By Diego Franco
“Monuments are the grappling irons that bind one generation to another.”
– Joseph Joubert
Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro); Michael Jordan (Chicago); Abraham Lincoln (Washington D.C) – The statues a country has on display are synonomous with the ideals and history they want to identify with. Essentially, monuments are artworks that serve as inanimate ambassadors to their visitors and citizens, explaing the country’s past. Major political shifts often see a change in national monuments to become more in line with the regime in power.
A divisive issue that has recently been at the forefront of American politics is the question of what to do with Civil War monuments glorifying the Confederate troops. Some say that removing Confederate monuments would be detrimental to both American history and Southern heritage. Others argue that they should be kept up as a living reminder to the United States’ past as a divided nation. But much like the argument against waving the “Stars and Bars” of the Confederate flag (which will be discussed later), it is clear that the monuments are relevant to what American society is today.
Statues from the public and placing them in a monument park, would be the best solution. How the message is displayed is important. These figures should not be glorified because of the terrible acts they have committed aganst enslaved peoples and other Americans. I cannot speak from personal experience but there are currently Confederate and Civil war museums in Louisiana, Virginia, and South Carolina. In an issue like this, it is important that the past must not be altered to appease political interests. A misrepresentation of history can prove to be a slippery slope.
Hungary is a country currently being torn by historical representation, with the current government minimizing the country’s historical role in the Holocaust. Recently visiting Budapest and seeing the monuments of both the past and the present, it was interesting to see the public opinion on this matter.
What could be a more important symbol of national identity than a monument? A flag. For years, I have been fascianated by flags and how the blocks of color on cloth can represent an entity and identity, just as a last name can represent a family. Society places a lot of importance on the flag that represents it. The Hungarian government has two flags displayed outside of its parliamentary building: the Hungarian flag and the Székely flag, showing solidarity for the Hungarian population living in Romania. Many would see this as a a divisive gesture, against both Romania and the European Union. This is because the Hungarians are reverting to an outdated dispute between them and Romania over possession of Transylvanian grounds which were issued to Romania in the Treaty of Trianon, making settled Hungarians a new minority in Romania which remians to this day. Seeing as both Romania and Hungary are members of the EU, there were strides toward improvement in relations until the recent rise of right wing nationalism within the Hungarian government. Rather than promoting a Europe that refrains from war and conflict, this could be seen as an unnecessary act which should force the EU into action. Also showing their disaproval toward the European Union, the EU flag is missing from the scenic display of the parliament building in Budapest.
The US faces the issue of allowing Confederate flags to fly as a symbol of free speech as opposed to hate speech. Many people today still support the right to wave the Confederate flag. This is when the lines become more blurred than in the argument against the monuments. What is the US government supposed to do about those who want to exercise their right to unfurl a Confederate, or even a Nazi flag? Where do we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Over the years since the end of World War II, Nazi symbolism has become illegal in Germany. Since that hasn’t stopped a recent resurgence of far-right politics in Germany, why would it end racism in America? It is a difficult issue to address, because a flag is only something that has power because people give it power. Perhaps it is not hate speech and people are just ignorant of the history of the flag they wave so proudly. It is the choice of society to take power away from symbols of hatred through education and careful recollection of memory.