History is written by the victors. We need to learn what the vanquished might have done, had they prevailed.
We still remember the statue of Saddam Hussein as it teetered, tipped and crashed to the ground amidst great jubilation. This was in 2003 and was supposed to celebrate Iraq’s liberation by American forces. It did not quite turn out that way…but the statue is gone.
In Ukraine, after President Yanukovich was defeated in 2015 and fled to Russia, the Ukrainians got busy removing 1,329 statues of Lenin, arm extended toward a glorious proletarian future. They wanted to be rid of all Soviet symbols. Even so, many such statues are still alive and well in Eastern Ukraine.
Another controversy erupted over the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky in Lubyanka Square in Moscow. Dzherzhinsky was the founder of the KGB. The monument was removed and restored several times, and a replica of the statue now resides in the city of Minsk in Belarus.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, a big housecleaning of communist life and art occurred. Fortunately for historians, the Moscow Metro underground system escaped this purge and remains intact. The stations are lavishly decorated with murals of historical events statues, bas reliefs and Communist-era paintings. It is a huge underground museum.
There was no such housecleaning in China. There the ubiquitous statues of Mao are still standing in their original places.
In Budapest, Hungary the government built a shrine called Memento Park in which reside 40 statues from the time when the country was a Soviet satellite. Similarly, when Lithuania was liberated from the Soviet Bloc and regained its independence in 1991, it opened Gruntas Park to house hundreds of sculptures of Soviet leaders. The Park was made to resemble a Russian Prison with guard towers to represent oppression.
In France, Marechal Petain was the great hero of Verdun during World War I. And then in a stunning about face he became the leader of the Vichy-Occupied French Government after the fall of France during World War II. The hero turned into a traitor. After liberation of France from the Nazis, all the streets named for him acquired new names. Petain was lucky to avoid being shot like his prime minister, Pierre Laval.
And so to the United States, where we now have our own controversy over Confederate leaders’ statues.In Charlottesville, Virginia, violence erupted over plans to topple monuments to Confederate generals. In Austin, Texas, Robert E Lee’s statue was taken down. Similar battles are occurring in Gainesville, Florida and in Birmingham, Alabama where the mayor hid a confederate monument. And Tennessee is preparing to topple a monument to Nathan Bedford, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan.
Should we remove statues of hateful leaders and those that remind us of offensive events? Perhaps we should, but following the example of other countries, we could create spaces, museums, gardens where these pieces of our history could be gathered, housed and displayed along with information about their times and activities so they could be seen in their proper context. School children could visit to expand their understanding of our common history.
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