Monuments to the Past in a Leveling Wind

Early in the twentieth century, the Emperor Franz Joseph sponsored a monument to Hungary’s history – a Millennium Monument containing statues of the country’s heroes, as well as statues of the proud sponsor and his family (p. 5). When the communists took over in 1919, the statues of Franz Joseph and the rest of the Hapsburgs were dragged out of the Millennium Monument and replaced with more politically correct statuary (p. 8). Counterrevolutionaries, though, retook the country and reinstated the Hapsburg Statues in the Millennium Monument – until a later regime once again reshuffled the millennial display (pp. 9-10). Professor Sanford Levinson1 recounts the Eastern European “high comedy” of the Millennium Monument to illustrate how those in power use public space to inculcate desired political norms (p. 10). In Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies, Professor Levinson’s central concern is the effect multiculturalism has on the use of public space (p. 23). Levinson draws many of his examples from the American South, and he considers what is at stake in deciding which statues belong in public parks and what flags should fly over state capitols. The American situation, unlike the Hungarian one, is characterized more by its sheer number of perspectives than by radical shifts from one view to another (p. 24), and so the meaning of public monuments is often hotly debated.