Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hungarian sculptor Istvan Mate's bronze Ronald Reagan unveiled as Facebook-inspired protest fizzles

Detail of Istvan Mate's statue of Ronald Reagan in Budapest. Photo by Stefan van Drake (2011)

29 June 2011. Freedom Square, Budapest, Hungary

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan took his first steps in Budapest on 29 June 100 years after his birth.

It was pomp and political circumstance, a GOP (U.S. Republican Party) junket that proceeded without incident as only nine people showed up for what was billed as a protest by Hungarian leftists.

Caught permanently in mid-stride, the bigger than life bronze likeness of Reagan by Hungarian master sculptor Istvan Mate weighs 400 pounds and stretches to 2.18 meters (7 ft. 2 in.).

The 40th U.S. president enjoyed a warm reception by Hungary's ruling elite, notably by its Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, a conservative who commands a majority in parliament.

"Walking with Reagan" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

Orban joined former U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, ex-U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese (age 79) and current Republican House majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

Each cast Reagan as the Cold Warrior who liberated Hungary from Soviet communism,  a beacon of world freedom.

Condolezza Rice, center, flanked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right). Photograph by Stefan van Drake 

If you believed everything you heard at Reagan's unveiling, Reagan single-handedly collapsed the Iron Curtain.

As though Gorbachev was merely an American aparchik having little or no role in the USSR's implosion.

"Tear Down This Wall" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

But those in power re-write history and the ceremony did nothing to dispel this axiom.

"I thought I would never see Reagan wearing a burka," one visiting American told me, noting Reagan's statue shrouded in a white sheet.

Tight security prevailed as Viktor Orban spoke. Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

When the bronze Reagan was unveiled, I could only see the back of his head facing the Soviet memorial located about 70 meters away, which recognizes the Red Army's role in liberating Hungary from Nazi occupation, the only Soviet-era monument remaining in Budapest.

The 40th U.S. president appears walking to the Soviet WWII memorial monument. Photograph by Stefan van Drake 
The others, removed after the Soviets departed Hungary, are sequestered in a tourist attraction called "Memento Park."

Hungarian honor guard, its band along with a handful of U.S. Embassy Marines managed to block nearly all sight lines to the politicos.

"Pomp and Politics" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

Instead, the crowd of about 300 onlookers viewed two huge video screens seeing and hearing speakers extoll the virtues of Reagan, including a 10-minute video summary of his life and times in English (no Hungarian sub-titles), featuring his famous sound bite: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

Two Hungarians, well placed and likely on the government's payroll, waved American flag in rhythmic unison as Orban, Rice, Meese and McCarthy spoke.

"Striking the Set" Photograph by Stefan van Drake (2011)

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™

After nearly two weeks living at the 3.5-star Hotel Queen Mary in the center of Budapest's 7th District (Jewish Quarter), I heartily recommend it: old on the outside, otherwise totally modern; it's an extremely excellent value. (I'm not getting a discount for's my idea because it is what it is.)
The owner and staff are great and speak English and German. Tel: 0036-1-413-3510;;
There's a generous buffet breakfast that comes with the room, and everything in Budapest is close to you.

Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. See: and

"Spanish life stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

ArtTraveler´s video: an interview with Scottish illustrator and painter, Gordon Wilson, about his new "I Love Fish" exhibition, inspired by a commissioned mural he did 12 years ago for a West Glasgow gangster, who loved supporting writers and artists as well as organized crime.

You may reach me at or by calling (34) 915 067 703 or from the UK at BT landline rates, 0844 774 8349

No comments:

Post a Comment