Sunday, May 9, 2010

Budapest, Hungary: A Trip into Commie Nostalgia

Saturday's field trip was trip to the western outskirts of Budapest, to a place now called "Memento Park." It is an outdoor sculpture garden, of sorts, of Socialist Realism statutory that was once the only acceptable public art in the former People's Republic of Hungary.

Hungary opted to retain its communist-era statuary, while many other former eastern bloc countries destroyed theirs. Here, the communist past is given a more whimsical treatment. The above statue shows the Hungarian workers greeting (stiffly) the Soviet soldier.

This one shows the glorious Hungarian worker breaking through a wall:
I'm not sure why that was an image that the Soviets wanted proliferating in the Berlin Wall era, but I wasn't the Chief Interior Decorator for ComIntern.

As you can see, the statuary is not tightly packed in. I was hoping they would have more, as this sort of stuff was everywhere during the People's Republic years, but this is good. (For example, it seems that all of the Stalin statuary got destroyed at some point.)

This is one of the larger, more interesting pieces:Again, it is the Hungarian worker and his friend, the Soviet soldier. As Rick Steves describes it, they appear to be doing calisthenics, but one of the hallmarks of Socialist Realism is the stiffness of the figures, even when they are meant to be in an action pose.

I think this woman is supposed to be holding an olive branch, symbolizing how much the Soviet communists want peace.It looks to me like she's weilding a cross between an ostrich feather and a club.

Two Lenins. First is the simple bust:

Second is one of the more prominent works in the park, a more active Lenin in what Rick Steves's describes as his "hailing a cab" pose:

Next, this Hungarian communist party functionary (who, unfortunately for him, got cut off at the kneecaps in some de-communizing accident) is pointing out my favorite piece in the park:

It is also one piece by a legitimate, respected artist. Imre Varga.

It is supposed to show how the decadent Habsburg bourgeoise were being transformed into hard-working soldiers of communism under the watchful eye of Hungarian communist leader Bela Kun. Yet the piece is far more subversive. The Habsburgs in the back look like they're having fun, in contrast to the grim soldiers in the front. Plus, the lamppost in the center is a metaphor in Hungarian literature for the gallows. Kun was eventually executed during one of Stalin's purges.

Next up is probably the largest piece in the park, an enormous statue of the glorious communist worker charging into the future (?) waving perhaps a Terrible Towel:

Finally this one is supposed to remind you of the glories of communism. Instead, it reminds me of Allstate insurance:

You're in good hands with socialism?

The park is whimsical toward the communist past, but there are exhibits and a film inside that evoke a little less whimsy. One interesting black and white film strip discusses the spy network, and how agents would exchange information.

Still, I couldn't help enjoying the whimsical side of communism. Should I take my place in this workers' struggle. I see this:

And it makes me want to take my place in the workers' glorious struggle:

On a second thought, maybe not.

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