Europe | Hungary | Budapest – Szoborpark
When the commies got the boot out of Hungary in 1989 all their commie statues got pulled down. There was much debate among eminent Hungarians about what to do with them. In 1991 the Budapest assembly decided on Statue Park [Szoborpark]. It opened in 1983, on a site well away from the city, and is now quite the tourist attraction.
Akos Eleod was the architect given the job of designing the park. As he notes in the accompanying guidebook, it was a ‘delicate matter’. The Hungarians who had so eagerly pulled down the ginormous symbols of their repression might not have been overly enamoured at seeing them again. Eleod says he did not want to create an anti-propoganda park, wisely avoiding a similar dicatatorial path to the one which felt the need for the symbols in the first place by – say – pointing out how evil they were.
Eleod reckons this Public Statue Cemetery From the Recent Past is about dictatorship and democracy. Both at the same time. Tibor Wehmer, an art historian also writing in the guidebook, says the park is a critique of the ideology that gave birth to the statues.
The entrance to the park is a stark, imposing red brick wall echoing the classical pillars and arches of the socialist realist architectural style. It is a facade with nothing behind it. The broad and tall iron front gate, which is flanked by huge, overbearing statues with Lenin on one side and Marx and Engels on t’other, is always closed. You have to go round the side through a little alley. It’s symbolic.
The inner space is austerely laid out. The statues and plaques are arranged in figures of eight. The guidebook reminds you that these are the mathematical symbols for infinity. A straight path cuts right through the centre.
First off you come across the memorials to Soviet – Hungarian friendship and solidarity. Thickly muscled heroes who reminded the Hungarians how lucky they were to have such benevolent friends.
Then it’s the ‘endless parade of personalities of the worker’s movement’. The founders of the Hungarian Communist Party, men like Bela Kun, captured here pointing a phalanx of his overburdened comrades towards a brighter future, are all present and correct. There are statues of the martyrs who laid down their lives to help Hungary jump out of the fascist frying pan into the fire of communism.
Finally there is ‘the unending promenade of worker’s movement concepts’. These include many memorials to the valiant ordinary people who gave of themselves to the greater good. There is the spectacular Republic of Councils Movement featuring a towering, bellowing worker exhorting his comrades to arms.
The path then runs slap bang into a brick wall. There is nowhere to go but backwards. This is the end. The designers put a lot of thought into this.
The Hungarian Communists are a difficult bunch to pigeonhole. By all accounts inter World War Hungarian leader Admiral Horthy was a bad man. His oppressive right wing regime chimed well with Hitler, and he took Hungary into WWII on the fascist side.
The original Hungarian Communist Party was to the forefront in getting rid of Horthy and helping topple the Nazis. This was a good thing. But somewhere between 1945 and 1956 the Hungarians decided they didn’t want to be commies any more. When they told Krushchev they wanted out he rolled in the tanks and killed 3000 of them. Now the commies were definitely the bad guys. It’s hard to know what to the think of Bela Kun and his ilk. It seems they got in to this thing with the best intentions. But they made an awful tragic mess of it.
Apparently the statue park is short of funds. The original layout plans had to be downsized. The dead straight path is decorated with weeds. The giftshop sells Che Guevara T-shirts and Stalin candles.
Obviously those who designed the statue park were making a point about dictatorship and democracy. The one true path hitting a solid brick wall is most definitely meant to be symbolic. It all seemed to go over the head of the American lady mimicing a valiant hero of the workers movement to make a funny photo.
For me the statue park was an uncomfortable place. It threw up more questions than answers. I think that is what the designers planned. If you’re in the neighbourhood you really should go. Give yourself something to think about.
more info: www.szoborpark.hu/
entrance: 300fl [about 1 euro]
Get the 49 tram from Deak Ferenc Ter to Etele Ter [terminus] and then the Volan Bus [yellow] from stall 2 or 3 to Diosd-Erd. Takes about 45 mins from city centre.