Just when I thought I’d escaped the frenzy that is political advertising in the final weeks before an election, I realized that I’d arrived in Slovenia just in time for the country’s most recent election at the beginning of October.
As I talked to Slovenians in the region, and to a group of other foreigners from various European countries, I reflected on the differences between Slovenian elections and those in America.
There are many more candidates in the primaries than in the U.S., for example. During this election cycle, more than 2 percent of the population ran for public office, according to Slovenia Radio International.
What happens then is this: if a candidate doesn’t win by a clear margin, a run-off election between the two top vote getters is held a few weeks later.
I tried to think of something beyond the obvious to say about this system, but as I walked around Ljubljana thinking about it, I kept getting distracted by giant neon ears and Weasleys.
Let me explain.
All throughout Ljubljana, billboard-size images with smiling candidates are papered along the city’s walls. On top of them is a typical feature of the Ljubljana landscape: graffiti. And for some reason, the two most popular images in graffiti—which is somewhat of an art form in its own way over here—are as follows.
First, there are the neon green stenciled images—no larger half the size of a paperback book—of the face of the British actor, Rupert Grint, who plays Harry Potter’s best friend Ron in the Harry Potter movies. Underneath the face is Ron’s last name, Weasley.
Odd, I thought, as I walked along the Ljubljanica River one day, and saw Weasley on the side of a café.
Odder still was when I began to see random Weasleys pop up everywhere, including along a brick staircase leading down to the river, right outside a restaurant where I’d eaten only days before, a place where I’d sworn the walls were not quite clean but were, for sure, at least free of Weasleys.
The Weasley stenciling-graffiti artist had struck again.
There are also larger images of almost anything you can think of—many of which are quite colorful, in bright pinks and reds—that seem to cover many of the walls of public places. Some are of people, some are simple geometric patterns, and some are more intricate: detailed scenes with many figures and a multitude of colors. Others contain slang in Slovenian that I can’t quite decipher.
Second, the most interesting graffiti seems to occur on the political posters, in which a giant neon-colored ear is generally drawn on the side of whoever is being featured.
For example, one woman running for mayor in Ljubljana has a giant neon orange and a neon green ear painted right next to her head on the billboard near my language school. She also has several other billboards in the city, and sometimes there are even three ears drawn.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of this poor woman without several neon ears next to her head. Before I carefully deciphered the Slovenian words advertising her campaign, I mistakenly thought these billboards were advertising hearing aids of some sort.
Clearly, there are graffiti artists at work in the U.S. as well, but for some reason in Ljubljana there seems to be more graffiti per square foot—or, square meter, for that matter, if I’m to be European about it. More than that, there just seems to be a disproportionate amount of graffiti for the type of city Ljubljana is: a capital city, yes, but also a very peaceful and small one by American standards, considering the entire country has a population of around 2 million.
I suppose that the general presumption I’m making is that graffiti is a bad thing; perhaps, here, many simply don’t think it is.
I remember walking along the Ljubljanica River in the summer of 2009, when I first visited Slovenia, and finding, in the central market one night, the stenciled words: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So, some of the messages are downright friendly.
But I also distinctly remember that the street washers literally came out with giant hoses at night in the summer to scrub the paths and walkways of the center, erasing any trace of the lemonade message long before I left Ljubljana back in 2009.
Come to think of it, I think some of the Weasleys have disappeared recently, too.
But I’m confident they’ll be back soon, right where I’m least expecting them.
Published during the week of October 18 in the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press newspapers.