Budapest Under Communism
After World War II, Budapest suffered under communist rule, though its “goulash communism" allowed the people a little freedom. Still, dissent was not tolerated, as shown in a museum called the "House of Terror." Today’s Memento Park (also known as Statue Park) corrals powerless communist statues while people cruise the Danube.
Complete Video Script
Sadly bad times under the Germans were replaced with bad times under the Russians. While Soviet rule here was harsh, Hungary managed to fashion its milder yet still-acceptable-to-Moscow "goulash" communism. which allowed a little private enterprise, easier travel, and less censorship. Because of this, Hungary was the envy of its more strictly controlled neighbors.
This pedestrian boulevard — Váci Utca — is the main shopping and tourism artery. Before the fall of Communism, wannabe shoppers from all over Eastern Europe came to this street. They’d drool over Nikes, Reeboks, and the fine capitalist cuisine before any of these Western evils were available elsewhere in the Warsaw Pact region. In the 1980s, a stroll down this street was the closest East Germans, Czechs and Poles could get to a day pass to the West.
Peter: Budapest was always a bit more rebellious, a bit more independent in some sense and our neighbors, just loved this place. Czechs and Poles would come here for an American cigarette or to just pop in and out of shops, simply to taste the West. This was Western life.
When some Hungarians are nostalgic for what they consider the good old days of Communism they drop by the Jégbüfé.
Little seems to have changed here at the Jégbüfé. First you choose what you want at the counter. Then you try to explain that to the cashier…and pay. Trade your receipt back at the counter for your goodies. And finally, enjoy it all — standing up…communist style.
The dark underside of Hungary’s 20th century story is on display at the House of Terror — housed in the former headquarters of both the Nazis and later, the Communists secret police. It welcomes you with a Soviet tank and a towering wall covered with portraits of the victims of this building. This museum makes it clear that, while the uniforms changed in 1945, the terror did not. It offers a disturbing look at the grim terror of both the far right and the far left inflicted on the people of Budapest.
To keep dissent to a minimum, the secret police of both the Nazis and the Communists imprisoned, deported, or executed anyone suspected of being an enemy of the state.
Rooms feature the many bleak dimensions of life in Hungary before freedom. Gulag life — countless writers, artists, and dissidents spent their best years breaking rocks in quarries. Propaganda preached — wave the flag, trust your leaders…and you’ll enjoy the material fruits of your obedience.
Both Nazism and Communism celebrated a sham justice… and a sham democracy. Behind the banners were all the domestic spy tools governments use to keep a people in line. Joining the Church was a way to express dissent and a people’s faith was one thing the totalitarian governments could not control. The basement was the grim scene of torture and executions.
While there is a happy ending — video clips show the festive and exhilarating days in 1991 when the last Soviets departed — the wall of “the victimizers” is an evocative send off. It reminds visitors that most local members and supporters of the secret police, many of whom are still living, were never brought to justice.
Statue Park welcomes the curious at the edge of town. When regimes fall, so do their monuments. Budapest saved its souvenirs of totalitarianism and shows them off here. Just think of all these statues of Lenin and company, crashing to the ground to the cheers of the masses.
At Statue Park, you'll see the Communist All-Stars — Marx…local wannabe Stalins…and Lenin — in his favorite "hailing a cab" pose. In a kind demagogue’s hell, they’re left with no one to preach to but each other and stony Socialist symbols — the heroic soldier, the obedient worker, the tireless mother.
Under Soviet Communism, censorship was taken to extremes. Art was only acceptable if it promoted the ideology. The only sanctioned art form in the Eastern Block was Social Realism.
This is Social Realism. Leaders were portrayed with unquestioned authority. Individuals were idealized as cogs in the machine — strong, stoic, doing their job well and proudly for the good of the nation. Distinguishing features were unimportant; people all looked the same — unquestioning patriots…trusting and serving their nation. These days — with half of the local citizenry having no living memory of Communism — there’s just not much respect.
The gift shop offers a tempting parade of communist kitsch; consider picking up a Red Star lapel pin, a workers pocket watch or even a Communist party vodka flask.
This is a fun souvenir — the “Greatest Hits of Communism.”
Nobody can argue that the replacement of Communism by Capitalism hasn’t pumped up the energy in this great city. Cafes are thriving — people are enjoying life. And the city’s breezy riverfront promenade is lined with diversions.
A romantic way to cap your day — and our visit — is an evening cruise on the Blue Danube.
As the sun goes down, an ensemble of icons grabs your attention — mighty bridges linking Buda and Pest, the stubborn citadel still standing tall, and monuments honoring a hard-earned freedom.