 Kropej (2008) excellently developed this research method.




7 According to Barthes (1990, 154) connotation is the “development of a system of secondary meanings: In Hall’s dictionary (2012, 406) codes condition the relation of signs with a broader universe of ideologies in society”.




8 Of nationalism and liberalism: literally the exact same slogans (for example, Zaprimo meje! [Close the borders!] and Za lažji pretok kapitala ne “beguncev” [Easier flow of capital, not “refugees”]) can be heard in the statements of current leading politicians in Slovenia and they can be seen on walls in Slovenia’s streets where they were written by right-wing activists.

9 The same goes for “inappropriate” time: pro-Yugoslav graffiti and street art that appears around former national holidays (for example 29 November) or that celebrate “leftist” holidays (Women’s Day, Day of the 1941 Uprising) are often targeted by the media and law enforcement agencies.




10 See, for example, Zimmermann’s study of the second Yugoslavia as a “new continent” (2010).




11 The assumption is warranted given the comparable increase of anti-refugee discourses and practices both on the level of institutional politics and on the street level (with an increase in xenophobic and anti-refugee gatherings and graffiti).










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