The Lennon Wall stands proudly in an unassuming street in the Prague 1 District. Once just a regular; it’s now an important and historical symbol of love and peace, and defiance. After The Beatles’ John Lennon was murdered in late 1980, he was depicted on the already graffiti-laden wall in Prague to represent the pacifist philosophy which he encouraged throughout his life. His message resonated with young people in Czechoslovakia who wished to move on from the harsh communist regime into a better world at peace as described in John Lennon’s famous song ‘Imagine’. Westernized imageries were prohibited in Czechoslovakia at that time and thus it was almost immediately covered by the police. Still, more young Czechs began to contribute more graffiti to the Wall in objection to the communist rule and, following the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia which peacefully overthrew communism in late 1989, the Wall was transformed from anti-communist graffiti to a wall of peace and love by hopeful Czech’s who finally felt free.
Today it is a space where people from all over the world can share their thoughts, ideas and social justice hardships and desires. Although the Wall was used in the 1980s for political resistance, it is still used as a form of political protest today. With the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and the continued emergence of right-wing populism that is interwoven with bigotry and xenophobic ideologies, the Wall is still significant. When visiting the Lennon Wall, we spoke to a tourist who told us that, to her, the Wall meant “love, but also aggression”. She told us how excited she was to see the Lennon Wall, and how it is an important form of resistance against the oppressive regime in the 1980s. It has not always been seen as relevant or necessary to have, for example in 2014 a group of students painted over the Wall and wrote, “The Wall is Over”. This was a political statement which expressed the view that there is no need for such a wall to exist. However, despite this demonstration, tourists and Prague citizens reclaimed the wall and continued the legacy.
The Wall can be looked at as a universal outlet for people to share opinions and ideas. One particular eye catching statement says “Fuck Donald Trump” and the different languages used on the Wall show just how diverse its contributors are. The Wall becomes a space where people can resist and contest neoliberal globalization yet also a space where people can show love, connection and empowerment. On the other hand, the Wall in Prague now can be seen as a place consumed by tourism and native Czechs could feel excluded from the wall’s original purpose.
But in the end, the Wall transcends through time and space and maintains it’s relevance through generations of political crises. The Wall continues to be used as a public space for political demonstration from both tourists and Czech citizens. It is an example of public space, and unregulated free space. In contemporary times across the globe there is a trending discussion going on surrounding free space and what it is in Liberal Democratic societies. Global citizens are questioning the availability of ‘true’ public space, and who can and cannot access these spaces. These dialogues come out of state resistance toward graffiti artists which use public space as a platform to express their message. These artists predominately belong to youth culture and express their distaste of contemporary political systems through art. Regulated free space can be seen in most cities across the globe. For example, when cities have ‘NO Skateboarding’ signs but is in a public space, can it really be public? When graffiti artists are arrested for using public spaces to express thoughts and ideas, does this tell citizens that public space is accessible and free? Moreover, policing this type of art puts greater importance on high culture such as museums and makes graffiti seem as though it is a burden on communities. In recent years, there has been news in Czech Republic surrounding the conflict between authorities and graffiti artists. This causes tensions between the public and graffiti artists who truly believe their art form is legitimate. Graffiti art can showcase political ideology as well as contest regulated free space. As such, the Lennon Wall exemplifies and resembles what true public and free space is.