Skip to content

The biggest statues of the darkest dictatorships

July 24, 2012

In keeping with the Russian-Soviet theme of yesterday’s post I was playing about on Google Streetview and ended up in Panoramio where I came across this image:

On the outskirts of Budapest in Hungary lies Memento Park which you can explore on Google Maps here, a place where Soviet statues go to die, or as the marketing blurb details, a place to house ‘the biggest statues of the darkest dictatorship’.  Well, quite.  Devoid of their ideological context and the government who gave them their legitimacy the statues are now a sorry collection, impotent relics from another age.  (I wonder what the curatorial interpretation process is in displaying them? Are efforts made to display them in the most pathetic way?)

This image, of course, is of Lenin’s boots and is remarkable as it sums up entirely the decline and fall of communism.  It is absurd but that’s also what makes it powerful, the most mighty emblem of the Soviet Union is easily made ridiculous when only the feet, ankles and shins are left, an entire ideology cut down without grace, and so the absence creates a presence in and of itself.  I suspect it’s also a happy accident.  When Lenin was removed from them this it was for purely practical reasons rather than a revolutionary artistic statement, I imagine the statue itself was too big to move with plinth and so it was cut down and the base ended up in Memento Park after the fact.

There are another couple of examples of how monuments have been treated that I want to highlight and they bookend the communist revolution that shaped the twentieth century.  The first is of Eisenstein’s amazing Oktober which was made to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the revolution.

A statue of Tsar Alexander III fills the screen with close ups of the regalia, enter the proletariat who precede to tie up various parts of the statue and pull them off before toppling the statue, but not before an image of the statue has been shown to be impotent and pathetic, no regalia, no arms, no head, and finally it falls.  Images of the crowd holding up guns and sickles are mixed with the footage.  Revolutionary stuff.

The next scene is from Goodbye Lenin!, Wolfgang Becker’s heartwarming story about an East German family who find themselves in a unique position in 1990 when, in order to protect their fragile mother from a fatal shock after a long coma, the son and daughter find themselves creating their own idealised version of communism to keep their mother from learning that her beloved nation of East Germany as she knew it has disappeared.

Unfortunately, the mother goes out into the streets of Berlin one day without a chaperone and witnesses a statue of Stalin being transported.  Again, the statue has been cut, but more kindly this time as it is from the waist up, and Lenin’s familiar outstretched arm symbolically seems to hand over the ideals of communism to the mother as it passes her and flies into the sunset.  Rather than the political statements I’ve noted above, Becker’s is personalised and funny, part tragedy and part comedy, it is a story of the impact of great change thrust upon people and what they find themselves doing in order to cope.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: