The old town of Bratislava, the quaint Slovakian capital of half a million inhabitants that straddles the banks of the Danube River, bears all the hallmarks of a central European city. With its striking castle, crumbling Viennese architecture, and the solemn statue of the national poet occupying the main square, central Bratislava does not seem to have aged in the last century. The city’s Communist influences have been firmly pushed out to the city’s suburbs, leaving behind a picturesque town steeped in history.
But the romantic image of cobbled streets and cosy cafes has recently been marred by the belligerent advertising casting shadows over the once-pretty old town. From parks to plazas, almost every available public space is occupied by towering billboards, and the facades of century-old apartment blocks are papered over with tacky offers and cheap deals.
To protect the historic centre from the blight of illegal outdoor advertising, one self-styled vigilante has decided to combat this – by ripping down the offending posters and meticulously photographing and recording each case.
“I do not have the time and patience to go to the NGOs and annoy authorities,” explained the anonymous crusader, in an interview with Bratislava’s local SME newspaper. “I want results immediately.”
Yet despite the self-proclaimed Batman’s best efforts – which include several hundred successful removal cases – the city is still completely overrun with advertising. The municipal government has perhaps made some progress, by refusing to extend the licenses of many advertising agencies across the city. Mayor Ivo Nesrovnal said he wanted to start removing this “visual smog.”
But the ugly side of Bratislava’s billboards is steeped in the country’s history and its economic situation. After the Velvet Revolution – which started in Bratislava – and the subsequent fall of Communism in Central Europe, Slovaks were free to experiment with Capitalism for the first time in almost half a century.
The result was a sudden rush of economic activity, in a frenzied bid to catch up with Western neighbours like Germany and Austria. The thousands of new companies found ample public space to advertise their wares free of charge – and without effective regulation in place, mass-produced advertising began to spring up across the cityscape.
Efforts to return the beauty to Bratislava may have captured the hearts of the city’s residents; but the problem is economic, not judicial. Without adequate political support, and a change in regulation, the billboards look like they’ll be here to stay.
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Credits: Images by Ajit Niranjan. Data linked to sources.