Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Sunday in a cemetery

Those of you who know me well will realise that I have for some time had an interest in cemeteries. As well as being a former guide around Sheffield's General Cemetery I have dragged partners and friends around various Parisian cemeteries, standing silently before monuments to Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Abelard and Heloise, amongst others.

So those long-suffering people will not be surprised to know that I made my way last weekend to one of Budapest's most important cemeteries, the Kerepesi.

It's probably unfair to compare the monuments in Sheffield's General Cemetery with those in a capital city, but I was struck by the magnificence of several of the memorials in the Kerepesi. But this was probably not surprising, given the way people here celebrate many of their national heroes.

What was particularly interesting was the distribution of memorials. In a prominent place, one of the first things you see when entering are the graves of the party officials who died in 1956, and nearby is the Pantheon of the Working Class Movement, an enormous Soviet-style monument to leaders and martyrs who "lived for communism and the people. It features the characteristic socialist-realist style that was so popular, but which now looks vaguely sinister and caricaturised (if there is such a word).

Next to this is the admittedly simple grave of Janos Kadar, who led the country from 1956 until 1988. He created the slightly more liberal brand of communism that led to Hungary being the West's favourite communist country. As you can see from the photograph, he still has many admirers.

Further into the cemetery are two Art Nouveau funerary arcades, decorated with golden mosaics and containing a fine selection of memorial statues.

Nearby I found the memorial to Jozsef Antall who was the first leader after the 'Transition' of 1989, as it is called. The memorial symbolically shows half human-half horse figures trying to break clear of a sheet.

One of the largest monuments in the cemetery is to Lajos Kossuth, a key figure in Hungarian politics around the time of the 1848 revolution. Next to him, to show their importance to the state in a later period, is an arc of uniform black marble tombstones bearing a single star, marking important ministers of the Soviet-era.

My final visit was perhaps the most moving, to the area with memorials to those people who died opposing the Soviet occupation in 1956. This definitely had an air of being recently created or at least renovated.

So a trip around the Kerepesi provided me with a chance to learn a little more about recent Hungarian history and to reflect on the ebbs and flows of ideologies that the country has lived through in the last 200 years.

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