“Yugoslavia After Yugoslavia”: Graffiti About the Former Homeland in the New Post-Yugoslav Homelands
Twenty-five years after the bloody collapse of socialist Yugoslavia, the urban walls of its successor states are still full of graffiti of “two homelands”: the present-day nation-states and the former Yugoslav federation. The main questions of the text – based on my longitudinal research and semiological (quantitative and qualitative) methodological approaches – are how, where and why Yugoslavia, its socialism, its antifascist roots and its leaders are (de)constructed, praised and condemned in this specific urban subculture. On the level of denotation, graffiti and street art can be divided into pro-Yugoslav and anti-Yugoslav, often directly confronted in graffiti-battles. On the level of connotation, three major ideological antagonisms appear: socialist federalism vs. nationalism, Tito vs. his opponents, and antifascism vs. fascism. Before presenting the final findings of the research, an anaysis is made of the expressive strategies of this urban production, such as provocation and criticism, affirmation and continuity, territory marking, constant antagonisation and semiotic guerrillism.
KEY WORDS: Slovenia, Yugoslavia, graffiti, street art, Yugonostalgia, nationalism, semiology
The aim of the article is to research how and why the Yugoslav socialist past is present on the walls of post-Yugoslav cities in towns today: how graffiti artists and urban political activists de/construct and praise/condemn Yugoslavia, the socialist political system, partisan resistance, Tito and other symbols of those times. I collected over 270 photos, most of which I took myself, in the course of the last two decades. In the first part I define political graffiti and street art, establish basic terms and show their main types. In the second part I first explain the methodology used – the semiology of R. Barthes, U. Eco and S. Hall – and the perspective of my research (“site of the image itself”, using the terminology of G. Rose). This is followed by indicating the specifics of the research (combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, multimodality of graffiti, the transience/endurance of graffiti and their vandalization, the polysemy of graffiti, the impossibility to establish their exact number, and the reproducibility of motifs). Third chapter brings the denotative level of analysis – the initial classification of the gathered material into two groups: pro-Yugoslav oriented (total of 209), anti-Yugoslav oriented graffiti (43) and graffiti battles (23). This is followed by a short description of some examples.
The fourth chapter proceeds on the connotative level: the analysis shows that most of the graffiti constructs the ideological binaries “socialist federalism” vs. “nationalism”, then “Tito” vs. “opposing historical personalities” and finally “antifascism” vs. “fascism”. The fifth part of the article is about expressive strategies of such politicization of urban space: provocation and criticism (problematizing dominant discourses), affirmation and continuity (resistance to historical revisionism), territory marking (proudly displaying “we are (still) here!”), constant antagonisation (confronting and overcoming present-day injustices) and semiotic guerrillism (constructing counterhegemonic meanings in an ironic and sarcastic way). There are two main findings of the analysis: one of historical relevance and the other in regard of the contemporary political situation. The first is that the evaluation of that period of our histories is still completely polarized and antagonistic: there seems to be no dialogue and no productive approach to conflict resolution or reconciliation, just the insurmountable pro- and anti-Yugoslav opposition. My second finding is that although the referential framework of such urban calligraphy appears to be the past, it also clearly reveals an explicit critique of the existent, current, contemporary, post-Yugoslav ethno-nationalist and neo-liberal condition. The actualization of the former multiculturalism, a socially more just society and antifascism in fact criticizes and proposes alternatives to current ethno-nationalism and social malpractices born out of the new economic and political system that took over since the disintegration of Yugoslavia.