Memento Park is like Disneyland, communism style. It’s home to 42 statues, busts and plaques of socialist heroes fictional and real. Rather than being consigned to the dustbin, they’ve found themselves another home today, albeit not where they would have expected
A bit of history
63 years ago, in 1956, Hungarian students and citizens demonstrated in Budapest demanding reforms. One of their demands was the dismantling of Stalin’s monument in a park in Budapest, that was ironically, only installed seven years earlier as a gift from the Hungarian people to the Moscow and its leader. They proceeded to break the statue, leaving only the boots on the base. Then they proceeded to cover it with the Hungarian flags.
Decades later, as the winds of change swept through the East Bloc countries, and communism fell by the wayside, most governments chose to destroy many of their monuments that reflected an ideology that they’d just, well, booted out.
However, Hungary found itself in a strange situation. What does one do with all these statues that they had placed across the cities? Some as early as the 1980s. Trashing them for scrap would have been far easier.
On the 29th of June 1993, the Hungarian authorities instead decided to banish them, out of the city, to an outdoor museum called Memento Park. It was also the second anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary.
In the words of Akos Eleod, creator of Memento Park, “This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.”
In 2010, I went on my first trip to some of the former East Bloc countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. As a youngster who grew under the shadow of communism, in Ethiopia, and who closely followed the winds of change that swept through Eastern Europe, I wanted to personally see how some of these countries had moved on.
Memento Park is divided into two parts. On the one side is Statue Park, or ‘A sentence about Tyranny’ Park as it is officially named. It is the main area and houses a collection of 42 statues that were collected from across Budapest and placed here. There are also statues of the trio of socialism – Marx, Engels and Lenin, along with Hungary’s own leader – Bela Hun.
On the other side is Witness Square, including a life-sized copy of Stalin’s boots greeting you. It was built and erected in 2006. It’s still a reminder of a time when Stalin ruled with an iron fist. Sadly, for him, it’s just his bronze boots that stand witness to a changed world today.
There are other things that will interest you too, including an audio-visual presentation that details on the best practices on how to be the best secret agent, including secret surveillance and other tips like how inserting a bug to eavesdrop on your neighbours, friends and even family. An exhibition center in the old barracks has displays on the events of 1956 and 1989, in case you wish to catch up.
An old radio on display still has the all those radio radio stations that you could tune to in those days, including those from most of the former East Bloc capitals and a few from the Western capitals too. Pick up the hotline and listen in on speeches by Lenin, Che Guevara, Castro and other party leaders. And for that perfect photo moment, why not sit in the ‘people’s car’ – an old Trabant 601 that was once East Germany’s most famous product. End it with a souvenir from the gift shop with a collection of propaganda posters, communist era medals and even a Soviet era passport.
Information you can use
Memento Park is open every day from 10am until dusk. Fees are HUF 1,500 per person. To get to the park, it’s best to hop onto the M4 tram from Mercado Central to Kelenföld Vasútállomás. From here, hop onto bus 101B and E or 150 and you will be dropped close to the entrance. Total journey time is around 30 minutes, depending on connections and traffic. For those who don’t mind paying a bit more, there is a Memento Park bus that departs from a stop aptly named ‘Memento Park’ opposite the Ritz-Cartlon hotel in the city.