Marxism's Graveyard

By Warren, Scott S. | The World and I, October 1998 | Go to article overview
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Marxism's Graveyard

Warren, Scott S., The World and I

As communist governments of the Soviet empire crumbled at the close of the 1980s, the most poignant images reaching the West were of celebrating mobs pulling down and destroying icons of their socialist masters. Statues of Lenin came crashing down. Lesser communist leaders became targets of the populace's discontent. Even the likenesses of workers and other everyday heroes of Marxist ideology found their days numbered.

In Hungary, however, this transition unfolded a bit differently. Yes, the nation was enthusiastic about its newfound freedom. And yes, the statues were removed from their places of prominence. But rather than winding up in the municipal landfill, forty-one of' these monuments to autocratic rule were stashed in Budapest's Szoborpark, or Statue Park.

Szoborpark was inspired by literary historian Laszlo Szorenyi, who mused in a July 1989 magazine article that there should be a "Lenin garden" for all the statues of the Russian revolutionary who was suddenly falling out of favor. Szorenyi's suggestion entered into public debate the possibility that something could be done with these sculpted chunks of granite and bronze. In December 1991, the Budapest Assembly passed legislation inviting suggestions as to what that something might be. Of the three proposals submitted, the winning bid, offered by Hungarian architect Akos Elleod, became a reality in late 1993.

Reflecting what some call insight and others see as sentimentalism for the socialist past, Szoborpark in many ways embraces the complexity of thoughts that occupy the minds of residents of this and other former Soviet-bloc nations. Although the park does preserve memories of an often horrible past, and these statues could conceivably incite reactionary impulse, Hungarians decided that it was important not to forget what they had been through.

Located twenty minutes from downtown Budapest, Szoborpark sits on a rise where the statues compete visually with nearby homes and an unsightly tangle of industrial-strength power lines. The park is fronted by a large brick facade complete with classical design elements. In an arched opening on the left rises a large statue of Lenin, looking suspiciously benign in his overcoat. And in an opening right of center is an impressionistic likeness of Marx and Engels. Topped by a classical pediment is what appears to be the main entrance; in fact, it is completely closed off. Visitors instead enter by a smaller side doorway. Any irony implied by this visual trickery is fully intended, as it reminisces about what Hungarians call "finding the little gate," a necessary skill when negotiating the former government's maze of bureaucracy.

Upon entering Szoborpark, visitors are assaulted by recordings of patriotic song and political oratory, compact discs of which are for sale. A far more practical purchase, however, is a fact-filled guidebook printed in English. Graced with old black-and-white photos and an informative text, the pamphlet not only identities each of the forty-one monuments but also offers information about each display's significance and original context.

Evenly spaced around six oval pathways, the statues highlight a variety of moments in the history of socialism as experienced on Hungarian terms. As might be expected, many illustrate the relationship between Hungary and the former Soviet Union.

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