Our guide brought us to this location and as she spoke I felt for the first time a different emotion on a free walking tour, anger. She kept her cool throughout her speech but underneath the description was passion fueled by a sense of injustice.
We were at Liberty Square, a highly controversial square in Budapest because its named to many seemed to signal liberation from truth. It was here, that I got my first in depth look into the controversies and issues underneath the country of thermal baths, ruin bars and fascinating history.
Called the memorial to the victims of the German Occupation, it was a decision of the Viktor Orban government to erect a memorial “that honors the victims of the German occupation. The controversy arose because of arguments that suggests that Austro-Hungary (hence both Austria and Hungary) were not victims of the Nazi occupation but were co-conspirators. This was brought forth especially as Hungarians were documented to have been ‘overexuberrent’ in sending Jews to their deaths.
Now, let’s be clear, not everyone in Hungary disagrees with Orban, despite what reports from Western media speculate, it is a fact that Vikor Orban has won reelection twice (having been Prime Minister since 2010, not including an earlier stint) and is now holds the record of having the longest tenure of Hungarian premiership in modern history. This monument is therefore a part of Hungarian modern politics that will continue to boil under the surface (I have made sure to get videos that show both sides of view – as Voltaire was once quoted to have believed, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it“).
But the square has been controversial even before then. It was already controversial and ironicc when it was first built.
To get to that point, we need to turn back to World War II.
World War II in Europe ended with the allies in the Moscow Conference in 1944 partitioning zones of influence. Hungary was given to Stalin and the Red Army marched in to ‘liberate’ Hungary from the Nazis (like that did everywhere Eastern and most of Central Europe).
The bloody of Siege of Budapest saw the Soviet forces with Romanian support take control of the city from a combined Hungarian and German force, with casualties in the hundred of thousands of soldiers and civilians.
At the end of the war in 1946, a monument to the liberators was erected in the square. It was the monument that gave the square its name. At the apex of the monument was a soviet star that remains till this day.
Communism was not always good for Hungary, and there was not really liberation to speak off.
So you can imagine the unhappiness that remained when after 1991, when Hungary regained its independence from the Soviet Union and removed all the Soviet Stars from the buildings but retained this one star.
A square with an ironic name, monuments that continue to harken to a dark past, and recent structures that divide societal memory, Liberty Square is a site that shows the controversies and sociopolitical issues bubbling underneath the surface of Budapest. It is also rather representative of today, because of the battle for the soul and intepretation of reality that is currently enveloping much of the world (especially so in the west).
Oh just to add some drama, facing the monument till this day, is the American Embassy although you cannot take pictures of it… who says the cold war has ended 😉
ON THE MAP