We had a "monumental" day in Budapest, Hungary, we toured with Magdi Pelech, a private guide we hired to take us to see the city and Momento Park. At every turn we saw monuments. In a country that has had a long history of changes in rulers and governments, there are lots of monuments to wars, uprisings, liberations and commemorations of people who have died during the horrors of all these changes. We even saw old monuments from the communist era that have been removed and warehoused in their own park where they can be seen with a wry eye to the propaganda they represented.
Today I'll share a few of the monuments we saw and what we were told by our guide Magdi about them.
This is the Liberation monument on Gellert Hillin Buda; which was sculpted by Strobol and was set up to commemorate the liberation of Hungary by the Russian Army in 1945. Of course this is the same country that at the turn of the next century rejected Communism, and put the statue of a Russian soldier that was on the lower pedestal away in a separate park out of town. If this was a Face Book relationship status it would read : "it's complicated".
Just outside of town is Momento Park. I had read about this and had the sense it was just warehouse for all the Communist statues that were removed from around the city after the fall of Communism. But in reality, it's a very well designed park, set up to give one the feeling of the hopelessness and paranoia that exsisted under Communist rule. The paths are infinity loops, the park ends in a brick wall, and statues are redeployed in a rueful way, such as one with Lenin, put aside, and his Communist Soldiers, who once stood guard at the base of his monument finally getting to lie down on the job.
There are also monuments to terrible times before that. We stopped at the banks of the Danube on the Pest side just west of the Chain Bridge to see this heartbreaking memorial sculpture, called the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. During Nazi rule in Hungary, Jews were made to remove their shoes and coats and stand at the rivers edge, where they were shot. It's sober and horrifying to imagine the bronze shoes lining the banks of the Danube representing real people who were killed simply because of who they were.
Jumping forward to one of the newest monuments, we also saw one of the most controversial. This monument was erected by the current governing party in Hungary over the objections of many local activists and descendants of Jews killed or interned during WWII by the Nazis. The objection to this monument, which was just installed just weeks ago, is that it claims to honor the dead, while picturing a huge eagle (a known symbol of the Nazis) and other language that activists feel does not properly respect the feelings of the people's for which it was designed to honor. Citizen activists are staging an ongoing protest of the monument, and many people have created an ad hoc memorial made up of stories and symbols of their family's real story in hopes to counter act what they see as a flawed attempt to memorialize their loved ones.
So at the end of the day, we learned a lot about Hungary's complicated history, and even more about man's ability to brutalize eachother. Interesting and sobering at the same time, but I have a strong belief that remembering this difficult history helps us to stand firm in preventing it in the future.