The "cast" is a host of lumpy yesteryear figures and relics rounded up by the very "people" they were meant to represent after the "curtain" fell in 1989 and the abhorrent symbols were banished to a nondescript field on the edge of the city.

Before then, as we all know, these emblems were centre-stage symbols in everyday political life, and they remain a living memory for elder generations. Distance-wise, this bleak site on the outskirts of District XXII in western Buda may not be so far from the city centre, but in spirit it is a long way from the cultural niceties of present-day sunshine-filled Budapest, the dreamy River Duna and the new generations of tourists and locals alike.

The selected few socialist-era monuments still standing today at the Memento Park are a collection of menacing concrete, metallic and granite structures, with a sturdy superiority and robustness, looking down on the curious passers-by. Those were dark and harsh times of the past century, in particular during the tyrannical Rákosi era from 1949 to 1956 when poor standards of living for most finally gave way to the pent-up anger of the 1956 Uprising.

The revolt failed and the lengthy Kádár era followed, although it was a significantly "lighter" period and thus often referred to as "Goulash Communism", but in reality only a moderate thaw from Soviet communism. The one-party system and its use of state terror saw socialist "ideals" characterised by constant suspicion everywhere and fear of "enemies" within.

Everyone was a possible suspect in the tense atmosphere, and false charges ranging from general bad behaviour to espionage were common. Even those higher up the ranks could be sent off to remote, secretive detention camps or find themselves in one of the prison cells they once governed or before one of the firing squads they once commanded. This symbolic "dumping site", opened in 1993, means little other than history at best and oppression at worst. Although one of Budapest's main attractions, albeit irregular compared to the others, its curiosity value remains strong and surely will continue to draw in the crowds.

Naive tourists, sympathisers and "champagne socialists" alike happily pose for contrived selfies with Lenin and his chums. But for those who know better, it's a matter of a "realisation" for a failed system and educating oneself while there. With some trepidation, local people may also visit this mind-warp centre with their grandchildren and tell them of those times. They may offer grateful thanks that this threat-filled era has passed and the statues have been dispelled, although perhaps a slightly sympathetic undercurrent for past times still remains even today.

These rhetorical structures, built from the late 1940s onwards, were placed in vast quantities east of the former Iron Curtain, in public places everywhere. Although impressive and worth a visit, little more can be said about such decidedly unaesthetic pieces; it's really self-explanatory. Opposite the museum entrance, on a high platform similar to an altar, is a replica of Stalin's boots, recalling the eight-metre-tall bronze statue of him that stood briefly in Budapest until being pulled down by protestors in 1956.

Leading up to the museum entrance, once again propped above "all others" are two imposing Lenin and Marx ornaments. Could it be that they are now ironically "earning their keep" by reminding "those fools" approaching this museum "NOT to support this bourgeois enterprise"? For couldn't it be said that this outdoor attraction is a shameful venture itself, nothing other than capitalism and greed with its souvenirs and ice-cream? Aren't the opportunists behind the scenes also enemies of the people, becoming well-off at their expense?

With this in mind, one may feel a brief sense of remorse for the dictators now perched like pigeons on ledges and mortified in this way. But they are not to be pitied, as this is a small price to pay for bringing ruin everywhere they went, and for murdering many millions of people along the way. So when you arrive, overcome the bewildering presence of the "Big Three"' and purchase your entrance tickets willingly.

And so, let's view this venture as democracy over dictatorship, freedom over tyranny. Memento Park is not about communism, rather it's about the fall of communism. How could this project prevail otherwise?

As well as the statues there is a must-see one-hour black-and-white documentary put together recently to give a fascinating insight into the secret police training and activities of the time.

Finally, to get an idea about life back then with its complexities, absurdities and traumas of everyday communism, I recommend the cult classic 1969 film "A Tanú" ("The Witness"). This brilliant dark Hungarian comedy, although banned then, explains everything. And there is the Terror Háza (House of Terror) on Andrassy út for further insight into those oppressive times.

Next time I visit the park, thunder and lightning would be a real bonus!

For further information about this commendable museum, see www.mementopark.hu


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