In Tallinn, there is a graveyard for Soviet-era statues behind the Estonian History Museum. After the fall of the USSR, Estonians didn’t want statues of Lenin peering down at them, so they tore them down. Some were destroyed, some were probably kept as mementos, and some ended up in the statue graveyard. There are similar spaces full of old Communist statues and busts in Russia, Hungary, and Lithuania.
Should other countries follow their example? Public spaces should surely be open for everyone in society, so what sort of message is sent by monuments venerating slavers and racists? At the same time, some argue we would be “erasing” history by removing controversial statues and street names. Some call instead for plaques and “context markers” to accompany problematic public monuments, to explain why they are controversial.
What about cases where people strongly disagree? Winston Churchill, for example, is venerated as a hero by most Brits for helping the UK resist the Nazi menace. However, critics argue his policies contributed to the 1943 Bengal famine, when up to 3 million people died from starvation. The prospect of street battles between people protecting statues and those who want to topple them is concerning, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.
How should Europe confront its past? Should controversial statues and street names be removed? Should plaques be added to put them into historical context? How should we decide which public monuments should go? And what happens if there is disagreement? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!