Nobody’s got the chin-jut down like Lenin, and nobody comes close to matching Stalin’s fabulous facial hair. Indeed, the Soviet Union was awash with beautiful leaders whose commanding visages just begged to be immortalized in statues, busts, and propaganda signage. Travelers to present day Russia or other former Soviet states may find that even though communism has long gone, the guys who ran the show are still very much around, in wood, stone, and bronze.
But where can one contemplate the porky features of Brezhnev’s mug, the Silly Putty consistency of Kruschev’s nose, or the topographical aspect of Gorbachev’s forehead all in one place? It’s true that the fall of the Soviet Union felled many of Eastern Europe’s party leader statues, but a few conglomerations of these icons do remain. Communist statue parks retain the legacy and the idolatry of the Soviet Union, sans the bread lines and scary social programming.
Memento Park (Szobor Park), Budapest Hungary
Lenin, Marx and Engels are all here, but the reason this statue park does well is its focus on Hungarian Communist leaders like Béla Kun, Endre Ságvári, Árpád Szakasits (ring any bells?) who contributed to Hungary’s dark Communist history. The creators of the museum stress that although the park is full of mementos from the Communist era, they are being preserved to commemorate the fall of the Soviet Union rather than glorify its history.
The statues in the park, which came largely from the street corners of Budapest, serve as a reminder of the recent past, and as a warning: Socialist Realist artwork is godawful. Highlights include a victorious man running with what looks like a pair of pants in hand, cheesy tributes to Hungary’s working class, and “Stalin’s Boots” (the boots of a statue of Stalin were all that was left after an angry mob tore the rest down during a 1956 uprising).
Located just outside Budapest, tourists can take a bus (walking isn’t really an option) to Szobor Park. Pick up the combined round-trip bus ticket and admission to the park for a reasonable 3.950 HUF (a measly 2.450 with Budapest Card).
Fallen Monument Park, Moscow Russia
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Also known as Muzeon Park of Arts or simply Sculpture Park, the origins of this museum/park go back to October of 1991, when the fall of the Soviet Union brought down sculptures all over the city, which were then hauled to a central location and left on display, in their fallen form. They would go on to be used as benches and play structures for children. Later, the statues were righted once more (sans pedestals) and Fallen Monument Park took on its current form.
Image: The Guardian
Over 700 sculptures of Soviet leaders, workers, and peasants congregate over about 50 acres in central Moscow, outside the Tretyakov Gallery’s modern art section. Themed sections (Oriental Garden, Pushkin Square, Portrait Row) divide the sculptures into relevant categories. In 1995, a new World War II section was opened, bringing sculptures that had rarely seen the light of day into the open air.
The outdoor sculpture museum is unique in Russia, and can be visited any time during daylight hours. It’s an ideal place to see the work of some of the Soviet era’s most acclaimed sculptors, as well as contributions from modern Russian artists.
Grutas Park, Druskininkai Lithuania
Opened on April 1st, 2001 and unofficially named “Stalin’s World,” “Stalin’s Land,” or “The Park of Totalitarianism,” one has to wonder: is this a joke? The answer, of course, is no, Grutas Park is not a joke but rather a museum with a sense of humor… or terror… or something.
86 statues from 46 different sculptors grace two kilometers bounded by wooden paths, barbed wire and guard towers, meant to simulate the Soviet system of penal labor camps administered by the GULAG. The museum inside of the park architecturally mimics the wooden houses built by the Soviets during the 1940s and 50s. You’ll also find a playground, and miniature zoo, a gift shop, and cafe – somehow they still mesh with the rest of the exhibits.
Visit Grutas Park on April 1st for the caricatured humor feast, where live actors play the parts of Lenin, Stalin, and other cuddly party leaders. On May 9th, the park celebrates Soviet Victory Day (the day of the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union during World War II).