PARIS (Reuters) - Europe’s politicians can drone on about solutions to the euro zone crisis as much as they like, but the popular sentiment is clearly spelled out on the streets of Paris: “DEATH TO BANKERS.”
That message scrawled on a mail box in the fashionable Marais district of the French capital is part of a growing commentary cropping up on walls and streets, revealing deep-seated distrust and simmering disquiet as a euro zone crisis threatens to wreak yet more havoc with France’s economy.
As France gets sucked deeper into the crisis, Paris is catching up with Athens, where bankruptcy woes and austerity measures have spurred waves of graffiti and the finger of blame is pointing firmly in one direction.
“Thanks, bankers, for the loss of a few more billions,” says another scrawl near the Paris stock exchange.
Anger at budget cuts, concern over violent swings in financial markets and fear that the euro zone could disintegrate have all trickled down to the street level.
“Did you elect your banker?” read a stencil spray-painted on the seat of a public bench near the Bastille, a key target of the 18th century revolutionaries who chopped off the heads of a French elite that spent too much and paid too little heed to trouble brewing among the lower orders.
“Because the masses aren’t productive enough, France will lose its triple-A,” reads a sarcastic message on the side of the church which provided the religious tools needed for Louis XVI’s last Mass before his execution at the guillotine in 1793.
That graffiti appeared this week as a warning on euro zone ratings by Standard & Poor’s fanned fears that markets could put the single currency to the sword.
The company hired by the city to remove graffiti, HTP, said it is seeing 25 percent more of it this year than last, with a notable rise in scrawlings about economic malaise.
City hall tries to have graffiti removed within 10 days of it being reported but backlogs mean the wait is often longer.
One large message spraypainted in red block letters on the side of an HSBC bank branch in central Paris — “Guilty for the crisis!!!” — was removed within days, however.
The messages now popping up throughout Paris are a more topical contrast to the more common variety of graffiti, namely initials or nicknames that taggers leave to mark territory.
Political graffiti is an act of rebellion tantamount to “an alarm signal,” said graffiti artist Antonio de Oliveira, 33, saying it showed people are fed up with the disconnect between politicians and the masses.
“When you have political graffiti, the situation is dire.”
France is gearing up for an election where President Nicolas Sarkozy faces possible defeat by Socialist rival Francois Hollande as three years of economic gloom, stubborn unemployment and dwindling purchasing power demoralize voters.
Youth unemployment is stuck at 21.6 percent.
“Young people have pretty precarious lives,” said de Oliveira. “Our only way of rebellion is graffiti.”
A recent example in a working-class neighborhood read, “Full employment died of a work stoppage.”
HTP says it scrubs off 500,000 square meters of surface each year to the tune of several tens of millions in euros.
HTP’s sales manager, Etienne Kiraly, said this year’s rise in graffiti was sparked by a number of influences, including the Arab Spring uprisings, the overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and the sex scandal of former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
“There are elections, there’s everything on TV, young people see that and write it on the walls,” said Kiraly.
The city of revolt has a long history of graffiti. Catacombs dug below the surface of Paris still yield a glimpse of scribblings from the time of the 1789 Revolution, when France’s enormous debt woes triggered massive social upheaval.
In the late 19th century, the walls of public urinals were a target for the dissemination of political insubordination, and the 1968 student-led riots featured memorable graffiti such as “Boredom is counterrevolutionary” and “Your boss needs you. You don’t need him.”
An outlet for expression is the driving force behind most graffiti, says Marion Haza, a professor of psychology at the University of Poitiers who has studied young urban taggers.
The goal of spraypainting on walls is intended to “bother or to shock,” she said, as it forces passers-by to take note.
“Even if there isn’t any real impact it gives the sense of not being passive,” she said. “It’s all about not being passive.”
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato