Monday, January 17, 2005

StalinWorld: "The Charms of Disneyland with the Worst of the Soviet Gulag"


City Paper reports on an unlikely theme park provoking laughter - and outrage - in Lithuania.

You may have thought Disneyland and Stalin- era mass deportations had nothing in common. They do now - thanks to enterprising Lithuanian Viliumas Malinauskas. The 60-year-old canned mushroom mogul recently opened an odd-ball park that mimics a Soviet prison camp. The facility - part amusement park - part open air museum - is circled by barbed wire and guard towers, and dotted with some 65 bronze and granite statues of former Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, and assorted communist VIPs.

Organizers say it’s the first and only Soviet theme park in the world. Officially, the 30-hectare complex is called the Soviet Sculpture Garden at Grutas Park. But residents of the nearby village of Grutas have dubbed it Stalin World—a name that’s stuck.

During a recent gala opening, thousands of invited guests were greeted at the gate by an actor dressed as Stalin; a Lenin look-a-like, complete with a goatee and cap, sat fishing by a nearby pond. Guests were invited to drink shots of vodka and eat cold borscht soup from tin bowls, while loud speakers blared old communist hymns. Nearby, red Soviet propaganda posters read: “There’s No Happier Youth in the World Than Soviet Youth!”

“It combines the charms of a Disneyland with the worst of the Soviet gulag prison camp,” Malinauskas told assembled journalists, including a handful from abroad who’d flown in to report on the bizarre spectacle.

The park was opened on April 1, April Fool’s Day, but it’s a dead serious venture. Malinauskas, considered one of the wealthiest men in Lithuania, launched his Stalin World project after he won a nationwide competition three years ago for rights to use Soviet-era statues that had been taken down from city squares following Lithuanian independence, and then mothballed.

Malinauskas argued that the fun-loving atmosphere around the park demonstrated Lithuanians had a healthy view of history and were finally putting the tragic Soviet past behind them. He added that he wants to develop the site, in which his Hesona mushroom company has invested some 1 million dollars, into a major tourist attraction.

Stalin World, with an admission price of about 2 dollars, also has a café, playground and small zoo.

Read the whole article here at City Paper's Baltic's Worldwide.

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