Memento Park: Monument to Soviet-Hungarian Friendship 1975

Memento Park: A Socialist Theme Park, where the communist statues are preserved

Memento Park showcases the life in Hungary under the Soviet rule. Located on the outskirts of Budapest this park is not on the main tourist routes. 

This post will show you the main attractions of this “Socialist theme Park” so you can decide if it is worth visiting for you. 

At the end of WW II, Hungary was on the losing side. The winning powers – the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union – decided that Hungary would come under the rule of the Soviets and therefore, Stalin.

With the power of the Red Army the communists strengthened their power and repressed the democratic developments, making the Soviet totalitarianism reality. The intellectual and physical isolation of Hungary was complete.

1945 Budapest Liberty Bridge
1945 Budapest Liberty Bridge
1945 Buda Castle (Fortepan)
1945 Buda Castle (Fortepan)
1945 downtown Budapest (Szervita Square) Fortepan
1945 downtown Budapest (Szervita Square) Fortepan
1945 destroyed Chain Bridge and barriers on the route of tram 2
1945 destroyed Chain Bridge and barriers on the route of tram 2

The Communist period in Hungary lasted for 40 years between 1949-1989. Throughout this time statues of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Hungarian Communist leaders and other totalitarian images were standing in numerous parts of Budapest.

Every age has its sculpture fashion. This was no different in Hungary under socialism. From this period we have monumental social artworks. These several meters high, often sweeping, almost menacing sculptures were generally reminiscent of Soviet “liberation”, the labor movement, and thus of socialism in general. Social was compulsory in every art sector, subordinate to the Soviet aspirations of the world.

The sculptures were immediately torn down and removed in 1989 after the fall of Communism.

Just like other Eastern block countries, Hungary had to decide what to do with the giant statues. It would have been easier to destroy them and the memory of the darkest era of Hungary’s history. But only dictatorships erase, democracy does not.

In Hungary, these totalitarian images weren’t buried and destroyed (as many Hungarians wanted to) but were moved to Memento Park to serve as insights into the past and serve as historical curiosities. If you would like to learn about Hungary’s past when life was very different from what it is today, the park gives you a peek into the life behind the iron curtain.

Memento Park was opened in 1993, on the anniversary of the withdrawal of the last Soviet soldier from Hungary.

 

“This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy can give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.”  

Ákos Eleőd, the Hungarian architect and designer of Memento park Tweet

Memento Park consists of three main areas: the Statue Park, Stalin’s boots on a huge grandstand and a small outbuilding.

Entrance

It’s hard to miss the entrance of Memento Park, a wall of red bricks look like a social realist copy of a Greek temple.

In the main entrance to stand the statues of Lenin (on the left) and Marx and Engels (on the right).

Statue of Marx and Engels

Located at the park’s entrance this statue portraits the founding fathers of Communist thought, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

This is the only Cubist-style statue of Marx and Engels.

The four-meter statue was moved from the headquarters of MSZMP (today: Jászai Mari square) to the Memento Park.

Memento-Park-entrance-statues-of-Marx-and-Engels
Statues of Marx and Engels at the entrance to the Memento Park
Jászai Mari tér, Marx és Engels szobra (Segesdi György, 1971.).
Jászai Mari square, statue of Marx and Engels (Segesdi György, 1971.) Fortepan

Lenin statue

The statue of Vladimir Ilych Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union and leader of the Bolshevik Revolution is located on the left side of the entrance.

This 12-foot-tall bronze statue was made in 1965 and was placed to Parade Square (today: Dózsa György út, right next to Heroes’ Square) to review military parades.

The statue was removed in 1988 for repairs but as the political climate changed it was never put back to its location.

Statue of Lenin at the entrance of Memento Park Budapest
Statue of Lenin

The main area is the Statue Park itself

It contains circular lawns that are surrounded by the statues of the communist leaders and sculptures that represent the communist ideals.

The statues and memorials are organized by theme in 3 large circles:

  • the “liberation” memorials,
  • the statues of the great ideologies and labor movement,
  • the statues representing the ideology itself.

In the center of the park in a circle of grass lies a star of red flowers. The star used to be in a larger circle at the foot of the Chain Bridge on the Buda side.

Red star in the middle of Memento Park Budapest
Red star at the foot of the Chain Bridge in 1954 Fortepan
Red star at the foot of the Chain Bridge in 1954 Fortepan

Main statues in the Memento Park

The Republic of Councils Monument

Republic of Councils Monument
Republic of Councils Monument

The most well-known statue in the park is this colossal bronze sculpture of a sailor. It is based on an image from a revolutionary poster from 1919. The statue was once stood at the edge of City Park, near Heroes’ Square.

The huge man seems to be running after someone with a scarf in his hand.

He appears to urinate when it rains. 🤭 

Lenin statue

Lenin statue
Lenin statue

Béla Kun Memorial

Béla Kun memorial

This memorial is quite new: it dates back to 1986. It was erected to honor Béla Kun and the short-lived Communist government that gained power at the end of WW1. After the defeat of his government, he fled to Moscow.

The huge metal piece shows the leader, Béla Kun trying to lead a group of workers and soldiers. The memorial has another interpretation: it represents those who were executed by the communist rule.

The martyrs of the counter-revolution memorial

The martyrs of the counter-revolution memorial

A statue dedicated to the memory of the supporters of the Communist regime, “the martyrs of the counter-revolution,” who died fighting against the 1956 revolutionaries.

Worker breaking through the wall

Memento Park: a worker breaks through a wall

Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial

Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial
Hungarian-Soviet Friendship Memorial

Hungarian worker is welcoming a Soviet soldier, a ‘liberator’ with a handshake.

It was built in 1956, the year of the uprising against the Soviet rule so its irony is overwhelming. Note the difference in the hand gestures: the Hungarian holds the hand of the Soviet soldier with both of his hands, showing a genuine hope of friendship. The Soviet soldier holds one hand in reserve.

Liberating Soviet Soldier

Liberating Soviet Soldier
Liberating Soviet Soldier

This giant, 6-meter high statue once occupied a prominent spot on Gellert Hill overlooking Budapest.

The original of this statue was damaged in the October 1956 Uprising only to be replaced two years later with this copy.

The heroes of the peoples’ power

The heroes of the peoples’ power memorial in Memento Park
The heroes of the peoples’ power memorial in Memento Park

It memorializes the supporters of the Communist regime who fought against the 1956 freedom fighters. It was unveiled in 1983 and obviously, it wasn’t a popular memorial.

It honors members of the State Security Forces (AVH) or secret police who started the shooting at unarmed demonstrators in the ‘56 Revolution, and who were the only Hungarians that joined the Russians to crush the Revolution (Hungarian soldiers and police were with the Revolutionaries.)

Ostapenko and Captain Steinmetz

Ostapenko and Captain Steinmetz
Ostapenko and Captain Steinmetz

These two statues used to man the southern entry gates to Buda and Pest and became a sort of folkloric figures.

Worker’s Monument

Worker’s Monument
Worker’s Monument

In this workers’ monument, hands protect a ball that symbolized the perfect ideology and the progress of workers under the communist regime.

A Lenin statue

Lenin statue

Lenin and the masses lying next to him. There were so many monuments like this one all around Budapest.

A Monument to Soviet-Hungarian Friendship 1975

Memento Park: Monument to Soviet-Hungarian Friendship 1975
Monument to Soviet-Hungarian Friendship 1975

This granite statue is yet another monument trying to force a Soviet-Hungarian friendship to Hungarians.

A Trabant

Memento Park: Trabant

Trabant the famous “people’s car” was made in East Germany and was very popular in Hungary before 1990.

A Phonebooth

Listen to the voices of Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara and Hungarian figures from the Communist Party.

“This phone can not be used to make national or international calls, it only allows you to travel back in time,” says the sign taped up inside.

Memento Park: Stalin’s boots

Another part of Memento Park is Witness Square, right in front of the entrance of the Park.

Stalin's boots
Stalin's boots as seen from the Statue Park

The most powerful statue is Stalin’s – Soviet party secretary, head of state and general – that originally stood on the Parade Square. The crowd marching in front of Stalin’s 8 meters high statue, always felt oppressed. People were forced to cheer and celebrate, wave at the communist leaders who stood on the grandstand at the monument’s feet.

 

Stalin statue at its original location
Stalin statue at its original location

Only a replica of the grandstand and Stalin’s boots were added to Memento Park. The original one was torn down on October 23, 1956, by a rebellion against Communist repression.

Visitors can hike up the stairs that hide behind the monument to the balcony, where they’ll be treated to a great view of the park entrance.

View from Stalin's boots
View from Stalin's boots

Memento Park: The outbuilding

The outbuilding of Memento Park

The interior of the bunker-like building is worth checking out. It has an exhibition on the fall of the communist regime.

In a small screening room footages of the secret police training methods in Communist Hungary are shown. Several hundred short films trained the secret agents and spies between 1958 and 1988 to defend the “law and order.”

The Ministry of Interior Affairs had a film studio where these films were made.

The documentaries show the work of the political secret service: how to recruit an agent? How to insert a bug? How to install a secret camera in your bag to spy on your neighbor? What are the best secret surveillance methods?

In 2004 a montage was created by editing these films. It is a unique presentation of the operations and mindset of this ruthless organization run by the Kádár-regime.

The film is divided into four, 10-15-minute long parts:

  • The way to hide bugs
  • Introduction to house-searching
  • Methods of recruitment
  • Effective networking

1956

After the death of Stalin in 1953 the Soviets had to realize the mistakes they made in Soviet-controlled countries.

When the Polish demonstrations for better conditions were squelched by the communists, the youth in Budapest organized a demonstration sympathizing with the Polish.

More and more people gathered together at different locations in Budapest. The crowd was peaceful and remained orderly and cheerful but determined. By dusk, about 200,000 people married at the Parliament Building.

The Soviet leadership didn’t want to let their power and influence to weaken.

The first shooting was shot at the building of the Hungarian Radio where a group of students wanted to have their 16-point list of demands read off.

The demonstration turned into a revolt, and as the Soviet occupants and those who were loyal to the communist government turned against them, a war of independence began.

The fights in Budapest were mainly fought by teens and young adults with virtually no weapons. Molotov-cocktail, that was named after a Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, became famous in the revolution as it was used against Soviet tanks. Many armored vehicles were destroyed with these cocktails.

On 23 October the crowd demolished the statue of Stalin. They pulled it down with wire ropes and vehicles. The “Boots” that remained on the pedestal quickly became a symbol of the revolution.

The clashes between the revolters and the Soviet army took place in downtown Budapest and its surrounding districts. Almost all buildings were ruined on the main roads by the Soviet air force, tanks, artillery.

The clashes were finished by 10-11th of November. Several thousand were killed, there were about 20,000 casualties, 22,000 were imprisoned, 229 received the death penalty. Police harassment continued for decades. Those who participated in the smallest extent in the revolution were forced to leave their jobs and weren’t allowed to continue their studies.

1956 Great Boulevard
1956 Great Boulevard (Fortepan)
Budapest 1956 (Fortepan:Hegyi Zsolt, Balla Demeter felvétele)
Budapest 1956 (Fortepan:Hegyi Zsolt, Balla Demeter felvétele)
Budapest 1956 New York cafe (Fortepan:Hegyi Zsolt, Balla Demeter felvétele)
Budapest 1956 New York cafe (Fortepan:Hegyi Zsolt, Balla Demeter felvétele)
1956 Budapest (garden of the Hungarian National Museum) Fortepan:Klausz Ádám
1956 Budapest (garden of the Hungarian National Museum) Fortepan:Klausz Ádám
Great Boulevard in front of New York Café in 1956 Fortepan
Great Boulevard in front of New York Café in 1956 Fortepan
1956 near today's Corvin (metro station)

The Most Cheerful Barrack

 

From the 1960s the control loosened, public life became relatively peaceful. The era of the so-called “soft-tyranny” began.

Of course, it makes sense only if we compare Hungary to the other Communist countries. That is why Hungary was called the “most cheerful barrack”.

The Red Army still stationed in Hungary and rebellion against the party that was controlled by the Soviets was out of the question. Hungarians still lived under a strict limitation of their freedom and human rights, information networks worked in all areas of life. Traveling outside the country was prohibited.

Marching on communist holidays was obligatory to cheer the “democratic achievements of socialism”.

By the end of the 1980s, the totalitarian control was no longer preservable. Mikhail Gorbachev realized that the economic and political crisis of the communistic world. The preservation of the Central-Eastern-European power zone was no longer feasible and the new Soviet attitude refused to intervene in the undergoing political changes.

1989 Kossuth square on the day of the declaration of the Hungarian Republic
1989 Kossuth square on the day of the declaration of the Hungarian Republic (Mark Palmer ambassador of the USA with red bow tie, Boris Stukalin Soviet ambassador on the right)
1989 opened border (Fortepan:Urbán Tamás)
1989 opened border (Fortepan:Urbán Tamás)

Thoughts on Memento Park

The sheer scale and size of the statues give an insight into how their creators used them to influence and indoctrinate the people of Hungary to follow communist ideals.

For this reason, you can’t help but feel a little uneasy when wandering between them.

But in the context of Memento Park, this threat is somehow lost. As they are standing here, torn out from their original location they seem to be sterile, the treat is distant. It isn’t an accident:

“This park is not about the statues or the sculptors, but a critique of the ideology that used these statues as symbols of authority. I realized that if I made this park with more direct, drastic and real tools, as many thought I should, I would create an anti-propaganda park from these propaganda statues and in doing this, I would be faithfully following the same recipe and mentality that we inherited from dictatorship.”

Ákos Eleőd, Architect of Memento Park Tweet

Tips for visiting Memento Park:

Bring some snacks and drinks with you as there is no cafeteria in the park.

Opening times and prices of Memento Park

The park is open every day from 10 am until dusk.

Adults: 1.500 HUF

Students: 1.000 HUF

free with a valid Budapest card

Guided tour (in English) is available from 11:45 each day and lasts 50 minutes.

Getting to Memento Park

Getting to Momento Park is simple and cheap by public transport.

Bus 101B, 101E and 150. The route of bus no 150 is a bit longer but more interesting, it lets you see a Budapest suburb that is far from the tourist attractions.

Take bus number 150 from Allee Shopping Center (Újbuda Központ M4 station; the bus station is to the right of Allee, in front of the market’s building.

You can take this bus from Kelenföld Vasútállomás (Kelenföld Railway Station), too. To get to Kelenföld Vasútállomás, use M4 from one of these stations:

Pest-side:

– Keleti pályaudvar (Keleti Railway Station)

– Rakoczi tér (station of tram No.4 and 6.)

– Kálvin tér (National Museum, tram No.47 and 49, Metro No.3)

– Fővam tér (the Grand Market Hall, tram No.2)

Buda-side:

– Gellért tér (Gellert Bath, tram No.18, 19, 41)

– Móricz Zsigmond körtér

– Újbuda Központ (Allee Shopping Center)

The bus stop is right next to Memento Park, you will see the entrance of the park as you turn to the right after getting off the bus.

Memento Park website

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