My first impression of Sarajevo is that it is covered in graffiti. And I think that’s nice.
So many other cities I’ve visited seem sanitized in an effort to appeal to the tourists upon whom the local economies rely; in contrast, Sarajevo is very obviously lived in by locals who maintain a presence not for the purpose of catering to foreigners. A range of graffiti is visible across the city, from scribbled profanities to artistic murals, representing the voices of Bosnia’s population and the occasional traveler from abroad. The proliferation of Bosnian language graffiti demonstrates that, for better or worse, this serves as a means of expression by Bosnians, for Bosnians.
Despite the negative connotations generally associated with the word “graffiti,” much of it is quite nice. Just outside of the city sits the abandoned bobsled run from the 1984 Winter Olympics, which was used as a sniper’s nest during the war. Today it bears graffiti from a number of sources, local and foreign, repurposing it yet again. Messages take up residence on the sides of buildings throughout Sarajevo, and murals featuring characters like goats (considered especially valuable in wartime) adorn the walls of underpasses. And not all graffiti is political in nature. Names and symbols from a number of organizations, such as local football clubs, frequently appear.
My personal favorite symbol is actually the work of a French artist. Monsieur Chat is a winged cat who smiles from a number of walls around the city, often accompanied by roses. The roses are probably an allusion to the Sarajevo Roses made by pouring red resin into depressions where shells hit the city’s sidewalks to memorialize the lives claimed by those explosions. A quick Google search reveals that Monsieur Chat’s smile is meant to bring light to those on the city streets. In Sarajevo this is especially poignant, as war damage remains visible on many of the buildings neighboring the various depictions of Monsieur Chat. Even though this is the work of a foreign artist, it is clearly intended for a local audience, demonstrating again that despite its growing tourism economy, Sarajevo exists first for Sarajevo.