Monday, 27 September 2010

Sculptures by the Council Flats

Caroline took a trip to the Szorborpark in Budapest. Here is what she saw:

 In January I was lucky enough to find myself in Budapest. The old cities of Buda and Pest are separated by a gentle bend on the Danube, and together they form an architecturally striking city, rich in history but also thoroughly modern: one of the European Union’s bright new members.

European membership had been the ambition of successive Hungarian Governments since the fall of Communism in 1989-90, when the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party realised the jig was up and hung up their hammers and sickles in a peaceful abdication from political power. To meet the criteria for EU membership many changes took place in the subsequent years, including much privatisation, the opening of the Budapest Stock Exchange and purging the city of Soviet symbols. This included the removal of communist statues from various city squares and streets.

Statues of revolutionary heroes, socialist philosophers, and the odd Communist dictator or tyrant, as well as sculptures depicting workers’ solidarity or victorious Soviet soldiers were taken from their prominent positions in town and banished to a bleak park on the outskirts of Buda.

Lured by a pamphlet that promised a taste of history, I set off in search of the Szobor (Statue) Park on a bright but extremely cold morning. My mission began with a creaking tram journey to the end of the line and an unfortunate encounter with a surly person called Ticket Kontrol. I had apparently purchased the wrong “jegy”. After a mysterious (but cheap) breakfast at a junction in the middle of nowhere, I was told to get the yellow bus, and following a slow climb through the Buda hills was dropped off at the Szorborpark.

A thin layer of snow covered the park - a barren plain surrounded by dreary grey council blocks. The setting is an inspired piece of anti-communist propaganda, as if to say ‘old communists don’t die they just get made to live in a council estate’.

The park was designed by architect Ákos Eleőd, and features a boundary of an imposing brick wall. The wall is stark and strong, reminding me of the Iron Curtain’s dual function of fortification and separation. In large archways on either side of the entrance are looming statues of men who are preserved as they lived – larger than life.

Marx , of course, was the moustachioed, cigar-smoking, wisecracking star of early Hollywood comedies such as Duck Soup. Or, in fact as I check my notes more closely, Marx was the German philosopher, economist and social and political theorist whose seminal work Das Kapital identified modes of production as the site of class struggle and who, along with his sidekick Frederick Engels wrote the inspirational and tremendously influential Communist Manifesto – in which the plans are laid for the proletarian revolution against capitalism with the as yet to be realised aim of a classless society.

Leninism adds to the scope of Marxism through the recognition that globalisation is imperialism, and here we see Lenin with arms outstretched as if to convey the breadth of his ambition – a world revolution!! Ironically perhaps, Lenin built a bit of an empire himself with places all over the Soviet Union named after him and statues much like these found from Minsk to Hanoi and back again. Lenin had serious popularity issues and many of these statues were destroyed after the fall of Communism, but one enthusiastic e-Communist has put together a website of surviving Lenin statues for those who are interested.

The Szorborpark also has a number of sculptures to celebrate communist ideals or commemorate revolutionary heroes.

The Workers' Movement Memorial, for example, is quite beautiful in its simplicity, with cupped hands around a globe. To me, the hands represent the manual nature of ‘the worker’ and the globe the idea of solidarity. Together the two elements have a more literal meaning ‘the world is in your hands’. And thus the communist manifesto: workers of the world unite, the world is in your hands.

And finally, the very large and impressive Republic of Councils Monument which is absolutely enormous. It was designed from a poster calling workers to arms. The statue is screaming "Fegyverbe, Fegyverbe" which in Hungarian means "To Arms! To Arms!"

To wrap up my excellent tour of the Szorborpark, was a trip to the gift shop where I resisted the temptation to buy a double CD of Communist Anthems or a KGB cigarette lighter and settled for a postcard instead. It was a most inspirational visit and I applaud the new Hungary for recognising the historical and artistic value in these statues and deciding to keep them rather than destroy them.