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In the Footsteps of the Failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution

by Lisa Lieberman

Stalin’S Boots


On the outskirts of Budapest stands Memento Park, an open-air museum for discarded monuments from the Soviet era. Two statues flank the entrance, each set off in its own alcove: a bronze figure of Lenin, thirteen feet high, which once commanded the center of the city, and a cubist sculpture roughly the same size depicting Karl Marx with Friedrich Engels in his shadow, commissioned for the front of Communist party headquarters. The entrance to Memento Park itself was designed by the architect Ákos Eleőd to resemble a stage set, the neoclassical façade exposed as nothing more than, in his words, “under-propped communistic scenery.”1 Visitors are encouraged to poke fun at the statues, mimic the heroic pose of the gargantuan Red Army soldier liberating Budapest, climb up on the pedestal of the Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial, or photograph themselves behind the wheel of a classic Trabant, the East German “people’s car” made of pressed plastic. In the Barrack Theater, audiences can view a montage of clips assembled from secret-police training films demonstrating how to hide bugs, recruit agents, and conduct house searches. The documentary is available for purchase in the museum gift shop, along with other Cold War–inspired memorabilia such as refrigerator magnets in the shape of a red star embossed with the Hungarian flag—an allusion to the “soft dictatorship” of the Soviet-appointed leader János Kádár, when a greater variety of consumer goods were produced and the regime was mocked for promoting “refrigerator socialism.” Other souvenirs include replicas of propaganda posters bearing the motto “Greetings to our Dear Stalin” or celebrating the hard-line Hungarian Communist politician Mátyás Rákosi, who prided himself on being Stalin’s best pupil.

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