I grew up in the middle of the Cold War…I had a teacher who’d yell, “Duck,” and everyone in our one-room school leaped up and dived under our desks, pulled our legs up under ourselves and wrapped our arms around our necks to hold our heads in like turtles in a shell. At night I had nightmares about the Communist bomb flying around the earth–it was big and black like a cannonball–and landing on our house and blowing it all to teeny-tiny bits with me in it.
But really, I had it easy compared to my distant relatives in Hungary, who hadn’t left when my great-grandfather did, some fifty or so years earlier.
When World War II ended, Hungary was on the wrong side. After the great depression of the 1930s it had relied on trade with its neighbors, leaving it with no choice but to join the Axis powers in 1940 when Germany applied pressure.
Hungary tried to remain neutral, but that didn’t work, so was forced to joined the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and Russia. Meanwhile, Hungary secretly tried to make its own peace settlement with the United States and United Kingdom. Hitler found out, however, and occupied Hungary–that was March, 1944–Hungarians were forced to sign an armistice and accept a Hungarian Fascist leader who was German backed.
With the treaties that ended World War II, the victorious powers–the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union–decided that Hungary would come under the rule of the Soviets and their leader, Stalin.
Eventually the Kingdom of Hungary became the People’s Republic of Hungary, part of the Communist Eastern Bloc in 1949.
Memento Park is an archive of Hungary’s years under Communist rule.
- The statues in Memento Park were all erected during the Communist rule to be daily visual reminders of their power and dominance over the Hungarian people.
- Communism fell in 1989 and the public statues now in the park were immediately moved from their prominent public positions. Many other European countries cleansed themselves of these enormous reminders of Communism and destroyed them.
- László Szörényi published the idea of a Statue Park in an article he wrote in late 1989.
- In 1991, the Assembly of Budapest decided to have each of the districts select statues for a park.
- Memento Park has three areas: The Endless Parade of Liberation Monuments; The Endless Parade of Personalities of the Workers Movement; and The Unending Promenade of Worker’s Movement Concepts.
- The park has 42 statutes moved here from various parts of the city.
- The design of the park features deliberate allegorical and symbolic features in addition to the statues.
- Memento park also features a Stalin tribute, a barracks exhibition and a film that give a sense of life behind the Iron Curtain.
My guide, Katy, had been hesitant to take me to Memento Park. I was, after all, researching the failed 1956 Revolution rather than Communist rule in general. However, we both agreed I needed to see the statues to gain a true understanding of what it was like to live in Budapest in 1956.
Two things struck me when I entered the park. The first was Katy’s expression and voice–it was clear she would rather be anywhere else in the world but in this place of memory. The second was the bleak, barren field that spread out with statues, many of them enormous, scattered helter-skelter.
It’s a silent place, Memento Park, deliberately barren to represent the decades of Communism. There are no signs on the statues to tell visitors who they’re of or in what part of the city they stood, since without the story, these things would mean little to a visitor. Instead, guides are available to tell you their history in hushed tones, as if the statues are listening, ready to report them and have them dragged away by their oppressors to be tortured for invented crimes.
If you could float over the park, you’d see that the statue arrangements of each of the three sections represents the eternity symbol, since Communism was intended to last through eternity. When you’re standing on the ground, however, and entering the park, what hits you is the high brick wall that surrounds the area. It’s there for a reason–to show you the brick wall that communism ran into and eventually halted its dominance.
This short YouTube video takes you through the three sections of Memento Park accompanied by Hungarian music:
And how did Memento Park end up as #19 on my great staycation tour of 2012 revisiting places that have been important in my travels of previous years? It spoke to me of freedom, reminded me that I was lucky to grow up in Canada–lucky to have everything I needed in life–lucky to be able to vote for a government of my choice. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS.”
And just in case you grew up in some other time or place than I did, and don’t remember the duck and cover of the ’50s and ’60s, here’s the clipped version a social guidance film produced by the U.S. government in 1951. It’s a vivid reminder of the cold war.
This Budapest city guide gives you full details on visiting Memento Park, also called Budapest Statue Park (Szobor Park) – http://www.budapest-tourist-guide.com/budapest-statue-park.html