The Hungarian government will be putting some of its communist history on the auction block in aid of the victims of the red sludge flood that killed 10 people, all the fish in the Marcal river and contaminated and destroyed vast swaths of western Hungary. The incoming government found the 230 sculptures, photographs and paintings squirreled away in various state offices and warehouses where they had been stashed after the fall of the communist regime in 1990. The collection includes busts and portraits of Lenin, Hungarian Party functionaries, socialist-realist paintings.
The items were found when Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s new conservative government took office in May. Orban was a founding member of the Fidesz (“Alliance of Young Democrats”) party and famously delivered a barn-burning speech on Budapest’s Heroes Square in 1989 demanding free elections and the removal of Soviet troops from the country.
Not surprisingly, his government is not big on preserving communist-era iconography. The Facebook page about the auction is called “Never Again!” and features an avatar of Lenin getting hit on the head with own symbolic hammer (but, alas, not getting decapitated with the sickle).
State Secretary Bence Retvari made that point explicit: “The state does not want to look after these communist relics anymore. We hope this will be the last time we see artifacts from the Communist system in public buildings.” That’s not quite accurate, unless they intend to cover up the monumental painting “The Workers’ State” by German Expressionist painter Aurel Bernath which was hidden from public view between 1990 and 2004 but is now on display again in a government building in Budapest.
Not everyone is so disparaging of communist-era art, though. There’s an outdoor museum in Budapest’s Memento Park which exhibits many of the large format statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin et al. Before the sludge avalanche, the government was discussing transferring the works to that museum.
Gallery owner Peter Pinter said he hoped the most valuable objects would go to a single bidder so “they could then be donated to a museum or public collection for exhibit.”
The auction pieces include a large, framed photo of Matyas Rakosi, the ruler who led a Stalinist-type regime between 1945 and 1956.
All revenues from the auction will go to Catholic charity Caritas to help people in the flood-affected area rebuild their lives.