This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
VATSIS: [via a translator] This is fun. We heard about this park on TV and decided to come and spend a day here. It’s our history. We can’t just let it go.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, a communist-style theme park, and Hungary’s music craze.
[sound of fast-paced ethnic Hungarian music]
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Vladimir Putin’s new Russia in some ways still resembles the old Soviet-era Russia. For example, Russia’s new national anthem is the old Soviet music.
PORTER: And this nostalgia for Soviet symbolism reaches beyond Russia’s borders. In Lithuania, one of the Baltic states formerly ruled by Moscow, one man is portraying his communist past in a very unusual way. Common Ground Correspondent Anya Ardayeva reports.
[sound of Russian music]
ANYA ARDAYEVA: It has been 10 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, but in the corner of Lithuania stirring Soviet music still echoes through the pine tree forests, where a Soviet-style theme park known as Stalinworld recently opened in the outskirts of the popular resort of Druskinnenkai. Here, one can find virtually everything the ordinary theme park would have: a kids’ playground, information center, gift shop, and a restaurant. There is even a small zoo with pigs, wild boar, and fowls. But along with ordinary entertainment the main attractions are rather more unusual. Visitors find themselves surrounded by more than 60 bronze and stone figures of Stalin, Lenin, and other prominent Communist leaders, some up to nine meters tall and weighing up to 70 tons. Vilumas Malinauskas, the owner of the park.
VILUMAS MALINAUSKAS: [via a translator] In 1999 we started transporting the statues here from all over Lithuania. And see what’s here now.
ARDAYEVA: But that’s not all. To complete the feeling of being in a Communist heaven there is also Soviet music, barbed wire, and labor camp guard towers, all built in memory of 50 years of Soviet rule in Lithuania.
[Stirring Soviet music]
ARDAYEVA: Lithuania fell under the Communist control in the late ‘30s and only became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Under the Soviets nearly a third of Lithuania’s entire population was deported and died in Siberian labor camps. Almost every family was directly affected and every third adult Lithuanian suffered from repression one way or another. Of those who were sent to Russia’s northern camps and did return, many of them died soon afterwards. Tens of thousands also perished during the party’s own war against both the Communist regime and the Nazis.
Lithuania regained its independence only ten years ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And now the stone figures which were once angrily swept off city streets are back, but in a different place and with a very different mission.
MALINAUSKAS: [via a translator] They are here to remind people about our history, about our fathers. It’s our history, so it shouldn’t be forgotten.
[a phone rings and is answered]
ARDAYEVA: Fifty-nine-year-old Vilumas Malinauskas, the owner of the park, could be described as a typical post-Soviet entrepreneur. After serving in the Soviet army he became a top-ranking heavyweight wrestler and then managed a collective farm where his idea to breed peacocks did not gain enough enthusiasm from conservative Communist Party leaders. After the collapse of the Soviet system Malinauskas left the farm and started his mushroom business. Along with owning the history park he is now Lithuania’s leading exporter of fresh and pickled fungi. Known locally as “the mushroom king,” Malinauskas says his original idea was to build a park showing the entire history of Lithuania, starting from ancient times to the modern history. But then, after spotting some abandoned monuments in the backyard of a museum in the nation’s capital, he decided to focus on the Soviet era.
Since 1999 Malinauskas has been gathering exhibits for Stalinworld from all over the place, transporting them by trucks to Druskinnenkai. Two years ago some of the statues were given to him by the Lithuanian government, which supported the project. There are 64 statues now in the park and the heaviest, which depicts a group of Soviet soldiers, weighs 47 tons. Each of the statues occupies a small part of a thick pine tree forest, which is led through by a narrow wooden walkway.
[sound of Malinauskas talking in the background]
ARDAYEVA: Pointing at a four-meter tall bronze sculpture of Vladimir Lenin, Malinauskas says some of the statues were sometimes so badly damaged by anti-Communists he and his assistants had to reassemble them piece by piece.
MALINAUSKAS: [via a translator] This Lenin statue made by a Russian sculptor was taken off the capital city main square. Its feet were cut off and someone has chopped off one of its fingers, which were never found. Now it’s here together with its smaller analogs.
ARDAYEVA: His other plans include a Soviet-era picture gallery, as well as special guides dressed as Red Army soldiers, who would herd the visitors into a reception center. Hundreds of people are streaming through the park’s gates every day. They’re walking past a large green Soviet locomotive. One of Malinauskas’ ideas was to renovate a railway track marked with the names of infamous Siberian labor camps and which would have led all the way to the country’s capital city of Vilnius. There visitors would have been accompanied by uniformed KGB men into replicas of the cattle trucks which were once used to take Lithuanians to the labor camps, and them take them right into the park’s information center. However, these plans had to be scaled down as a result of widespread outrage from the country’s nationalists, who said the idea was immoral. Still, Malinauskas says he intends to add more entertainment to his park, as well as bring more statues there.
Malinauskas: [via a translator] We plan to bring more statues here. One Stalin monument we know of lies on the bottom of the lake. And I’m thinking of ways to lift it up.
ARDAYEVA: So far Malinauskas says he has spent more than a million dollars on the project, draining 200 hectares of swamp and transporting the statues, and plans to spend another $250,000 to shape the place up. That said, he has already received almost 200,000 visitors, each paying a little more than one dollar for a ticket, and hopes to eventually attract 2,000,000 people a year.
[sound of several people talking at once in Lithuanian or Russian]
ARDAYEVA: Birute Veriatouiene, the guide of the park’s small, but colorful museum, says it’s never too quiet in the Stalinworld, no matter what the weather is. Coach parties, including school groups, arrive every day to take a look at the park’s exhibition, which includes 12 Lenin monuments, one Stalin statue, and numerous photos, propaganda books, and other symbols of the Soviet era.
Birute Veriatouiene: [via a translator] Visitors arrive from Russia, Lithuania, and all over the world. Some people come here to recall their country’s history; kids come here to study it. Old people look at the pictures, old books, and newspapers; the younger generation are more interested in Soviet money, banners, and paintings.
ARDAYEVA: But according to the guide, people do not come here only to watch.
Veriatouiene: [via a translator] Our exhibits come from all possible sources. Sometimes we buy them, but most of them have [been] brought by people who also want to put their effort into this place.
ARDAYEVA: The idea to create a Soviet-style theme park has attracted some criticism from nationalists, led by a loose coalition of religious and political groups. They accuse Malinauskas of making money out of peoples’ grief and fueling nostalgia for the Soviet era. Almost 30 members of the Lithuanian Parliament opposed the opening of the park, saying it was in poor taste and offensive to those who died in the camps. However, the Stalinworld visitors I spoke with have a totally different opinion.
STALINWORLD VISITOR: [via a translator]: This park is our pride. I am proud that there is a guy in Lithuania who has spent his own money to create something like this.
ARDAYEVA: Thirty-two-year-old Vatsis and his wife came here from the country’s capital of Vilnius, which is about 100 kilometers away, to mark their one-year wedding anniversary.
VATSIS: [via a translator] This is fun. We heard about this park on TV and decided to come and spend a day here. It’s our history. We can’t just let it go. And it’s fun to remember how things were back then.
ARDAYEVA: Some critics say the mix of scary historic past with something like Disney World is a bit cynical. However, Vatsis insists that after so many years of tyrAnya and political battles, it is the only way to make a place like that work.
VATSIS: [via a translator] If this wasn’t made in the way of entertainment it wouldn’t be interesting. We are tired of political hassle. We simply want to leave work, come here to remember how it was back then, and then go home and sleep.
ARDAYEVA: Vatsis says that once he has children he will bring them to the park to show them what life was like when he was a kid.
VATSIS: [via a translator] I would tell them I was a pioneer too, and I also marched on May Days, Victory parades, and so on. It was fun but I don’t think I want these times back. No.
[sound of a few people chanting Soviet-era slogans]
ARDAYEVA: Others, like 39-year-old Seimas, say they do feel a little nostalgia for some moments of the Soviet era, and Stalinworld is a good reminder of the good times in their lives.
SEIMAS: [via a translator] This place is better than I thought. I like to come to this place because I can touch history here. I was a pioneer, too, and I can’t say I was taught bad things or had bad childhood. Not at all. And even though they say our past is all bad, we have to know it.
ARDAYEVA: And there are, of course, visitors like 69-year-old Valdis, who say they come here to mourn.
VALDIS: [via a translator] This is scary. Of course, it’s all in the past now. But still, my family has been through all this nightmare and I’m the only one who’s left. So I come here to think of those who didn’t make it.
ARDAYEVA: Mr. Malinoskas’ idea to memorialize the tyranny of Soviet rule also comes from his family’s tragic past. His father and his uncle, both Lithuanian police officers, were charged with anti-Soviet activities and sent to Siberia. His uncle died in the camp and his father, broken by ten years of hard labor, perished soon after returning home. And while his father was away the family existed on several dollars a month earned by his mother, and two bags of wheat they were given by the government each fall. However, Malinoskas says he’d like his park to be more of an entertainment and learning site, rather than a place to grieve.
MALINAUSKAS: [via a translator] I sometimes see adult people playing at kids’ playgrounds and having fun, and I think that’s normal. We can’t cry all the time. There should be a proper time for everything.
ARDAYEVA: Still, he says, the history park has another important mission. Stalinworld, according to Malinoskas, is his gift to future generations: an attempt to remind them of Lithuania’s history under Soviet domination. And thereby to ensure that nothing like that ever happens here again.
MALINAUSKAS: [via a translator] People come to me, call me, and I am pleased that the majority thinks it’s great that this park will be left for future generations. You know, destroying something is easy. That’s what the Soviets did when they came into power. I think we shouldn’t act like the Communists who destroyed everything. We shouldn’t act like barbarians.
[sound of stirring Soviet music]
ARDAYEVA: Whatever the objections his critics may voice to Malinauskas’ creation, one thing is evident: for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet system, people of the former Communist empire are now paying money to see something they have so fiercely rejected just a decade ago. Anya Ardeyva for Common Ground, Druskinnenkai, Lithuania.
MCHUGH: Hungary’s electronic music, next on Common Ground.
IMRE SZELES: DJ’s became like gods in the past five years in Hungary. They are, of course, they are artists. But, but they don’t create music themselves.
PORTER: DJ remix music, a special brand of electronic music with multi-cultural hip-hop sensibility, is all the rage in the US. Tunes by DJ-producer acts like Moby and Fat Boy Slim, are commonplace now on American Top 40 stations and highly desirable by advertising agencies.
MCHUGH: While electronic house and techno music may be relatively new to mainstream America, Europeans have been moving and grooving to it for years. As Common Ground Correspondent Drew Leifheit reports from Hungary, this new musical wave is putting a completely different spin on what people are listening to.
[an old recording plays a slower tempo jazz/big band piece, which then is blended with turntable scratches and techno dance music]
DREW LEIFHEIT: Ten years ago it might have been difficult to believe that this tune was produced by a teenager from a tiny village in the Hungarian countryside. The track features turntable scratches, samples of old French recordings, and a few acoustic instruments, all held together by a hypnotic programmed beat.
[the recording continues to play in the background]
LEIFHEIT: Known as Yonderboi, Laszlo Fogarasi released his debut album last year to great national and international acclaim. Laszlo Szell, whose record company represents Yonderboi, says the young producer is now a star in Holland and Great Britain. Yonderboi’s music, he says, is heavily influenced by the sensibilities of contemporary African-American music, but it’s still something different.
LASZLO SZELL: He’s going for an unusual combination. If you listen to his music you will realize that basically speaking it is hip-hop. It is hip-hop. Listen to the grooves. Listen to the beats. It has nothing to do with rock-and-roll. Hip-hop is maybe his greatest love in musical terms. And he’s going for a never been released combination of things. This is why some American hip-hop producers have been giving very nice notes of respect.
LEIFHEIT: Yonderboi is one of a huge crop of DJ producers from around the world who are redefining the limits of both electronic and acoustic music. According to Imre Szeles, who produces a weekly TV show about electronic music, along with the perception that DJs are cool, high technology has spurred this movement.
IMRE SZELES: It’s also because of, you know, this computer age that we live. It’s so easy to make music with a computer. It’s just so, it’s so cheap.
LEIFHEIT: And the nature of high tech telecommunications has also exposed previously isolated people to a brave new world of musical influences: free, downloadable, MP3 music files. Laszlo Szell says that even though his client, Yonderboi, has moved to more cosmopolitan Budapest, today it doesn’t matter where a musician lives as long as they’re hooked up electronically to the rest of the world.
SZELL: Yonderboi has been asked a couple of times, “Don’t you feel hindered by your living here? Don’t you want, don’t you think that if you want to get more international you have to relocate: London, New York, Tokyo? And he says, “No way. I think about relocating to my village, ‘cause I don’t, I don’t have to go to Tokyo to be international today.”
LEIFHEIT: Even on a local level the music of DJ-producers is all the rage. Just check out West Balkan, an open air nightclub located on a former industrial site in Budapest. Some of the young people here, most in their early twenties, sit at a few scattered tables or make a picnic on a large green field below the main terrace.
[sound of techno dance music and a crowd at the West Balkan]
LEIFHEIT: But it’s the dance floor where things are really happening. A single mirror ball spins over a sea of about 150 people flailing about to a hyperkinetic brand of electronic dance music. Just behind the stage a small spotlight illuminates an older looking man with shortly cropped hair. Headphones on, he works intently behind a mixer and two turntables, twirling a vinyl record back and forth to find just the right point in the recording to unleash his next mix upon the crowd.
[sound of techno dance music and a crowd at the West Balkan]
LEIFHEIT: With regular gigs at home and abroad, 40-year-old Zsolt Palotai is one of Hungary’s most famous DJs. Although not a producer himself, Palotai says he loves to spin a brand of electronic music called “break beat,” because he likes its variety and complexity.
ZSOLT PALOTAI: Maybe in one tune there is everything what was before in the music. From the tap to jazz, house, breaks, even trends sounds. So what was before you heard in half an hour, like club or all kind of music, now maybe within three minutes, everything. And it’s just one tune, one song.
LEIFHEIT: The crowd likes it, too. DJ Palotai has whipped them up into a dancing frenzy. Flailing her long, blond Bohemian hair out on the dance floor, Agnes David says she came here specifically to here Palotai spin records. And she’s even downloaded some of his mixes from the Internet. Ms. David says she got into this brand of DJ music through her love of heavy metal bands like Corn, who incorporate DJs and programming into their sound.
AGNES DAVID: [via a translator] Corn has a ton of bass in it. So does drum and bass music. It’s all bass. I love this deep sound and this is the kind of stuff Palotai plays.
LEIFHEIT: And she says this type of music is perfect for dancing. Few can deny the popularity of the DJ phenomenon in Hungary. A quick glance at a free Budapest entertainment weekly is telling. On a recent Friday night, out of the 62 clubs featuring music, over two-thirds of them had DJs instead of live musicians. Just a few years ago, Budapest club-goers were more likely to bask in the sounds of live folk, jazz, or even blues. TV producer Imre Szeles says there are so many DJs in Hungary that he has no trouble finding new ones to feature in his weekly program.
SZELES: DJ’s became like gods in the past five years in Hungary. They are, of course, they are artists. But, but they don’t create music themselves. People grew up watching Music Television’s DJ names. Like everywhere all the time you can see videos from, from DJs. DJ this and DJ that. And it seems like an easy job. You just buy some records, put it on the turntable, and just mix them, and thousands of people love you. And it’s also, it attracts people I think that you are in the middle, you are the star of the night. People dance looking, you know, at you. It’s a new phenomenon as well.
LEIFHEIT: Still, Selecz says he has a hard time figuring out why record companies in Budapest haven’t seized specifically on the more eclectic brands of electronic music. But he thinks even underground music eventually becomes mainstream. Gabor Valyi is a DJ who also studies media and culture at a university in Budapest. He says not many can make a living at being a DJ, but for nightclubs having a DJ is more economical than hiring a whole band.
GABOR VALYI: I see these places. They are not really into paying for music. They don’t really even care if they play their own CDs all night, the same three CDs for a month. And if you want to DJ there you have to accept that they don’t care about your music. You go there with, determined, taking your record back. You don’t cost too much.
LEIFHEIT: While DJs may be cheaper than live bands, Valyi says the job is not just about standing behind turntables. Much of a DJ’s artistry, he says, starts with sifting through thousands of recordings in record stores.
VALYI: I think it’s, it’s your own from the very beginning, after you have enough music to select from. Because just by, even if you are not a big mixmaster I think the sequencing which the tracks come one after the other is my creative extra that I put to other people’s music. And also we are selecting music from the music history of the past 40 years. So it’s really like a librarian job.
[a selection of DJ-producer music and turntable scratches, followed by a conversation between DJs mixing a new piece of music]
LEIFHEIT: For a select few Hungarian DJs, the turntable takes on more of an instrumental role. Mark Javor, or “DJ Mongo,” steps behind his mixer, amp, and two turntables to show me what a DJ means when he’s “scratching.”
[the sound of turntable scratches]
LEIFHEIT: Placing his hand on the vinyl record, Javor jerks the disc back and forth, sometimes allowing the turntable’s motor to spin and play a specific sound. Simultaneously with his right hand the DJ clicks the fader control to regulate how much sound the turntable emits. Javor says just a handful of Hungarian DJs use scratching in their turntable antics. He explains that a couple of years ago a percussionist friend asked him if he’d like to scratch with a band that plays lively Balkan and Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms.
Mark Javor: [via a translator] I heard a couple of the tunes and they were really dynamic and ancestral. They were just like hip-hop but with different origins and I could relate to them. We’re really able to come up with great stuff because of the creative time signatures used to play Balkan music. When I first heard the stuff I was like, “What the heck is this?” But I find places in these tunes where I feel something is missing.
LEIFHEIT: DJ Mongo, along with a violinist, accordionist, saxophonist, and others, play together in the band Besh O’Drom, whose first recording came out late last year. Since then Javor and the band have been touring at home and abroad, spreading their special hybrid of live music and DJ sounds.
[more music from the band]
LEIFHEIT: TV producer Imry Selecz says that along with all the turntable wizardry, electronic music will continue to proliferate, but also influence live acoustic music like the stuff played by Besh O’Drom.
SELECZ: I see this new movement in Budapest. There are more and more bands, thank god, who can play live, who play electronic music but it’s live, with instruments. There are some labels, small labels, who have released records like this. Not too many, but there are some. But for example, the success of Yonderboi, who has been the most successful new act in Hungary, we have of his success, there are lots, lots more new names coming around.
LEIFHEIT: As for the future of scratching DJs, DJ Mongo says the sky’s the limit. One day, he says, he could imagine a turntable orchestra scratching in unison in the opulent Ferenc Liszt Music Academy here in Budapest. For Common Ground, I’m Drew Leifheit.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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