“A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of communism.”
It was a dark and stormy… Nah, I’m not gonna go there, even if it was dark and stormy.
Truth is that it was an ominous type of weather that was hovering over Budapest on the day I went to photograph the old communist statues at Memento Park just outside the city. I almost did not go, but in the end I figured that it was likely the only time I’d get the chance to see such a place, so rain clouds be damned!
I’ve been to a number of big beautiful European cities. Each one has it’s quirks and strange locations, but it’s rare for me to get the opportunity to get out into what I guess you’d call the suburbs and that’s exactly where Memento Park is. Living in North America, I’m used to the suburbs being newer buildings and it’s interesting for me to see the difference in Europe where the building are all so much older, including in the ‘burbs. Half the fun of seeing new locations is all the stuff I see on the way to get to where I’m going.
“Tyrants have always some slight shade of virtue; they support the laws before destroying them”
The sky was cloudy an there was that smell of rain in the air. While this may discourage most people from venturing out to a touristy location, it does the opposite for me. I know I’ll get some wicked skies for my photos and since it was near sunset, the light was going to be super soft and flat, just the way I like it. No sooner did I pull out my camera, it started to drizzle. I was totally anticipating a downpour but that never really happened. It did rain, progressively heavier as time slipped by, but I hurried from one statue to the next till I knew I had the shots that I came for.
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Memento Park was set up after the fall of the communist regime in Hungary, as a place to showcase 42 of the sculptures that were spread around Budapest during the Soviet era. There are statues of Lenin, Engels, and Marx and many other statues that celebrate communism, the workers and other socialist ideals. One year after the Russian troops were kicked out of Hungary in 1991, Memento Park was opened as an outdoor museum.
I find it strange and sad to see that in the west, especially in North America, that some people think it’s cool to wear hammer and sickle emblems or the old CCCP on t-shirts as if it was somehow trendy and chic to glorify communism. I hope that no one gets the impression that I’m doing anything similar here by showing you these sculptures. I think it’s important to remember the horrors of the past, so that we may never do such things ever again. To me the hammer and sickle are more offensive than a swastika since my heritage is Ukrainian. What the communists did in Ukraine and other east block countries, as well as China, North Korea, and Cambodia is so evil that words cannot even express the inhumanity.
“Most people who read “The Communist Manifesto” probably have no idea that it was written by a couple of young men who had never worked a day in their lives, and who nevertheless spoke boldly in the name of “the workers”.”
It was a weird feeling looking at these totalitarian statues. While there is nothing evil about the art of the pieces, it does represent ideals and concepts that are quite despicable. I can only imagine how menacing the statues must have been when they were on street corners and parks within Budapest. Seeing them altogether in one place was actually more comforting, knowing that they no longer represent any form of menacing power.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
One of the things about travel that is important to me is seeing the behind the scenes location, but what about exploring some of the places that I might consider disturbing? I’ve often asked myself if I could (or would) visit a place like Auschwitz or the Killing Fields and for the longest time I said no, that was not something that I wanted to do. My goal is to photograph the beauty of the world and share it with as many people as possible. Now, as I sit here writing this, I think it is my responsibility to see places like this when I have the chance, even if just for personal reasons. It gives perspective on some of the amazing locations in the world, to know that so much art and architecture that I love was only made possible by tyrannical political and religious regimes.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
In this last photo you see a tribute to the Stalin Monument that was made as a gift to the despotic ruler in 1949. The statue was torn down in 1956 during Hungary’s October Revolution, by a hundred thousand Hungarian revolutionaries who were protesting in the streets. They demolished the Stalin statue, leaving only his boots, in which they planted a Hungarian flag . The bronze monument (when it was intact) stood eight metres tall and the sides of the tribune were decorated with relief sculptures depicting the Hungarian people welcoming their leader.
The site where the former Stalin Monument used to sit is now occupied by the “Monument of the 1956 Revolution”. It was completed in 2006 for the 50th anniversary of the historic event.
Is it worth it to go out of your way to visit Memento Park if you’re visiting Budapest? Probably not, especially if your time is limited. For me, it was an interesting experience and gave me reason to reflect on how fortunate I was to be born in the west during the cold war. When I was a child, many of my friends’ parents and grandparents lived under the oppression of communist regimes in Ukraine. While I don’t recall them talking about it too much, I do remember that when the topic came up, an austere and grim look would wash over their faces.
I’m looking forward to a lighter subject matter to cover in my next post.
Ian McKenzie says
We visited Budapest last fall and paid a visit to Memento Park. I was surprised by the formality of the attraction. I expected a collection of decrepit monuments that weren’t wanted, not a well-maintained exhibit with entrance fees, etc.
We were there on a bright, warm, sunny day. Everything looked too cheerful. I like the quality you’ve captured with the dark clouds making the statues look ominous.
Clare Appleyard says
Great pictures as ever Ken! I visited Memento Park (or Statue Park if I remember correctly) 7 years ago. It was a dull, grey winters day and my pictures didn’t come out half as well as yours did. Thanks for the showing us what the place really can look like :-)
Andrew - The Unframed World says
Although originally erected to celebrate communism and the worker, these strike me more like scarecrows of freedom. Interesting that they collected them in one place rather than just destroying them. Like you said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Great write up.
Thank you. I thought your post was lovely. What an interesting place and you captured it all so well – pictures, post and quotes.
It’s wonderful that you have visited this place and, as you have written that ‘all journeys hae secret destinations of which the traveler’ is unknown’ have been motivated to do visit other places like Auschwitchz. I have read a lot about those places and just kept them in my mind. This is a wonderful post for everyone to absolutely watch their governments and such. Thank you.
Hi Ken, thanks for posting your images of this site. They are terrific as images in their own right, but are even more emotive in the context of the writing and background accompanying them. I appreciate the scope of your work. It is inspiring.
Red Hunt says
Great stuff Ken…your quotes and images combine for a great moody post, really liked the third image of the ‘running’ statue.
Oh wow – the sky and the sculptures…and that sky…
It is obvious that these sculptures were made to inspire awe to display power. I think they are beautiful & then I read your words and I think deeper.
Life is all this – beautiful, terrifying, ambitious, painful, melancholy, understood, misunderstood….huge statues against a stormy sky.
Beautiful shots. It reminds me of the “statue cemetery” in Moscow, where many communist era statues found their way to after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ken Kaminesky says
Ian, While the park was not high on my list of places to see in Budapes, in hindsight I am quite glad that I went.
Clare, I always find it cool to hear about friends who have been to the same places as i have. Especially off the beaten path type places like Memento Park. More stories to swap when i finally visit South Africa… Cheers!
Andrew, Scarecrows of freedom… Right on!
Anne, thank you, glad you enjoyed the post :)
Rose-Marie, it’s a lesson we soon forget and here in the west we don’t watch out governments nearly as much as we should. Politicians get away with far too much corruption!
Minion,I really appreciate your kind words. Thank you.
Kate, you’re spot on with your take on life :D
Thank you all for the great comments. It always makes me smile to see so many nice things being said and i enjoy reading all your thoughts and insights. Cheers to you all.
Colleen Friesen says
In 2009, my husband and I went and visited that park too. You’ve really captured the “shock and awe” that those in power imbued in those huge sculptures.
I found the House of Terror even more disturbing to visit, but like your visit to this ‘park’, I’m so glad I went.
We need to remind ourselves of all the darkness humanity is capable of, so we can be vigilant about not going down that path again.
Very nice photos and paintings fantastic like you
Maria Flores says
Your pictures are really amazing. I just can’t seem out of it!