How to make money with leftover Communist statues

By John Toth
Bulletin Publisher

BUDAPEST — For about 35 years, the Soviet Union left its mark as it occupied Hungary, a small country in Central Europe.

They built a lot of self-glorifying statues, and when the Soviet occupation ended, along with the Soviet Union, the finally liberated and independent Hungarians had to make some important decisions. One was: What to do with all these statues?

It would have been easy to vent their anger and celebrate as these reminders of opression came down in pieces. But the Hungarians are a calculating bunch. They came up with a very capitalistic solution.

Why not put the statues in an open-air museum and charge admission? This museum does not have to be anything fancy, just some empty space somewhere on the outskirts of Budapest that is hard to find.

The attendant taking your money does not have to be friendly. As a matter of fact, she needs to be outright rude to foreigners as they slowly count out their admission fee in Hungarian Forints.

Just play some communist music, put these statues all around the field, build some walkways, and the tourists will come.

My daughter, Stephanie, and I did.

The GPS landed us pretty close, but I had to get out of the car and ask for directions. Then I had to drive right past the turn and wind up a few miles off-course before returning to the same place where I asked for directions. Then I noticed the place right around the corner.

It’s called Memento Park, and I must admit that I was taken back by all the commie statues around me. The one I thought was the most hilarious depicted a Hungarian peasant shaking hands with a Russian soldier.

In reality, the peasant would have taken out the soldier, but only the soldier had a gun. The vast majority of Hungarians deeply resented the occupying forces.

The park admission was about $8.50 each, not too bad considering what everything else in Europe costs these days.

As it turned out, the drive was well worth it. The statues brought back a dark time for me. I didn’t fall apart, or anything, but I remember seeing some of them as a child when I lived in the city.

For Stephanie, they presented an opportunity to play “copy the commie.”

Her best pose was in front of the big Lenin statue. All of the other big commies were also there in faded metal: Marx, Engels, and Dimitrov to name a few.

The open-air park’s brochure claims that Memento Park is one of the most popular attractions in Budapest. Maybe so, but the place was almost empty when we went.

“Hundreds of tons of communism,” boasts the brochure.

Personal guided tours in English also are available for an extra charge, but I remembered enough to provide that for free.

We wanted to get a souvenir from the gift shop, like a commie medal or an authentic commie party membership booklet. But when I saw the prices, I decided to just take pictures. They were asking almost $30 for the booklet.

I paid less for a chunk of the Berlin wall many years ago. I also bought that in Budapest – in a store that only accepted western currency.