“…Memento Park is characterized by a careful and intelligent, theme-oriented design as well as by high quality, impressive architectural composition. Its first phase, “One Sentence on Tyranny – Statue Park” was cordially received by the public. The way Hungary treated this sensitive topic is to be considered exemplary even in international terms. The Statue Park utilizes politically neutral means of art to emphasize the dignity of democracy and the responsibility of historical thinking. When the planned second phase, the so-called “Witness Square” is built, a unique educational, art and tourism theme-park and historical museum will be created that is unparalleled in the world.”
Árpád Göncz, President of Hungary (1991-2001)
“The complex idea and historical thinking behind Memento Park – the way it distinguishes the two eras, recreates tyranny through the eyes of art – is of international significance and a symbol of the dignity of democracy.”
András Bozóki, Minister of Culture (2005-2006)
“…I studied the plans of the Memento Park project with great interest. I find it a promising plan to keep our historical memory alive and to strengthen citizens’ sense of responsibility and commitment to sustain democracy.
I consider it especially important that by further developing its educational program, the Park would be frequented by students, whom, having no personal experience and memories themselves, would gain insight and impressions of the era represented in the Park.”
Zoltán Pokorni, Minister of Education (1998-2001)
“…Whenever given a chance to make a free choice, our nation chose freedom and independence – both in 1956 and in 1990. Not only in words did she make this choice but in sacrificial and exemplary deeds as well. We need to be proud of our ancestors’, fathers’ and grandfathers’ commitment to freedom. The only way to pay tribute to them is by keeping them in our memories, by remembering and commemorating them daily as well as on special anniversaries.
We need people-friendly and dignified places to celebrate and to responsibly consider the future. We need squares, parks and museums where we can take our children and anyone else who is eager to better understand the present through the past. That specific need makes the plans for Memento Park and the events that are to be held there extremely worthy and important.”
Tamás Deutsch, Minister of Youth and Sports (1999-2002)
“Memento Park, both architecturally and thematically, is a place worthy and able to catch the world’s attention and strengthen Hungary’s cultural reputation on an international level. (…)
Following its opening celebrations the park will house grand cultural events (international conferences for historians, concerts, exhibitions, film-showings, stage performances). In the future, it can also function as a mini educational centre (with history classes for high-schools and universities on related topics) and a centre for culture and tourism. (…)
Szilárd Sasvári, President, Cultural Committee of the Parliament (1998-2002)
“… the project will become complete when a proper environment is created. Partly it will mean the completion of the Statue Park itself by building a wall around it that will enclose the statues and give them a unified image. Partly it will mean working out a plan for the surrounding area so that visitors can enjoy a proper and inviting infrastructure. When all those are in place, we will be able to announce that this memorial sight, unparalleled in Europe, is finished.
According to the architect’s concept, trapeze-shaped “Witness Square” will be given a central role. The pedestal of Stalin’s statue with the boots will be placed in its original size facing the façade. On either side of the square there will be two buildings: one will be a catering unit with a small podium, the other will serve as an exhibition hall, video-room and art shop. The main tribune would provide space for various performances and concerts… we are talking about a sight of international significance.”
Miklós Marschall, Cultural Deputy Mayor (1990-1994)
“… The Memento Park projects would be an attraction to tourists and would give a significant boost to tourism in Budapest. By including proper marketing activities it could easily add a new and exciting colour to the palette both for external and internal travellers. (…)
…depending on the communication style and the guest-list, its opening celebration may easily become an internationally recognized event and thus play an important role in building our country’s image. Surrounding cultural events also have the capacity to attract international attention… (…)
In summary, we consider this project to be of great significance and, as explained above, we … support its development.”
László Fekete, Head of Tourism Office, Minsitry of Economy (1998-2000); President, Tourism Office Budapest (2001-)
“The question of the Statue Park is of historical significance. It is an extremely sensitive and complex issue, a special task for the artist to express in the language of architectural design.
A chief merit of “One Sentence on Tyranny” – Park is the dignity with which it treats its theme: by refusing to sacrifice its historical significance to the ever-changing powers of daily politics… with its grand design concept and disturbed peacefulness it serves as an example for solving a controversial problem in an intelligent and elegant manner.”
István Schneller, Chief Architect of Budapest (1994-2006)
“.. a unique collection of the monuments of a fallen totalitarian system, characterized by true architectural design, artistic and elegant communication between the de-legitimized statues and space and by the dignity of expression.”
Géza Boros, art historian
“… What we see here is a thoughtfully designed complex structure. Architect Ákos Eleőd deliberately created an environment reminiscent of social realism and a structure referring to the Potemkin-type system; (…) creating a context and an atmosphere with dignity, cold objectivity, moderation, as well as elegant and gracious design.”
The Memento Park
A good site to revise for the examination topic “the 20th century”
The Memento Park is not about Communism, but about the fall of Communism!
The Memento Park is divided into two parts:
1. The “A Sentence about Tyranny” park, commonly known as Statue Park;
Not irony – remembrance
2. The trapezium-shaped, atmospheric Witness Square (Neverwas town, Neverwas square), and the collection of buildings which are both the continuation of the statue park’s conceptual architecture and content, and the conclusion of the thought process.
2.1 The long base of the trapezium:
This is the main façade of the “a sentence about tyranny” statue park with the poem “A Sentence about Tyranny” by Gyula Illyés on a huge plaque in the middle. The park was conceived in the same circle of thought – the same silence resounds around the statues as is in the poem. Pain, grief, impotence, shame, shock, rage and defiance.
2.2 The two sides of the trapezium:
The two buildings along the side of the square house the functional content of the complex and the service centres.
The style of their façade is in tune with the park’s “empire” architecture, the scale creates the original design concept of space. They emphasize and counterpoint the brutal enormity of the gate-like “behind the scenes” wall. Within the two buildings is a tourist-artistic-educational minicentre (cinema, art shop, lecture theatre, theatre, exhibition hall, tourist services, hospitality, etc.)
2.3 The short top of the trapezium:
Opposite the main façade of the Statue park, in its original size, constructed with accurate weight proportions is the grandstand and dais of the Stalin statue and on top of it are the boots! Only the boots!
One square – along its axis the poem “A Sentence about Tyranny” and the boots – which guard the unshattered myth of the 1956 revolution, the anti-dictatorship uprising.
One square – which in its very being, in that it could even be, becomes the remembrance site of the fall of Communism, the victory of Democracy over Dictatorship.
One square – which uses Hungarian symbols to tell the story of a Central and Eastern-European turning point in history which can be understood anywhere in the world: about dictatorship, about democracy.
For Witness square…
… is Széna Square, Budapest in 1956. Wenceslas Square, Prague in 1968, Palace Square, Warsaw in 1981, Opera Square, Timisoara in 1989, Potsdamer Square in Berlin, Square of the National Assembly in Sofia.
Concerning his prize-winning design.
Hungary in the 20th Century
Until the end of World War I, Hungary was a part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Hapsburg Empire. At the peace talks that ended the world war, their independence was reinstated, but according to the terms of the treaty of Trianon, by 1920 they had lost 2/3 of their territory and a half of the population. This trauma affected the life of the country for decades, and the main aim of their foreign policy was to repeal this. It was as a result of this that Hungary allied with fascist Germany when World War II broke out in 1939.
The Hungarian army played an active part in the attack on the Soviet Union, both in the battles and in the occupation. In spite of this, on March 19th, 1944, Hungary was occupied by German forces. Within the country, the Arrowcross Party took power. They clung to the fascists, and employed unbridled internal terror to control the people, turning the country into a battlefield and totally destroying the already completely demoralised country.
First, the retreating Germans smote a blow to war-stricken Hungary, then they were followed by the Soviet liberators who looted, destroyed and murdered. They left the towns in ruins, a large proportion of the population died either in the war, in captivity or in the concentration camps. Both the economy and the infrastructure became inoperable, effectively destroyed. As a part of the retaliation against the German army and its allies, the Soviet Red Army occupied Budapest on February 13th, 1945 and by April 1945 Hungarian war operations had been concluded.
At the World War II peace talks, the leaders of the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States of America declared the new world order. They annexed 72% of the territory and 64% of the population of the beaten Hungary. The West, by implication, acknowledged the political and economical interests of the Soviet Union in Eastern-Europe. The future development of Hungary, along with many other Eastern-European countries, was entrusted to the Soviet Union and its all-powerful dictator, party general secretary and military leader, Stalin. Following this, the Soviet Union established a “people’s democracy” which on the surface looked as if it complied with the democratic expectations of the West, but which in reality, in terms of true elections, freedom and representation, was run according to the ideals of the Soviet empire.
Between 1945-1947, communist politicians, who had earlier been either underground or abroad, used many, often illegal, ways to secure key positions in political and economic life within the new coalition government. They were poised to take over leadership in many aspects of everyday life in order to establish their autarchy.
Most of the survivors of the war initially greeted the Soviet Red Army as liberators. However, it didn’t take long to realise that the soldiers had come as conquerors and their primary goals were the gradual occupation of the country and the bringing of the communist party into power by force.
Despite the desperate economic situation, the majority of people believed in the coming of a new, hope-filled era, and because of this the rebuilding of the country continued apace. Even though the political oppression was increasing, the standard of living of the majority of the population improved. A large proportion of society received health and social benefits for the first time ever, they were able to attend educational establishments and they could visit cultural and sport centres. Alongside these positive results, political oppression continued to grow, people’s freedom was drastically reduced, and in every aspect of life terror increased.
1949-1956 was the period of heavy dictatorship known as the Rákosi era. Its namesake, the communist politician Mátyás Rákosi was the supreme political leader and he demanded to be worshipped as a god. The era was characterised by the one-party communist state, public life in submission to the party leadership and a terrorised population. The condition of dictatorship and the dissatisfaction caused by the deterioration in the standard of living finally led to an uprising.
On October 23rd, 1956, revolution and a war for freedom against the Rákosi dictatorship and the Soviet occupation broke out in Hungary. It started with peaceful student demonstrations, but soon developed into armed fighting. Sadly, by the beginning of November the uprising had failed due to the lack of explicit political direction and the Soviet military intervention. Many thousands died or were wounded in the fighting. In the aftermath, thousands more died, and almost two-hundred-thousand escaped abroad.
The anti-revolutionary Soviet intervention legitimised the so-called Revolutionary Peasant Worker’s Government, whose leader, János Kádár, was nominated by the Soviet party leadership. The bloody reckoning of the revolution, along with the restoration of the administrative institutional regime of dictatorship, lasted until the early 1960’s. This consolidated Kádár’s personal power and earned international recognition of the regime.
It became obvious that the basic goals of the revolution – independence and democracy – were not going to be realised, however, it also became clear that there would be no return to the pre-1956 Stalinist politics.
Kádár’s willingness to compromise and his main slogan “whoever is not against us is with us” found widespread consensus among a society longing for tranquillity. There were, however, limits to the liberalisation: communist one-party government and unconditional faithfulness to the Soviet foreign policies outlined by the Warsaw Pact.
From the sixties there was an ongoing detente; this was the era of “soft dictatorship”. Everyday life was depoliticised, space was given within the economy for personal initiatives, the social benefit system was extended, they accepted and worked on satisfying society’s demands for modernisation and consumerism – for this reason the era was later mockingly named “refrigerator socialism” and “goulash communism”.
From 1968, mostly due to economic pressures, the pre-planned economy was relaxed and at the same time Soviet foreign policy became less rigorous. Within the communist party leadership, there were reform communists, who encouraged a cautious relaxation of the rules. However, by the middle of the eighties, there were rapid changes in foreign policy. By the end of the eighties, Mikhail Gorbachev, the new general secretary of the Soviet Union’s communist party, recognised that his country and along with it the communist world order had come to an economical and political crisis point which meant that it could no longer maintain the Central- and Eastern-European power block.
In Hungary, in the light of these political changes, the underground opposition groups started to form political parties. They aimed to gain more and more publicity and to seek to have a voice in political life. In 1989, in response to pressure from society, the National Assembly passed the right to form political parties. The fall of communism in Hungary was peaceful. In the spring of 1990, free parliamentary elections were held, in which the former opposition powers won the majority.
On February 25th, 1991, the member countries of the communist block signed the document to dissolve the Warsaw Pact. On June 19th, 1991 the last Soviet occupying soldier left Hungary.
The Designer’s Commendation
(Quotations from studies, articles and conversations 1992-2003)
Currently we “have it easy” – well actually its going to get much harder.
Easy, because if a democracy follows a dictatorship, then the truth has no alternative, the truth of democracy is proved by the historical process. Harder, because this thought is so obvious and clear that we easily forget about the tendency itself; in the process of political ideology, works of art get placed here and there.
This is where the sensitive dignity of Art comes in: finding and taking on the responsibility which currently leads to a narrow ethical path.
It’s a joy to be a part of such a peaceful process.
As I was designing, I gradually began to realise what a complicated problem this is. I had to recognise that I needed to summarise the individual thought-provoking elements of an historical series of paradoxes into one conceptual thought process. Paradox, because these statues are both the reminders of an anti-democratic society and at the same time pieces of our history; paradox, because they are symbols of authority and at the same time works of art; and finally, paradox, because despite the fact that they were without doubt originally set up for the purpose of propaganda, in assigning them a new location, I deemed it important to avoid the possibility that they would become anti-propaganda, which would have been no more than a continuation of dictatorship mentality.
Every violent form of society formalises the need and the right to reanalyse, touch up and appropriate their own past in order to shine favourable light on the “historical necessity” of their regime. Democracy is the only regime which is capable of looking back to its past, with all its mistakes and wrong turns, with its head up. The wonderful thing about looking back is that you are free to do this. Democracy is the only regime that has dignity. This is what I was trying to describe in that sentence which became the key sentence of my design: “This Park is about dictatorship, but as soon as this can be talked about, described and built, the park is already about democracy. After all, only democracy can provide the opportunity for us to think freely about dictatorship, or about democracy, come to that, or about anything.”
These statues are a part of the history of Hungary. Dictatorships chip away at and plaster over their past in order to get rid of all memories of previous ages. Democracy is the only regime that is prepared to accept that our past with all the dead ends is still ours; we should get to know it, analyse it and think about it!
All of the statues, therefore, were positioned according to the original sculptural and architectural plans. 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 realised 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.
A foreign tourist, for whom dictatorship is merely something they have read about, has completely different thoughts when in the park than the person with a tragic past, who lived here, survived and under the aegis of these statues takes the drama of his own ruined life into the park with him. But the silence is shared.
Ákos Eleőd, Architect.
The conceptual designer of Memento Park.
1986, Budapesti University of Technology, Building Engineer Faculty
1992-93, Phd. Historic Monuments Engineering
1986-92, Vadász & Co. Architect Ltd.. (Studio Leader: György Vadász: DLA, Kossuth,- és Ybl-award winning architect).
1993, Homo Humanus Ltd. – privately owned studio
1988, in connection with a university assignment, ha becomes familiar with the city of Szeghalom, where in the following years he has been charged with several designing and consultative projects, both from the side of the City Hall and from the part of the private sphere.
1991, member of Folyamat Company (an artistic company of painters, sculptors, graphic artists, photographers, Gobelin designers ), member of the presidium;
1994, member of Mensa HungarIQa (Hungarian member organization of Poeople With High Intelligence-Quotient),
1995-99 member of the presidium;
1999, president of Jókai Memory Committe (a civil organization for the realization of a space-compozition on the occasion of the Jókai-anniversary)