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Stalin world
Bialowieza (Poland), August 26th 2013

During Soviet times, many squares and parks in towns and villages in the Soviet Republics were ‘decorated’ with statues of communistic comrades. This also happened in Lithuania. Statues of Lenin, Stalin, but also local communistic heroes, looked down at the oppressed Lithuanians. The often powerful way of sculpture art had a mainly propagandistic character. But at the end it wasn’t enough. When the Soviet Union fell apart, the sculptures fell with it. Many of the statues were torn down by people and destroyed. But many of them survived the iconoclasm and were taken away by the government, which stored them in a depot.

The big question was what to do with the statues. The probably easiest and most logical solution was to destroy them, because most people had horrific associations with them. The statues were for many Lithuanians the tangible reminder of a long period of oppression and misery. But on the other hand, the sculptures are also a part of the history of the country, and should be preserved for this reason. The Lithuanian entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas, who made a fortune with the sale of canned mushrooms, bought the statues from the government, with the idea to make an amusement park around it. And believe it or not … it worked and even increased his fortune.

Typical Soviet sculpture art

Under the name Grutas Park, near the spa resort town Druskininkai, in the south of Lithuania, Malinauskas opened a park in his private estate in where the statues are put down. But Malinauskas is a smart entrepreneur and realized that the statues alone wouldn’t bring him the fortune. The park needed to be a tourist destination for the whole family. So what do you do? Indeed, you also make a playground and mini-zoo in the park, complete with tropical birds and emu’s. Besides that, the ground also has a museum, a restaurant and a couple of souvenir shops. All in all a bizarre tourist attraction.

But if mister Malinauskas would have had the free hand, he would have made it even more bizarre. He is of the opinion that the park would even attract more visitors if Grutas Park would have an attraction in where you could get a gulag experience. Gulag is a word from the Russian language and the word refers to the labor and purification camps used by Stalin’s regime to get rid of the communistic regime’s opponents. In a period of a couple of decades, around 18 million people were sent to the gulag and almost 3 million people died in it. People from Lithuania who were sent to the gulag, were transported in railway cattle carriages without any sanitary equipment. The journey sometimes took around a month, and a significant number of people died during the transport. Malinauskas had the idea to make an attraction that would give the visitor a real ‘gulag transport experience’, complete with a cattle carriage ride. But the local government didn’t give him permission to go ahead with his plans.

The regime is there for the people ... at least that was the message

If you are in the area of Druskininkai, it is absolutely worth it to visit the park. Try to visit in the weekend, because it gives you the chance to see how the local tourists experience the park. Families with young children roam the park and it is no exception to see young children posing with Lenin or Stalin while their dad is making a picture. It is also a strange experience to visit one of the few souvenir shops where you can buy mugs or small spirit glasses with a portrait of Stalin on it. Can you imagine that you buy a mug with the portrait on it of somebody who is accountable of the death of millions? In Grutas Park, aka Stalin World, it is. Bizarre but true.

Lenin shows the way
Lenin and Stalin on a painting in the museum of Grutas Park
Powerful Soviet art
Joseph Stalin
The regime's heroe ... the soldier

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