Youth, Sport and Social Activism within a Heritage Site

Authors: Marko Mustapić, Ben Perasović & Ivan Hrstić Ivo PilarCroatia

Space is a key resource for the local community, and the relationships that keep the community’s members together are founded on their satisfaction of social needs. Social processes that unfold in a particular space and the way people live and share space indicate the basic determinants of a given local community, as well as to functional and psychological ties among people. Thus, the ‘feeling of belonging’ to a particular community is of special importance. Every city has its own daily life experiences. Residents frequently alter urban public spaces through interventions such as graffiti and murals that mark space and depict community symbols. Graffiti as an expression of community collectivity became the subject of research in the social sciences in the second half of the 20th century. Public spaces in city centres are most frequently subject to this type of intervention from residents, generally without the prior approval of local authorities. The first sociological research on this subject in Croatia was published in the early 1990s, focusing on the city of Split. In this study, Dražen Lalić et al. found that the content of nearly 40% of the graffiti and murals in Split dealt with sports and supporter culture.

Picture 1. The original appearance of Diocletian's Palace
Picture 1. The original appearance of the palace

Diocletian’s Palace is the heart of Split’s city centre. This ancient palace was home to Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruled from 284-305 CE; the palace was built around 300 CE, and he lived there until his death in 316. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was invaded by the Avars and Slavs, and the remaining Roman population retreated to the palace. Since then, the palace, which was first built as a summer residence for the powerful Roman emperor, has been the central space of everyday life in the city for an unbroken 17 centuries. Diocletian’s Palace was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979.

Picture 2. The palace today as the city centre
Picture 2. The palace today as the city centre

Split is the largest city on the Croatian coast; according to the 2011 census, it has 178,000 residents. In recent decades, the modern way of life and new standards of modern living have resulted in a large number of residents moving out of the palace. This process has been strengthened in the past two decades by pressure from tourist commodification. This has been a key ‘push factor’ in the depopulation of the local community in the palace. Thus, the number of young people who live in the Palace, as well as those groups of youth in Split who used the spaces within the Palace in various ways, is becoming smaller and smaller. The results of extensive use of space and cultural heritage for tourism have been accompanied by weak, ineffectual supervision by state and city institutions. Cultural policy in Croatia is subject to the short-term goals of political and economic actors, which means cultural heritage is exposed to numerous negative consequences. This is not a problem exclusive to Split; it is also apparent in other cities on the Croatian coast. Due to the existing attitude of institutions toward the economic exploitation of the palace, the negative effects of tourism are extremely damaging to the local community. This places the daily life and work of people in the palace under unbearable pressure; it also calls the effective protection of cultural heritage into question, despite laws and institutions. This has resulted in resistance from palace residents and actors in Split’s civil society, including numerous young people. It can rightly be said that the social activism of citizens – including youth – aimed at protecting the community’s way of life in the palace and its cultural heritage is one of the most important ‘fields’ of action in civil society in Split.

The number of tourists visiting the palace grew rapidly in the mid-2000s, especially due to cruise ships that come to Split for one-day visits. Since then, the palace has been exposed to strong pressure from capital and investors. This has necessarily led to a reduced ability to use public space for the needs of local residents (streets, squares, etc.). Spaces in the palace have been rigidly commodified and primarily relegated to the service of tourism. Numerous food and beverage outlets and commercial establishments with a long tradition focused on the residents of the palace and surrounding neighbourhoods have closed, and these spaces now house amenities focused on tourism. The price of goods and services in restaurants and commercial establishments in the palace have grown significantly, making them inaccessible to some residents. For example, barbecuing in public spaces, which the residents of the palace practised for centuries, has been banned by new communal rules. On the other hand, the failure to respect city regulations by a large number of businesses has been tolerated. In recent years, this has resulted in continued conflict between the local population, which has organised into an NGO, and local government.

Picture 3. Crowds in the summer months on the Peristyle
Picture 3. Crowds in the summer months on the Peristyle

During the summer of this year, the residents of the palace organised a protest against the working hours of food and beverage outlets and the noise they make. Unsatisfied with the work of the community wardens, they launched a petition seeking that the Split city government require a sufficient amount wardens to be present in the palace during the tourist season instead of allowing them to go on holiday during this period.  They also cited numerous irregularities in the work of business owners, such as inadequate hygiene, constant growth in the number of stands and kiosks (congestion of public areas), frequent incidents involving intoxicated tourists, the arbitrary placement of ads in narrow streets in the palace, etc. Palace residents were highly dissatisfied with the work of the community wardens this year. This is witnessed by a string of actions, protests, and performances in September and October; for the purposes of this text, we will describe the most recent conflict between residents and community wardens (Split city government) because of a mural in the palace.

Picture 4. The mural in honour of KK Jugoplastika, which was removed (painted over) by the community wardens
Picture 4. The mural in honour of KK Jugoplastika, which was removed (painted over) by the community wardens

The palace is a legally protected area and graffiti is not permitted. However, many of its walls have been covered in graffiti for years. Basketball has been played in Split since 1945, first among youth as a recreational sport. However, from the 1970s to the 1990s, the KK Jugoplastika basketball club (today KK Split) was one of the top-ranked teams in Europe. The club won three European titles in a row (1989, 1990, 1991), a feat no club in Europe has managed since. In addition to this, they won the Radivoj Korać Cup twice (1976, 1977), were state champions seven times (six times in Yugoslavia, once in Croatia), and won the national cup ten times (five times in Yugoslavia, five times in Croatia). Few European clubs can boast this level of achievement. In addition to this, the club’s youth school raised numerous players who have become greats in the history of basketball, such as Toni Kukoč and Dino Rađa. As this year is the 30th anniversary of its first European title (Munich 1989), amidst a series of events, palace residents in Dominisova street decided to paint a mural in honour of KK Jugoplastika. A mural in honour of HNK Hajduk has stood on a wall not thirty metres away for years.

Picture 5. Torcida mural in honour of Hajduk and St. Domnius (patron saint of Split)
Picture 5. Torcida mural in honour of Hajduk and St. Domnius (patron saint of Split)

Just two weeks later, the community wardens painted over the mural, which depicted a clothesline[1] on which three Jugoplastika jerseys were hanging to dry; one of which bore the number 7, which was worn by the greatest player in the club’s history, Toni Kukoč.[2] The decision to paint over the mural in Dominisova Street was founded on the fact that the palace is protected. The residents were disappointed with the city government’s actions and selective respect for the law. One embittered resident of the street stated the following for the local web portal (www.dalmatinskiportal.hr 25 Oct 2019): “I would like to ask you conservators, who look after your own pocketbooks instead of the heritage you are paid to protect, when you plan to deal with the other graffiti, swimming pools, cash points, and other absurdities you promote and ignore in the old town centre. Congratulations on your speedy reaction, now move on. This doesn’t mean that we won’t find another place for Jugoplastika.”

Erasing a mural in honour of Jugoplastika and Split’s greatest sporting success in the heart of the palace engendered numerous comments. Most of these involved listing numerous irregularities and breaches of the law the community wardens, local government, and Ministry of Culture have tolerated for years, especially in favour of the individual interests of entrepreneurs.  Not long after the mural was painted over, citizens wrote a message in graffiti on the same wall to the head of the conservation service in Split, who wrote the order to remove the mural. In addition to this, as a sign of protest, activists covered all 220 cash points in the palace with the logo of KK Jugoplastika, emphasising the issue of the rapid growth in the number of cash points in the cramped space of the palace.

Picture 6. Banners on clotheslines in Dominisova Street after the Jugoplastika mural was removed.
Picture 6. Banners on clotheslines in Dominisova Street after the Jugoplastika mural was removed.

Also, a banner was hung on a clothesline on Dominisova Street reading ‘Go Yellow’, signed ‘Torcida Get’. [3] Numerous public figures made public statements, including Dino Rađa, who responded via his Facebook profile[4]: “Shame on you. You disgust me, you unfulfilled wretches who have never succeeded at anything in your lives. Your greatest success has been getting a political party membership card. The only thing you know how to do is sell smoke and mirrors to cover your own BS. You’re not bothered by the fact that the Youth Centre has stood unfinished for 40 years, you’re not bothered that your stadium and swimming pools are falling apart, you’re not bothered by the “metro” that gets used by one and a half people per day, you’re not bothered by the fact it takes an hour to get through the harbour in summer, you’re not bothered by the fact that the arena hasn’t been finished for ten years, you’re not bothered by the fact Marjan park has been devastated due to your negligence. But you’re bothered by the greatest sporting success in the city’s history.”

Picture 7. The team and supporters of KK Jugoplastika upon returning to Split in 1989 with the European champion’s trophy
Picture 7. The team and supporters of KK Jugoplastika upon returning to Split in 1989 with the European champion’s trophy

A few days later, KK Split offered supporters the opportunity to paint the erased mural on a wall in the club hall. At a Croatian football championship match (Hajduk-Slaven, 26 Oct 2019), Torcida (the HNK Hajduk Split ultras group) raised a banner in the stands directed at politicians and institutions: “Jugoplastika’s successes will always remain written in the history of our city. And you are a symbol of everything bad, sorrow and misery. Shame on you!”. The following day, the residents of Dominisova Street decided to collect money to paint a mural on the wall of the KK Split sports hall. The media carried a statement by the palace residents: “Dear fans of basketball and our great Jugoplastika, let’s call time out, calm our passions, and show that we can once again collect money for an anniversary mural for our yellow giant, regardless of the fact that they cruelly and unjustifiably painted over the last one after just two days… This time, we won’t paint it in the palace, but in the sports hall in agreement with KK Split.” Thus ended yet another episode of social activism from the citizens of Split due to failures in community work in Diocletian’s palace. This episode, caused by a celebration of the greatest victory in the history of sport in Split, was just one in a string of examples of citizens’ continued expression of dissatisfaction with the way institutions handle ‘protected cultural heritage’. Their activism continues, and it is the role of youth in these activities that the Croatian CHIEF research team will be examining within the framework of our qualitative research in heritage sites.


Endnotes

[1] The clothesline portrayed is known locally as a tiramul, which consists of a double line with pulleys on each end, allowing laundry to be run out and pulled back when it is dry (Ita. tira + molla). These have always been a part of narrow Mediterranean streets on the high storeys of buildings like those in the palace, between which laundry was hung.

[2] Toni Kukoč (Split, 1968) lives in Chicago (USA), where he works as a consultant for the owner of the Chicago Bulls. As a player, he won numerous team (national championships and cups in Yugoslavia and Italy) and individual trophies. Only his most important international successes will be listed here: European club titles with KK Jugoplastika (1989, 1990, 1991); NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls (1996, 1997, 1998); EuroBasket with the Yugoslav national team (1989 and 1991); World Championship (1990) and Olympic silver (1998); Olympic silver with the Croatian national team (1992); bronze at the World Cup (1994) and EuroBasket (1995). The Euroscar European Player of the Year Award is an annual basketball award given to the year’s best male European basketball player. Kukoč won this award five times (1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998). Only German Dirk Nowitzki has won more (six Euroscar Awards) in the history of European Basketball.

[3] Torcida, the staunchest supporters of HNK Hajduk Split, is the oldest supporters’ (Ultras) group in Europe, founded in 1950. Torcida has also been an NGO with a formal structure and hierarchy since the mid-1990s. Torcida mobilises thousands of young people, providing a framework for the identification process and the creation of a distinct subcultural style – Ultras subculture. Torcida leads chants, choreographies and the general atmosphere on the whole north stand of the HNK Hajduk Split stadium, which means up to ten thousand people. Torcida has undoubtedly been the most numerous at home and away matches in Croatia.

[4] Dino Rađa (Split, 1967) lives in Zagreb, where he serves as President of the Croatian Basketball Federation’s Expert Council. Like Kukoč, he won numerous team titles as a player. We will note only the most important: European club titles with KK Jugoplastika (1989, 1990); European champions with the Yugoslav national team (1989 and 1991); World Championship (1990) and Olympic silver (1988); Olympic silver with the Croatian national team (1992); bronze at the World Cup (1994) and EuroBasket (1995).  In addition to Split, he won fame as a player with Virtus Roma (1990-1993; Radivoj Korać Cup 1992), the Boston Celtics (1993-1997), Panathinaikos (1997-1999; Greek champions 1998, 1999), Zadar (1999-2000, Croatian Cup), and Olympiacos (2000-2001). In addition to championships and cups in Yugoslavia, in the last season of his career, he won the only national title for KK Split (formerly Jugoplastika) at Croatian championships.  He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.


About the author

Marko Mustapić, is a sociologist, and research associate at IPI and associate professor at College of Communication Management Edward Barneys (Zagreb)

Ben Perasović, is a Partner Team Lead. He is a Senior Research fellow at IPI and Associate Professor in the Kinesiology faculty at the University of Zagreb

Ivan Hrstić, is a research associate at the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences in Zagreb. His research and publications are mainly in the area of twentieth-century European social history.