Memento Park – Remember Communism?
In the 1990s, all eyes turned to the momentous changes in Poland, as the country fought its way from Communism to Capitalism. Hungary was soon to follow, inspired by the historical events in Poland.
With the introduction of a free market and personal freedom, life changed for the better (for most).
My parents were able to visit family and friends in Poland again, not having to cross two borders, nor fear repressive measures for fleeing the country in 1981. It is amazing that now there isn’t a border at all and we are all part of one Europen Union.
School curriculum changed for Tomek, at his gymnasium, in drastic measures, leaving Soviet drill behind. His teacher, who was enrolled to teach Russian, was now speaking English. Lessons, that taught how to put on gas-masks and shooting practice were cancelled.
Street names glorifying Soviet times were changed, all symbols of oppression were removed. Walking past the tram station in Budapest, we noticed traces of the similar come-clean procedures. ‘Moszkva tér’ is now ‘Széll Kálmán tér‘.
The 1990s became a time of transition of Ex-Soviet countries. Polish folks were happy to say good-bye to Eastern German cars made out of paper and embark on new adventures with their new used cars from West Germany.
My uncle used to drive a white rusty Mercedes and wear his Adidas tracksuit proudly, as he started as a self made businessman, in Szczecin. My parents drove a green Fiat in Germany for some time, after we had escaped Poland. It had hand-painted yellow-orange flowers, inspired by Western flower power times, until we switched to a uni-coloured Western Nissan in Cologne.
Memories aside, with this Trabant, Tomek and I arrived at Memento Park in Budapest.
Memento Park is an open air museum of monumental art – the tool and symbol of power in the 41 years of socialism in Hungary.
Location: Budapest XXII district, corner of Balatoni utca – Szabafkai utca
We had a quirky guide, who showed a lot of humour (and knowledge).
It is worth to take a guide alone to find out about that stain at the Soviet soldier’s crotch.
This monumental statue was jokingly called ‘cloakroom attendant‘ as he looks like someone who is running after a guest with a forgotten scarf. Children liked this statue as a slide.
Climb and slide!
This enormous statue was once standing at the Gellért Hill. Our guide is showing its original place, right beneath the Liberty Statue. Mysterious things happen at Gellért Hill on Halloween.
The Soviet soldier was always portrayed bigger and superior to the Hungarian, usually forced into a position of gratitude for ‘liberation‘. What was once a memorial of Soviet-Hungarian ‘friendship‘, now makes for a popular joke.
“Why is the Hungarian holding on to the Soviet soldier with both hands? To protect his watch!”
Women were portrayed equally strong and in illustrious positions. The ideal communist woman has a muscular body for productive agricultural work and wide hips for dynamic reproductive work.
The Park is an endless parade of Soviet ‘liberation’ and communist personalities. Such as of Endre Ságvári, an agitator of the underground communist party.
Endre Ságvári went through Photoshop propaganda and came out as a Greek god.
Apart from the bulky Soviet soldiers and Hungarian peasant workers, you can see a replica of Stalin’s boots. I learned how Stalin could leave these behind, although he has never been to the city!
The massive (massively hated) Stalin statue was toppled by demonstrators. All that was left were Stalin’s boots, which were filled with Hungarian flags.
In 1956 Hungary’s October revolution against the Soviet oppressors brought significant benefits to society. Although the Red Army quickly vanquished the uprising, it brought several reforms and various amenities, unique within the eastern bloc. The time of ‘goulash communism’.
In 1989 Hungary gained independence from the USSR. Symbols of oppression, such as the hammer and sickle or the five-pointed red star were removed or destroyed in Hungary and Poland alike. As our guide pointed out, in Hungary, the symbols of totalitarianism and terror are even banned by law.
This was followed by a good laugh about my sweater. Lucky me, I am not wearing red.
The tour ends at this wall, symbolising the dead end of communism.
Nostalgia for the communist era has grown amongst those who lived during it, while young Magyars who have never experienced communism first hand are intrigued by the life and style of their parents generation.
At the vintage shop in communist shopping-counter style, you can get posters and other memorabilia.
And because in Budapest the universe works in mysterious ways, I found this poster of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow at the gift shop. This is amazing because…
… it surprised me with a depiction of my favourite communist toy as a toddler in Poland! The cute bear mascot Mishka (Мишка) which I, barely two years old and equipped with advanced linguistic-rhyming and reasoning abilities in 1980, called ‘Myszka Fiszka’. ‘Myszka’ means mouse in Polish.
The wondrous workings of the world don’t stop here. You know, how I idealise Japan after our trip in March this year? Yes, well, Mishka was so popular in Japan that it got its own Anime television series! Japan loves ‘kawaii’ – that rules!
MORE COMMUNIST NOSTALGIA IN BUDAPEST
Apart from Memento Park (www.mementopark.hu) , the House of Terror, the Rent a Trabant Tour (www.rentatrabantbudapest.com), the Hospital in the Rock (www.sziklakorhaz.hu) and the creepy Labyrinth memorialize Hungary’s communist times.
Enjoy! All attractions are just distractions from our comfy reality.