Sibiu 2006. A removed saint.
Until now, much of my academic work has been on street names, statues and memorials, and the, mainly, postcommunist politics of memory mainly in the context of Budapest but also on London. In Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German, Nagyszeben in Hungarian) in Transylvania, Romania, I was fascinated by this statue, which had recently been removed from the main square, Piata Mare. The square had undergone a serious transformation shortly before the beginning of the 2007 European Cultural Capital year. Only sometimes memorials are stored somewhere after the removals.
This happened in Budapest after the WWII and the establishment of the new political order, the statues in the city were changed. Many of the removed memorials were stored in a farm. Their clandestine existence was ended, however, in the postcommunist period, when many of these statues were returned to the city, to cover the empty plinths which had hosted Soviet and socialist heroes.
The hidden saint in the backyard of a courtyard in Sibiu is a reminder of the changed political climate and the establishment of new discursive-ideological order. As a case of relocation rather than destruction it says something about the values of this new order and its readyness to deal with the past, even by hiding it in a near-by courtyard. The relocated saint also demonstrates how when taken out of its previous context and embedded in a new one, the hidden saint loses its previous meanings and reference points and gains new ones.
For instance, surrounded by walls, to the extent of giving an idea of someone imprisioned, the statue loses its aura of a hero overlooking a square gaining its power from its dimensions and monumentality. Reduced to the company of everyday objects, the wash-lines, the memorial becomes domesticates, forgotten.
This of course is the fate of many statues and memorials. Do we really notice them? Is there an encounter? And if we remove them, relocate them, do we realise them better. Do they appear in their absence?