When monuments have a break

During the Communist rule, the public space of Bucharest was shaped by totalitarian urbanism and architecture, by social engineering techniques, political police surveillance and propaganda. After 1989 the prevailing feeling of freedom was soon replaced with the bitter sarcasm and the sense of uselessness given by the ups and downs of the transition period. The riots of the miners in the 1990 showed that the power of street movements may just as well be liberating, or just be a reason for further political and social instability.

Also that year, the statue of Lenin placed by the Communist party in front of the Casa Scanteii, the national printing house, was removed and put in storage near the palace in Mogosoaia. Maybe it is interesting to note that it had been cast from the bronze of another statue, that of  Charles the Ist, the first king of Romania in the XIXth century. Other objects and state emblems related to the former Communist state were removed from official buildings, factories and schools.

The former pedestal of the statue of  I.L.Caragiale
in front of the National Theatre, photo by Elena Ciobanu

Collective memory goes to the warehouse

It is somewhat curious to observe that a long time after the generalized anti-Communist feelings of the Revolution of 1989 had died out, in 2004, a series of other Communism related objects were starting to be removed. It is the case of the statue of the peasant revolt of 1907, placed near Piata Obor. It had been erected in 1972, being built by the sculptor Naum Corcescu, and had been a landmark of that part of the city for 32 years, before being demolished in 2004 and placed in storage.

The mair of the second sector of the city decided to build a new mairy on the location, and we have reasons to believe that he did not intend to watch the 15m high statue poke through his office window. The statue still exists in the warehouses of the Administration of the Public Domains, and it is said that it will be placed in a future Park of Totalitarianism, similar to the one in Budapest, but this information has not been confirmed by any concrete action or plan on the part of the mairy.

Building the Orthodox, anti-Communist nation

During the same year, the minister of culture, Razvan Theodorescu, decided that the Memorial for the Heroes of Communism from Carol Park was to be demolished in order to build the Cathedral of the Redemption of the Nation on that location. A civil rights foundation, along with the former mair of the city, Basescu, now the president of Romania, sued the minister for his decision and won the trial. The Mausoleum was only partially destroyed, but it was not moved to Tineretului Park, where the Park of Totalitarianism was to be built.

Hating your own past

The government in office at that time was believed to be the follower or the Communist party, its continuator in times of change and freedom. If this is in any way true, it is strange to see that a post-Communist administration strongly linked to the heritage of Communism would consciously destroy the objects that constituted the heritage of its most prized images.

Nevertheless, we might conclude this to be normal, if we come to think of the relationship with the past that the Communist party had, a relationship that basically meant erasing the past in order to build a new reality. Considered in these terms, the removal of these monuments may be considered a tradition linked to a way of thinking deeply rooted in the mind frame of the administration of that time.

The spike with a potato on top

In 2004 a new monument dedicated to the glory of the heroes of the Revolution of 1989 was built, costing a dazzling 3,6 million dollars. It received very bad reviews from the media and from a wide range of architects, city planners, artists and other specialists. The population nicknamed the monument, giving it ridiculous names. In 2006 the mairy decided that this already very expensive monument should receive further financial attention in the form of the payment for its demolition. It is known that it will be dismantled and placed in storage this summer.

The Monument of the Heroes of the
Revolution of 1989, photo by Elena Ciobanu

Illegal statue placement

To make the point of monument mobility even clearer, let us have a look at the case of the statue of the playwright I.L. Caragiale. It used to stand in the front garden of the Cartea Romaneasca publishing house in Bucharest. It had been created by sculptor Constantin Baraski in 1957, and at first the head of the statue was that of Lenin.

The statue of I.L. Caragiale, back in its former
place in Maria Rosetti Street, photo by Elena Ciobanu

Later on, the sculptor chose another head, and consequently another identity for his statue. When the building of the publisher was reclaimed, the statue moved near the memorial house of the writer, on Maria Rosetti Street. In the year 2002, the head of the National Theater of Bucharest at that time decided he wanted to have the statue placed in front of the theater.

He then spoke to the same mair who demolished a statue in order to have space for his mairy, and the next day I.L. Caragiale was standing in front of the National Theater. And then, a few months ago, the statue was detached from its base and placed back where it had already been once, on Maria Rosetti Street. 

Images of power

As it is already quite visible, monuments do not enjoy a great deal of stability in the public space of the city. Although they should remind us of the idea of eternity, and although they are meant to be symbols of the past that we carry with us into the future, they seem to disappear very quickly from view, having a very short lifespan.

The identity their suggestive images attempt to build is subject to changes imposed by the administration. Public space is shaped by an administration that implements its ideas of change in a unilateral movement from the top of the social and hierarchical scale to its bottom. And when these images do not correctly portray the opinions of the political power or stand in the way of its interests, they are quickly removed, showing that democratic debate on issues of public concern is far from being the norm.

At the end of the day the inhabitants of the city receive these changes and have to live with them. In none of the stages of planning, building and so on are they consulted on these matters. Protest or resignation are the only two options left in this case. 


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