A Monumental Protest in Budapest

You won’t find it in any guidebook.

From a string of barbed wire, wrapped between sidewalk barriers, hang black and white photos, official reports and articles protected in plastic.  Below the wire, the curb is lined with plants, mementos and stones.  A notice typed in multiple languages explains this makeshift memorial as a protest to the government’s whitewashing of history.

Across the street at Liberty Square in Budapest stands the focus of the protest.  In preparation of the 70th anniversary of German occupation, the Hungarian government elected to install a memorial to honor the victims of occupation during WWII, amid much controversy.  The monument, erected under cover of darkness July 20, 2014, depicts Germany as the Imperial eagle swooping down on the Archangel Gabriel, the representation of an innocent Hungary.

Among other things, it is the term “occupation” that led to protests which continued for more than 100 days.  The opposition parties, Jewish leaders and members of the public accused the government of trying to rewrite history and absolve itself of the country’s complicit role in the atrocities of the second world war.  Criticism also surrounded the failure to consult in the design and construction of the monument.  Worldwide, scholars, artists, leaders and politicians spoke out against the monument.

While the initial intent to promote discussion has failed, there is much talk among visitors who encounter what is called the “Living Memorial of Remembrance”.   The memorial, striking in its simplicity, overshadows the monument.  That it remains long after the installation of the formal monument speaks to the power of the people’s will.

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