Every prohibition, no matter how reasonable, has its bootleggers and every state, no matter how authoritarian, is unable to truly enforce a total ban on anything. So when a father in Berlin discovered swastikas painted on a children’s playground, a symbol that is actually illegal according to German law, he realized it was more effective to take matters into his own hands.
Placing two spray cans on the checkout counter at a nearby art supplies store, the father told the cashier what he planned to do. The cashier, admiring the man’s determination but realizing that he wasn’t actually a graffiti artist, offered to take care of it. And so the cashier, together with the NGO The Cultural Inheritance, launched #PaintBack, a project that turns swastika graffiti into works of beautiful hate-free art.
As stated before, German law strictly prohibits anything related to National Socialism including political parties, propaganda, chants, salutes, and symbols. And yet despite this legal framework for denazification put into place following those infamous events of WWII, neo-Nazi activity in Germany still exists and has even gained political representation since these laws were enacted. Like all proscriptive laws, it fails because outlawing certain activities only forces those participating to change their tactics while the letter of the law is used against those not actually engaging in hateful activity. In fact, several anti-fascists were persecuted under these laws for using swastikas for anti-Nazi purposes until the law was modified so that it, “shall not be applicable if the means of propaganda or the act serves to further civil enlightenment, to avert unconstitutional aims, to promote art or science, research or teaching, reporting about current historical events or similar purposes.”
When it comes to fascist graffiti, the law is about as useful as it is against any graffiti artist. Most are careful enough to avoid police and tracking the artist down afterwards is difficult if not impossible unless there were witnesses. So what’s to be done to show that such hatred is unwelcomed in one’s community? Well aside from the obvious tactics of direct confrontation of such groups, stopping them from spreading their propaganda.
Turning bigoted symbols into flowers, cute animals, windows, and other amazing pieces proves that there are other ways of dealing with symbols of hate that don’t involve the state or their private protection racket known as the police. This peaceful reaction allows citizens to combat hatred in a creative way that actually serves to beautify the city.and engage local children, who have come up with many of the designs for PaintBack.
“Kids, they have a different imagination. When they see a swastika, for them it’s just some symbol,” said Ibo Omari, the cashier who took on the project, “They don’t have an association with racism or Nazis. They tend to redesign it much easier than adults so most of the designs were created by kids.”
Who knew combating hatred could be turned into a community art project involving local children? This is just one of many creative ideas that can happen when we choose to solve our own problems instead of merely relying on the state.