After watching the devastating news about the attacks in Paris on Friday night and later learning about the attacks in Beirut on Thursday, it was quite a solemn weekend in our household. It’s hard to understand how such cruelty can be played out amongst innocent people. To better understand, I turn to a wide range of media sources to grasp the factors that took us to this point in history. It’s never simple. It’s layers of historical shifts, political plays, media overlays weaved together. My combination of CBC, Al Jazeera (including a new favourite AJ+), Twitter, Wikipedia and other articles, infographics and commentary that pop into my news, searches and social media feeds never provide a perfectly clear picture, but it does deepen my understanding of the situation. It deepens my empathy to the victims and affected communities. It deepens my compassion for those fleeing fear and my support for those fighting for peace and justice on all sides.
With this dark veil over the weekend, it made for a very interesting time to visit Budapest’s Memento Park. The Park was developed as a holding place for the statues and plaques of the Communist era. When Hungary peacefully became a democratic country with parliamentary elections in 1990, there was much debate as to the fate of the statues. Though destruction was suggested, the Budapest city council resolved to create a themed statue park. The architect Ákos Eleőd described the park as such:
“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 to think freely about dictatorship, or about democracy, come to that, or about anything.”
The park is impressive in its design, the presence of the statues and the layers of Hungarian history. In the twentieth century, Hungary was led by monarchy, democracy, fascism, communism and now democracy. Changing borders, world and regional wars, and global political evolution created movements that both helped and hurt its citizens. Memento Park provides simplicity in its presentation of the statues as they were originally intended. A guidebook can be purchased, but otherwise the park provides no interpretation and you are left to your own impressions, learnings and conversations.
I understand why Memento Park has become a top destination within Budapest. It is a unique testament to history. The foresight of the citizens to keep these elements of a sensitive period for discussion and learning was brilliant and the execution equally so.