Budapest statues and memorials
Budapest statues and memorial have a long and a very recent history. Budapest was founded in 1873 and it appears that they have spent many of the 141 subsequent years erecting statues, memorials, controversy and, recently, “Popped-Up” art. Rather than write a thoughtful history of all of this artistic activity and political expressionism we have decided to show you, in chronological order, 4 examples of what we’re talking about.
The top photo is of the UNESCO World Heritage Heroes’ Square which was first laid out in 1896 and finished in 1929 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary’s existence. (After all, if a 50th anniversary is the one for gold you have to really go big or go home on a thousandth anniversary.)
Heroes’ Square, the largest square in Budapest, covers a lot of bases with its massive statues. Let’s see, we have the 7 Magyar tribes (the guys who conquered whoever had to be conquered to found Hungary), and a king here and there. The lighted column in the center is the Millenium Column and features the Archangel Gabriel reminding everyone that Hungary was then a staunchly Christian nation. The semi-circular arcades of the monument on the left and right-hand side each hold bronze statues of seven outstanding figures from Hungarian history.
Heroes’ Square is also Budapest’s square where political activities across the spectrum occur. When we were there it was being prepared to receive a visiting foreign dignitary. There were some troops and lots of serious looking guards.
Rallies have also been held to commemorate the revolution of 1956 against communism and recently a spate of protests have been held against the government’s proposed taxing of internet usage. Times change and so do protest themes!
Shoes on the Danube
We tend to traipse blithely along often making jokes about public art or memorials but this stunningly simple shoe memorial shut us up and touched us deeply. The memorial was placed here in 2005. It was conceived by the film director Can Togay and created by Gyula Paue, a Hungarian actor and production designer.
The 60 pairs of shoes are representative of the Jews, men, women and children who were forced to go to the banks of the Danube, strip naked and then be shot in the back by the Arrow Cross militiamen. The rivers carried their murdered bodies away. All that remained was their left-behind shoes.
On January 8, 1945 the murders were finally brought to an end by 20 police officers and members of the Swedish embassy, including Károly Szabó, an associate of the Swedish Ambassador, Raoul Wallenberg. Some of the people saved from death that night became prominent global citizens serving on the Nobel Prize Foundation and becoming distinguished professors.
The Monument of Nazi Occupation and the Living Memorial
OK, here’s a quick rundown for you: Heroes Square created 1873 and finished 1929; Shoes along the Danube 2005; the Monument of Nazi Occupation erected in the dark, early morning hours of Sunday, July 20, 2014. Was this a secretive act or just an example of Hungarian government employees anxious to get the work day started early? It was the former, as you may have guessed. (The fountains were obviously built prior to the monument.)
There was an immediate outcry from the citizens of Budapest. Why? The controversy is complicated but essentially boils down to the people believing that the monument represents revisionist history. It also embodies Christian symbolism in this now largely secular country that has an administration imposing Christianity on the citizens.
The revisionist claims are because the statue makes no differentiation between the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust. (A case of the devil literally being in the details.) It does not acknowledge Hungary’s own participation in perpetuating the Holocaust.
The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, is pursuing a very nationalistic agenda. He takes the position that from the day of the Nazi occupation of Hungary in 1944 until the fall of Communism in 1989, the country’s history is “illegitimate”. He only acknowledges that critical 25 year period in Hungary’s history as representing the failure of Socialism.
The Living Memorial aspect of this monument has been created by a small group of people who have placed pictures and personal objects there to testify to the trauma suffered by many Hungarians during the period of time that Orbán is trying to erase.
A Popped-Up Giant
On our first day in Budapest we walked down to the Danube and when we turned back to face the city saw this startling sight. Some tourists were standing under the giant’s one arm and we were disgusted that they were ruining pictures for the rest of us and were certain they had no right to be there.
Blonde came up with the theory that the sculpture represented Hungary rising up with strength after the fall of Communism.
Well, we’ve been wrong before.
This massive sculpture was created, from polystyrene, in October of 2014 for the Art Market Budapest. It was titled Feltépve, or “Popped Up”, and was the creation of the Hungarian artist Ervin Loránth Hervé. Not only that but he created it as a cool background for selfies and wanted it to be used in social media. Dang – so much for our self-righteous disgust for the tourists using it the way it was intended to be used!
To us it looked as if it had been there for quite some time and we were dumbfounded when our walking tour guide looked on it with amazement and said it had just appeared. Oh sure, that’s what everyone says about things they can’t explain. (“That man you say you just saw in my bed? I never saw him before.”)
Well, not only had it just appeared but it has since been taken down which seems (to us) like a real shame. What city doesn’t need a mean, ugly giant pushing up out of the earth? One that isn’t a politician?
If you find yourself in Budapest check out Heroes’ Square the Shoes on the Danube and let us know if the Monument of Nazi Occupation has survived. We hope the angry giant ate it before he left town.