Spray-painters to face up to eight years in jail

Prague graffiti

The Lower House of Parliament has approved an amendment to the penal code which, if approved by the Senate and signed by President Havel, could mean up to eight years in jail for spray-painters who scrawl graffiti on historic buildings. This problem has been escalating and represents a real threat to medieval sites and buildings, many of them protected by the United Nations heritage organization, UNESCO. Olga Szantova has been looking into the issue.

Prague graffiti
The law, as it stands now, imposes a maximum fine of 3,000 Czech Crowns for defacing property, but sprayers usually get a much smaller fine, if they are caught in the act, that is - which is quite a rare occurrence. As a result, the streets of Prague, as well as metro stations and trams, are covered with graffiti, much to the annoyance of visitors and locals alike.

"I don't like what they're doing, they are ruining historic buildings and monuments. And I agree with the new bill, let them go to jail for it.""That's not art, how can it be when they ruin real historic monuments and works of art. They should be punished - no sentence is too great."

"I've heard about the new law, and I agree that sprayers deserve punishment. But most of them are just kids, and they need money to buy the paint they use. They must get it from their parents and they should be punished. How come they don't know how their children spend money and what they do in their free time?" While everybody I talked to condemned graffiti on historic buildings, not everybody condemned the practice as a whole. If the Senate passes the amendment to the penal code and President Havel signs it, it should come into force in the summer. The threat of a much greater punishment, including a jail sentence, should make sprayers think twice, say the one hundred MPs who approved the law. But others have their doubts and feel there should be more stress on prevention. Attempts have been made to give sprayers a chance to apply their art elsewhere than on historic buildings and other public sites. And there are similar walls in other parts of Prague and in other places, too, where sprayers can show off their art. Some youth clubs organize special centers where youngsters can spray on billboards and large pieces of papers. But - can that replace the dubious joy of ruining a recently renovated medieval building? For those who don't think so, there's the new law. For those of them who are caught in the act, that is.

Author: Olga Szantová
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