Spray and neuter: Suspected tagger jailed before being allowed to leave Svalbard – will he return to to face trial?

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Congratulations moron(s). You’re getting the attention you want.

Several structures, including cultural landmarks such as the entrance to Mine 2B, were defaced by graffiti early this week, provoking an outraged group of Longyearbyen residents to conduct a detective search for the culprit(s) via social media. Police arrested a German man born in 1986 Monday afternoon, who denied responsibility for the vandalism.

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“Our view is that we got the right person,” Berit Sagfossen, a police chief lieutenant for The Governor of Svalbard, told Svalbardposten. “There was found, among other German spray cans in the man’s luggage.”

The tagging on the buildings referred to Dynamo Dresden, a level-two football club playing in Germany.

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A building near Vei 222 is defaced with graffiti referring to a German football club, one of several structures tagged between the street and Nybyen. Photo by Benjamin Vidmar/Polar Permaculture Solutions.

The suspect refused to admit guilt, which would have resulted in an immediate criminal fine of 6,000 kroner and a 15,000 kroner fine as compensation to restore the buildings. He was kept in a holding cell at the governor’s office until his flight back to Germany departed Monday night.

Police Chief Lt. Sidsel Mellerud Svarstad published a statement Monday on a local Facebook page noting officials are seeking information on other possible suspects. None were reported to officials as of presstime.

While visitors have trashed cabins and cultural heritage structures for many years – more so recently, according to some locals – graffiti, especially on such a large scale, hasn’t been a problem previously. But in one of multiple long social media forums about the incident, some suggested Longyearbyen residents may have to accept more such vandalism may occur.

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A small structure along one of Longyearbyen’s hot-water pipes near Huset is defaced with a simplistic version of the graffiti seen on many structures. Photo by Benjamin Vidmar/Polar Permaculture Solutions.

“It’s easy to paint over/remove if everyone thinks (Longyearbyen) should be exempt from this subculture,” wrote Odd Strandbakken. “Some elements of the surrounding world are bound to leak into LYB once in a while.”

The emotional reactions ran the predictable gauntlet of online chats.

“This is NOT acceptable!!!” wrote Fridrik Fridriksson.

“I hope they have to clean it with toothbrushes,” suggested Kai Müller.

Tor Kristian Berge had a more Svalbard-specific punishment in mind: “Feed them to the polar bears.”

Of course, some saw the surreality of the situation.

“Well…is not funny but…it’s some how funny,” wrote Filip Zahariev.

Strandbakken’s comment about Longyearbyen not being able to escape the mischief of lower latitudes touched off a debate within the debate.

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Graffiti on cultural heritage structures such as the entrance at Mine 2B may be difficult to remove due to fragile state of the buildings. Photo by Harald Johansen

“I suppose the car and snowmobile situation has been tolerated for quite some time already so it’s not as noticed as this sudden new defacing of property in an otherwise non-ghetto community like LYB,” wrote Gangleri Goudey.

Could the energy of such individuals, if here for more than a weekend tourist jaunt, be used in a positive creative manner?

“Someone expressing themselves…are there any arts incubators or community centers there?” inquired Kevin Kaoz Moore. “They may just need an outlet. Or, maybe if you guys talk to the taggers, you can commission them to do a piece of your liking, thus making it something both can be proud of. Plus it’ been shown to be a deterrent for gang tags and more wreckless graffiti.”

Morten Viking Sundby, a longtime resident and frequent commenter, noted “if he likes to paint so much let him paint the old power station and let him also pay for the paint.”

Eventually the chat turned to finding the culprit.

“It’s not allowed to bring spray paint on the plane up,” wrote Petter Broen. “The governor may well want to take a trip to the people who sell the stuff here.”

Several comments quickly linked the dominant “artwork” to the German soccer club, with Per-Ole Gjøvik also noting “SGDK” stands for “Spanish Gangster Disciples Killer.”

“It shouldn’t be to tricky to break down who it is with some standard police work,” wrote Vide Brandt. “He is apparently German, and I think we can say with 100 percent certainty that it’s a man who did it. I say a man because it’s only one person who have done this, otherwise there would be several different types of ‘tags,’ but here it’s all the same. Also I would guess that he is staying in Nybyen, given the locations. They are also quite likely to have spray paint on their clothing/shoes, and still have the cans in their possession.”

Svarstad, in her post noting the police are seeking additional suspects, noted officials are also seeking witnesses who observed the tagging. While such witnesses will boost the prosecutor’s case if the matter goes to trial, there are questions about whether the suspect will return from his presumptive home in Germany when the time comes.

According to Svalbardposten, the man faces up to one year in prison and a fine for the vandalism, and may face additional charges for defacing cultural heritage structures in violation of the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act.

“It’s a bit more challenging to get hold of people who do not live in this country, but we must make sure to let him know when he will appear in court,” Sagfossen told the newspaper, adding the governor will consider an inquiry by proper authorities if he does not appear.

All of the buildings belong to Longyearbyen’s municipal government. The estimated repair cost is just to pain over the graffiti, without considering any damage to the aging cultural structures.