by James A. Bacon
Italians demand that people treat their UNESCO World Heritage sites with respect. Consider the recent example of the idiot who scratched graffiti onto a brick of the ancient Roman Colosseum. Italians reacted with outrage at video (taken by an equally outraged American) when Bulgarian-born Englishman Ivan Dimitrov used a key to memorialize his devotion to his girlfriend with the phrase, “Ivan + Hayley 23/6/23.”
According to the Sunday Tribune, Dimitrov faces a potential 2- to 5-year prison sentence and a fine of 15,000 euros. He has since apologized, pleading that he didn’t realize the structure was nearly 2,000 years old. His legal representative hopes to negotiate a plea deal that would enable him to pay the fine without serving jail time.
Compare and contrast the reaction to Dimitrov’s offense with the response two years ago when Hira Azher, who posted the infamous “F— UVA” sign on the door of her room on the Lawn, also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On the one hand, the young woman did not etch the words into her door, permanently defacing it.
On the other…
- The size of the sign, hence, the visual impact, was vastly larger.
- The message was profane and even more disrespectful of its surroundings than Dimitrov’s scrawl.
- Azher never faced the prospect of a fine or prison sentence. to the contrary, citing her freedom of speech, university officials did not compel her to take it down. It was removed only after the woman graduated and moved out of the room.
The UVa administration did tighten restrictions in the lease signed by subsequent Lawn residents, requiring them to fit any signage onto a small message board affixed to the doors. That restriction was promptly ignored.
I took the photo above last spring. (Yes, that’s my finger in the upper left-hand corner.) The door in the photo was far from unique. Numerous other Lawn residents had littered their doors with posters in violation of the lease terms.
The administration justified its non-action in the Azher incident on the grounds that it had neglected to enforce the lease provisions, arguing that to start doing so mid-year would constitute a violation of the student’s freedom of speech. One would think that the administration had learned a lesson, but it appears that it was back to its old tricks last year. We are fortunate that none of the flyers and leaflets approached the vulgarity and nastiness of the Azher sign, for we likely would have been forced to endure them.
One wonders if anything will change. It appears that UVa officialdom cannot muster a tiny fraction of the outrage that Italians do when their heritage is desecrated. Indeed, Student Guides giving historical and orientation tours routinely downplay Thomas Jefferson’s architectural genius while condemning the university’s founder as a slaveholder.
Maybe the Italians would think as little of their architectural inheritance as Virginians if the Colosseum had been built by slaves. Oh, my bad… it was.
Update: New headline: “A tourist is accused of defacing a 1,200-year-old UNESCO temple in Japan by carving his name into a pillar.” The Canadian teenager faces up to five years in prison.