Thursday 1st October 2015, Budapest
We are now seriously checking off our list of “must see” places before we pack up and leave this delightful flat behind. This morning we headed out to the Memento Park. This is where all the Soviet statues that used to adorn the city have ended their days. A bus runs from the city out to the park but we wanted to find our own way there. Even so we reached it before the special tourist bus. We took a tram through parts of the city we’d never seen before which deposited us at a huge suburban bus station set in a wilderness of road construction and building projects. There will be a whole new suburb here before long. Finding the bus we needed was easy and the driver cheerfully volunteered to push us out as he drove past.
The park lies outside of the city up in the hills. There was nobody around when we arrived and bought our tickets. The statues are displayed in three distinct areas with a star-shaped flowerbed of red begonias at the centre, representing the Soviet flag. At the entrance stands a statue of Lenin and another of Marx and behind him, presumably Engels. High on a plinth are the massive boots of Josef Stalin, all that is left from the eight metre high statue that adorned Heroes’ Square until it was pulled down in the 1956 uprising and smashed by protesters.
At least they have been saved as part of the country’s history. In Tallin, back in our early days with Modestine, we chanced on a pile of stones at the back of an old building we were exploring in the suburbs and discovered they were actually a dump of statues from around the city, left there to be lost amongst the weeds when Latvia finally broke free from Soviet domination. Ian, it transpired, had been standing on Stalin’s nose! We also spent a night on a campsite in Lithuania beneath a statue of Lenin, somehow transported there by an enterprising campsite manager with an eye for the future. By now it will perhaps have made his fortune!
Memento Park was built in stages between 1994 and 2004. Here we show a selection of these friezes and statues.
Kun (1886-1938) fought for Austria-Hungary in 1914-18, was captured by the Russian army and was converted to communism. He returned to Hungary and formed the Hungarian communist party
Apart from the statues there is a cold, dark shed where we could watch a series of training films secretly produced by the Hungarian government of the day. These were quite astonishing. They explained how to bug and search a flat, how to follow and observe a suspect, and how to force somebody, by blackmail for any former peccadillo, to work as a police informer. The techniques they used were so crude they would be laughable if it were not for the human tragedy of those involved.
Having spent a fascinating morning we returned to the city, musing on whether Communism could have survived the current electronic age. Techniques would need to be very different. Surveillance would need to be sophisticated and that was something quite lacking in the techniques used by the Hungarian police who seemed chiefly to exploit fear and ignorance. A suspect would need to be pretty stupid not to spot he was being followed everywhere he went by an agent standing with a large bag, obviously containing a hidden camera.
The uprising of the Hungarian people in 1956 seems to have been mainly carried out by young people who fought without training or experience. However, even without weapons but buoyed up by a sense of justice, they improvised weapons and produced Molotov cocktails which, when hurled at the military tanks, managed to cause as much damage as conventional weapons. The uprising was unsuccessful and thousands fled Hungary while thousands more were interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. Over 200 were sentenced to death. It is all part of this country’s sad history and the Memento Park has its place in recording it for future generations.
Just to lighten the mood...
We returned to the city and made our way once more up to the Buda Hills on the steep little cog-wheeled railway for a walk in the woods and some fresh air away from the streets of the city. The Children’s Railway was deserted today though still officially operating. We assume the children are allowed time off school to do their duties as guards, engineers and railway bureaucrats. Before returning we treated ourselves to coffee and chocolate pancakes on the terrace of a wayside csárda (bar) enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sunshine.
Back down in the city we found the Millenaria Park for a stroll beside the lake where massive goldfish were swimming. The park was established in the grounds of the factory buildings of the Ganz foundry, whose museum we visited a few days ago. The factory building is now used for art displays and special exhibitions while the grounds are freely available for public enjoyment. We saw a granddad and his young grandson racing each other around the lake each on an appropriately sized scooter. A man after Ian’s own heart.