Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Lithuania had a lot of leftover statues of former Communist leaders. To start, most of them were taken down and placed into storage. However, in 2001, one man, Viliumas Malinauskas — a “mushroom magnate” — requested that he be given 86 of the statues. That year, he used all of the statues to build Grūtas Park, a forested park in Lithuania that, among the statues of mostly dead Communists, also contains play grounds and a gift shop.
According to an article in The Economist about Grūtas Park in 2017, Malinauskas’ goal was to save these impressive works of art from a destiny of rusting into obscurity, but to simultaneously contextualize them in a way which reflects how they are currently understood by the Lithuanian population.
“Grutus Park remains an interesting example of how statues can be recontextualized,” the article reads. “As countries grapple with their unsavoury pasts and consider the rightful place of their controversial monuments, the park offers and alternative model to museums or destruction.”
Personally, I think Grūtas Park is a really good example of how the environment surrounding any kind of monument is often reflective of the attitude that the governing body holds towards the people, ideas, or events being depicted. In other words, statues of Josef Stalin have a significantly different connotation when they are placed in a different context.
However, as good of an analog for Confederate monuments as Grūtas Park could be, there is one glaring difference. Nearly everyone in Lithuania, at least in 2001, agreed that Soviet Communism had been a bad thing for their country. Remember, these statues were not taken from pedestals to this park. Originally, they were left to deteriorate because the people through their government had chosen to no longer venerate the Stalins and Lenins of their past. Many Americans, on the other hand, are still strongly pro-Confederacy. In turn, the government that represents those people — Alabama’s for instance — has not only not removed the monuments, but it has made it legally more difficult for local municipalities to get rid of their own.
Grūtas Park is a great example of how the historical and artistic value of statues can be venerated and appreciated far from the public eye of a town square. Simultaneously, it is also an example of how reaching that point of historic and contextual appreciation cannot be achieved until a large enough governing body agrees to no longer glorify the ideas expressed in those statues.