Budapest’s ‘Memento Park’: Public Art, Communist Heritage and Contested Representations of the Past in Post-Communist Europe

  • Abstract:

    This paper uses an analysis of Memento Park, a park that contains forty-two of Budapest´s communist statues and monuments, to challenge discourses on communist heritage. It develops into an enquiry of the multiple paradoxes in the identities of sites displaying communist heritage in Eastern Europe, particularly those presenting works of monumental propaganda. It is centred around comparisons between Memento Park and similar parks in Lithuania, Bulgaria and Russia. All four parks deal with a dialogue on communist heritage that has been proliferated by dominant Western cultural markets since the fall of the Iron Curtain and was inherited from Cold War Western ideologies. Despite an overarching Occidental discourse, all four parks treat this heritage differently, raising questions as to how Memento Park views its objects on display. The legitimacy of Memento Park´s position in contemporary politics and society is also debated. Through a comparison with House of Terror, post-communist Hungary is considered as it turns to historical revisionism and nationalism in its attempts to absolve its involvement in the Holocaust and project the blame of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution onto contemporary socialists. Ultimately, the paper locates the Memento Park in discourses, in Hungary and abroad, on the treatment of communist heritage in post-communist Eastern Europe. By identifying the issues and paradoxes in the Park´s museological treatment of this heritage, the paper attempts to project a path for the Park to take that enables it to break down its spatial and temporal confines. Resolutely, finding that even though its monuments might be imprisoned in the Park, it is not necessary that Memento Park itself has to be kept away from an engaged dialogue with contemporary Budapest.