Thursday, April 7, 2011

Szobor Park

Note: I originally wrote this in 2007. I'm not modifying it in any way; this is how it originally was.

I took the picture above a few years ago in a place called 'Statue Park' just ouside of Budapest. While cleaning out stuff yesterday, I found it and decided to post it here.

I went to Budapest a few years ago on a whim. I thought it was a beautiful city and I'm happy to have gone. I really had no idea what to expect, and I didn't bother to look up the typical 'things a tourist should see'. While I was there in a hostel somewhere in Buda I heard about the place. It seemed exactly the kind of place I'd like to go.

You see, after communism fell in Hungary, apparently they decided to take all of their statues of Lenin and Stalin and put them in a big open field just outside of town - instead of, say, melting them down to make church bells... It's kind of like a strange metal topiary. 1970s Eastern European communist propaganda has a very distinct look, and - even though it's been reclassified as 'kitsch' by now - it has its own certain power and beauty.

The early 1990s were a strange time. Newspapers in 'the West' were filled with commentary that more or less said 'We won'. Like the entire post-war era was a long staring contest and 'the East' blinked first. For some it was exciting because there was this air of a new and better world being born. For some it was a great chance to gloat about the supposed innate superiority of Western-style capitalism (a/k/a 'freedom').

To me as a teenage wannabe Marxist, it was difficult to be sure what 'We won' meant. Who were 'we' and what did we 'win'? When McDonald's opened its first branch in Red Square some people hailed it as a victory. Was that what it was all about? Is that why we put ourselves through a fifty-year 'cold war'? Is that why our teachers had to teach us what to do in case of nuclear attack?

Did the McDonald's mean all that had ended?

At the time, I knew that the changes in Eastern Europe meant that a lot of corrupt, kleptocratic and oppressive régimes were getting what was coming to them. Even as I flirted with Socialist International and all that crap, I wasn't a 'fellow traveller' out to glorify Warsaw Pact. But interpreting the end of the Cold War as the victory of one ideology and the failure of another one seemed grossly simplistic to me.

Hell, the whole era was grossly simplistic. Perhaps the era we're living in now is a direct result of the oversimplifications of that era. Either way, standing in a field where all of these statues - that had once been the centrepieces of town squares - now stood as grotesque caricatures of a bygone era, arms outstretched but pointing no longer to a bright new future but rather pointing to a cow in the neighbouring field... standing there, I had this sense of unfinished business... of dust that had been swept under the carpet instead of properly vacuumed up. Of a major part of human history that, for better or for worse, had just vanished overnight.

Or perhaps not vanished but banished. Still there, but stuck out in a farm field somewhere.

Pointing at the cows that the people from McDonald's would soon be coming to slaughter...

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