ON 31 OCTOBER 1956, protesters in Budapest’s City Park carve out pieces of metal from the head of a statue of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that they toppled during the Hungarian Revolution. The eight-metre-tall bronze statue was created by the sculptor Sándor Mikus, who won a design competition announced on Stalin’s seventieth birthday, in 1949, months after the Hungarian People’s Republic was created. It was unveiled in December 1951 before a crowd of eighty thousand people.
The statue was controversial, partly because many believed it had been created out of bronze obtained by melting down statues of Hungarian national heroes that had been damaged during the Second World War or dismantled for political reasons. In February 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced the cult of personality that had grown around him. In Poland, the dissemination of Khrushchev’s speech, as well as an insurrection in Poznań that June, contributed to a de-Stalinisation process in October 1956. While organising a protest in solidarity with the Polish people, Hungarian students included the removal of the Stalin statue in their list of demands.
The protest, on 23 October, was attended by over a hundred thousand people in Budapest. As the chairman of the council of ministers, Imre Nagy, tried to pacify a large group that had gathered at the parliament building, a large crowd marched to the City Park. As some people used blowtorches to cut the legs, others attached winch cables to the neck and, using several trucks, eventually toppled the statue. It was cut into several pieces, which protesters took home as souvenirs. Someone placed a Hungarian flag in the empty boots on the pedestal. The head remained in the street for days, with insults scribbled onto it and a “no through road” sign rammed through its nose.