The Senate is currently discussing an amendment to a law which would make spraying paint on buildings a crime punishable, in extreme cases, by up to 8 years in prison. It today's Talking Point, Olga Szantova looks at the issue of graffiti spraying, which no visitor to Prague fails to notice.

Not only visitors, but many people who live in Prague are really angry at the amount of graffiti on buildings, even on precious historic monuments:

"I don't agree with what they're doing. They are ruining buildings and historic monuments. I fully agree with higher punishment for sprayers."

"That's no art, even though they say it is. What kind of art is it, if it ruins precious pieces of art, architecture, statues? They really deserve to be punished."

And the new law, or rather, the amendment to the existing one is aimed at curbing that, at making Prague less welcoming to sprayers. That's why, according to the proposal, spraying should be punishable by up to 8 years in jail. Many argue that that is too much. The Senate may not pass the bill as it stands, just on those grounds. But Mayor Kasl thinks the threat of stricter punishment is needed, even if it is just that, a threat. The law, as it stands now, is absolutely inadequate. A point on which many strongly agree, including the Mayor of Prague's 5th district Miroslav Skaloud.

"This is breaking the law. They say it's a form of self expression, but it's like somebody saying he wants to express himself by hurting or damaging another person. These sprayers are painting on walls that belong to somebody. Alright, so they say those walls are gray and drab. But they could just as well say my car or my coat is too gray and dull and they want to put some color on it. No, this is definitely breaking the law and has to be punished."

One of the sprayers, who asked to be called Sherry, sees nothing wrong with spraying, if it's done right

"For me, personally, it's a form of self-expression, if you want to paint, you paint. But others have different reasons. Not everybody you'd call a sprayer is the same. Some just spray paint any old way, or they just sign their names, or paint their initials. They do it for the excitement and the threat of higher punishment only adds to that excitement. But this kind of tagging has nothing to do with those of us who want to really paint pictures we like. We have higher ambitions than just tagging. Those buildings in the newer parts of Prague ARE dull, and I think they look much better when we've put some color on them, the whole street looks better."

Actually, some people I talked to in the streets of Prague agree on that point. Prague's mayor agrees: But, will that solve the problem, will it keep graffiti away from the historic and architecturally precious parts of Prague? Will it keep the city clean? Is the police doing enough in that respect? Shouldn't house owners be made more responsible for keeping their buildings clean? Shouldn't THEY be punished for leaving the graffiti on the walls? So, does the municipality count on cooperating with house owners? Prague's local authorities have their own responsibilities in this respect. Of course, graffiti is not only a Prague problem, but the city is the biggest, and has the largest number of visitors, and of course, a big city is always more open to such things. That's why not only mayor Kasl, but others, as well, including the Mayor of Prague's 5th district, Miroslav Skaloud back the new bill on graffiti:

"I welcome the tougher punishment, it's hard to catch those sprayers, so when they are caught, they really should be punished for all the harm they do." But would the threat of higher punishment keep people like Shery from spraying?

"No, it wouldn't. I'm not doing anything wrong, I don't see why I should be punished, I'm not ruining anything, I'm just trying to make the place nicer, put some color in it."

And Prague's Mayor Kasl - doesn't he think it's a lost battle?

Author: Olga Szantová
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