I really enjoyed reading Dan Katz’s article on pulling down statues. He makes a number of valid points.
Maybe I can add a few details. After it was pulled down, Stalin’s statue in Budapest was smashed up and one part of it was used as an improvised public urinal. Pretty soon after, all parts of the statue disappeared including the boots which initially remained stuck on their plinth. Rumour has it that everything was melted down.
There is a vivid reconstructed scene depicting the toppling of the Stalin statue in Marta Mészáros’ film ‘Diary for my Father and Mother’ which mirrors the toppling of the Tsar’s statue in the opening of Sergei Eisenstein’s ‘October’.
Unfortunately, the history of statues in Hungary and their treatment gets messy. When I worked in Budapest in 1992 I often took my lunch break in a small park sitting on a bench, eating my salami, next to a statue dedicated to the memory of the Hungarian volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War on behalf of the Republic. I grew to love that statue despite the fact that it was bloody ugly — the Hungarian volunteers were rendered as “Michelin men”, not what I would have chosen.
I returned a few years later to find the statue gone. It had been moved to a so-called Statue Park just outside Budapest, in fact it is the first statue you see on entering. I have always thought it a disgrace that these anti-fascist heroes, the finest of their generation, should be lumped together with Stalin and his Hungarian acolytes such as the repulsive Matyás Rákosi (whose bald pate earned him the nickname — “arse head”). The statue park is really just a stupid pseudo-political Disneyland. There is no social or political context for the statues, and everything is treated as if it was part and parcel of Stalinist Hungary, including a statue to the revolutionaries of 1919 — a full 29 years before Hungary succumbed to Stalinism in the post-war period. The boots have miraculously re-appeared but they are replicas.
There is no accounting of the past, no attempt at understanding what happened, just one more tourist attraction to add to the list. And of course, there are the usual T-shirts, mugs and other touristy nick-nacks. In the meantime, under the right wing government of Viktor Orbán monuments to fascists and nationalists go up all over the place.
Just for the record: 965 Hungarians fought for the Spanish Republic. Of these 260 never made it home. Most of these fell at the battle of Huesca. When the Civil War ended those who made it across the border into France were interned. In 1945-6 most of the surviving volunteers were able to get back to Hungary, only to find that they were under suspicion by the Stalinist authorities.
30-35 were imprisoned and at least one (László Rajk) was executed.
Corbyn's International Friends
Michael Elms’ article (‘Corbyn and the Czech spy scandal’, 28 February) makes reasonable points (the right-wing press are out to get Corbyn, and they are not above twisting facts).
It is an article any self-respecting Corbynista would approve of.
Except there’s one problem Michael fails to mention: what was Corbyn doing meeting a Czech embassy official? Yes, I know Corbyn wasn’t spying for the Czechs — but that doesn’t completely resolve the matter.
Czechoslovakia was a police state and its embassy officials were agents of that state and, consequently, bitter enemies of ours. Around the same time that Corbyn was meeting the Czech secret agent (who did Corbyn think he would be meeting?) I was raising money for the Czech workers’ opposition; others were protesting outside the embassy for workers’ rights, or demanding rights for the Roma people, or Jewish people (the Czech Stalinists had demolished many synagogues and spied on Jews).
Now Corbyn is not a Stalinist. But he does seem to make regular mistakes when choosing his international friends.
It is a real scandal, for example, that Corbyn appeared on the Iranian state’s Press TV — and did so even after the station had been banned in the UK for filming the “confession” of a journalist which had been extracted under torture.
Or, closer to home, Corbyn has chosen key aides who are unreconstructed Stalinists (Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray).
And on a similar theme John McDonnell announced last weekend that — following the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal — Labour MPs would no longer appear on RT, the Russian state’s television propaganda outlet. McDonnell stated, “We have treated it like every other television station.”
Minimally John McDonnell has not been paying attention. RT and Press TV are absolutely unlike CNN or the BBC. RT and Press TV are the outward-facing propaganda fronts for aggressive, authoritarian states.
Dan Katz, South London