By Tim Galsworthy
I recently holidayed in Budapest and, at the first available opportunity, ventured to the outskirts of the city to visit Memento Park. Memento Park was created in the aftermath of the Cold War as a site where Budapest’s Communist-era statues could be relocated and displayed. Wandering round that eclectic mixture of stone totems sent my mind racing. I thought about the historic and on-going conflicts surrounding America’s Confederate monuments, such as whether a statue of Jefferson Davis should be removed from Richmond’s Monument Avenue. One overriding question occupied my thoughts. Why not a Confederate Memento Park? There are countless pros and cons to this idea, I will endeavour to wrestle with just a few.
‘A statue park would confine…the Confederacy to history, where it belongs’
PRO: A workable compromise?
The concept of a Confederate Memento Park strikes me as a compromise which offers something for all sides. For activists striving for the removal of Confederate statues the Park would displace these monuments from the public landscape, eliminating the power dynamics that come from public placement. Scholars would be able to display these controversial monuments with the appropriate qualification and historicization through plaques, tours, and guidebooks. Above all else, putting Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on display in a statue park would confine them and the Confederacy to history, where it belongs.
On the flip side, a Confederate Memento Park offers much for those opposed to the removal of Confederate statues. The monuments would escape destruction. Instead they would be preserved and exhibited. Moreover, statue defenders would be able to see their treasured icons whenever they wished, with the entrance fee being used to ensure the upkeep of the monuments.
CON: Creating a neo-Confederate shrine?
Relocating Confederate statues to a central location has one massive drawback. A Confederate Memento Park has the danger of becoming a neo-Confederate shrine. The Park could become a rallying point for white nationalists, the far right, and the most deplorable elements of American society, just like the Lee statue in Charlottesville. Memorials commonly become locations of performance, imbuing these monuments with divergent meanings from those envisioned at their creation. I fear that a Confederate Memento Park would become a mecca for the veneration and hero-worship of Confederates and the Confederacy, rather than sober reflection on the statues’ relationships with slavery, Jim Crow, and racial injustice.
General Lee looks out at Unite the Right protestors
‘Monuments are not fixed in time but are affected by the forces and agents of history’
PRO: Allowing for innovative exhibition?
Outside the entrance to Memento Park loom Joseph Stalin’s boots. This replica pays homage to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, in which anti-Soviet protestors toppled a statue of Stalin and left only his boots. The boots serve as a potent and innovative symbol reflecting how memorials are sites of contest, agency, and change. A Confederate Memento Park could similarly allow for innovative exhibition, demonstrating how Confederate monuments are not fixed in time but are affected by the forces and agents of history.
Standing in the shadow of Stalin’s boots
I propose having a ‘tagged’ statue at the entrance of any Confederate Memento Park. Many activists have begun tagging Confederate monuments, visually denouncing them as racist and forever altering the memorial landscape. For example, Silent Sam – a controversial monument on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus – has been spray-painted with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’and has been covered in red paint and human blood. By exhibiting statues in this transformed state, a Confederate Memento Park would provoke conversations about the contested nature of historical iconography, alongside affording a voice to the very groups and individuals the statues originally sought to silence.
Silent Sam adorned with a banner of protest
CON: Commercialisation and Commodification?
At Memento Park you can purchase many Communist-based items including postcards, posters, and CDs. By selling Soviet-era propaganda as trinkets, much like the Communist paraphernalia you can buy on the streets of Berlin, the horrors of Soviet Communism are minimised and trivialised. This dangerous commercialisation of history could easily be replicated at a Confederate Memento Park. The idea of selling items valorising the Confederate cause strikes me as grossly irresponsible. Imagine peddling a t-shirt with the slaver trader, turned Confederate cavalryman, turned Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest on! Commodified history is sanitised history and the history of the Confederacy is far too important, disputed, and relevant to be sanitised.
A Communist-based street stall in Berlin
There are of course many practical concerns too. Which statues would be included/excluded? Where would the money come from? Where would the park be? How big would the park be? These practical concerns should not dilute the fruitful debate about the principle of a Confederate Memento Park, however.
The United States today lives in the shadow of the Confederacy, just as Hungary lives in the shadow of Communism. Alongside the social, political, and economic legacies of slavery and the Civil War – which are at the root of racial inequality in America – the physical legacy of the Confederacy dominates the nation’s memorial landscape. In Budapest, Memento Park serves as an inventive yet complicated way of reckoning with the monumental legacy of a troubled past. As Americans of all political predilections contest the meaning of America’s history and historical monuments, it is worthwhile asking – why not a Confederate Memento Park? Maybe one day Jefferson Davis and Silent Sam will be staring back at me as I wander round a statue park, rather than Vladimir Lenin or Friedrich Engels.
Tim Galsworthy will be starting a PhD in History at the University of Sussex in September 2018. His research will explore American Civil War memory and the Twentieth Century Republican Party.
Image 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_Army_soldier_statue,_Memento_Park.JPG
Image 2: https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/charlottesville-protest-confederate-statue-taken-down-what-to-do-a7892856.html
Image 3: Tim Galsworthy
Image 4: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MJK49379_Silent_Sam.jpg
Image 5: http://www.thetouristin.com/2015/11/berlin-6-museums-that-teach-tourists.html