How developing democracies deal with their dictatorial pasts is crucial. Taiwan is undergoing such changes. A number of statues of the late dictator Chiang Kai-shek (
Chiang Kai-shek International Airport has been renamed Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The question of the rectification of other names is being dealt with.
Yes, change is in the air, but Taiwan has still not yet caught up with the rest of the world. One major statue of Chiang Kai-shek glaringly remains, the statue in Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. This statue and memorial name must go.
When visiting Budapest several years ago I was at first surprised and almost shocked to find that a tourist attraction, named Statue Park, had been created right outside the city.
There, all the statues of the Russian occupation had been gathered once Hungary became a democracy. To place row after row of these forced figures of Hungary's Russian Communist past in one place provided both an eerie, surrealistic and much more telling memorial of what Hungary had endured than any written account.
Similarly, above Budapest, the Liberty Statue monument prominently stands on Gellert Hill overlooking the city and the Danube River.
This monument too has received its own rectification -- a rectification of inscription.
Originally erected in 1947 by the conquering Russians, it used to bear the hypocritical inscription: "Erected by the Hungarian Nation in memory of the liberating Russian heroes." Some liberation!
The Hungarians quickly realized the destructive and oppressive nature of these heroes. In 1956 they rebelled and were severely put down.
It would be 1989 before the Hungarians finally got rid of their despotic past. At that point, they changed the inscription to reflect the reality of what they felt. It now reads, "To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom and success of Hungary."
This inscription goes beyond those who fought the Nazis in World War II and includes all who died under the Russian regime, particularly those who died during the 1956 Uprising.
Lithuania has dealt with its past in a different way; it created a mock Stalin World. This world is more a theme park with rides amid statues of Lenin and Stalin, comical reminders of Russian rule from 1940 to 1991.
A controversial Russian prison where visitors can be jailed highlights the atrocities of that era, but some feel it is in bad taste. Comic or not, the people are conscious of their past suffering.
In nearby Estonia, President Toomas Hendrick was recently interviewed on Deutsche Welle TV. An articulate man, Hendrick spoke about Estonia's shared problem, monuments celebrating the "Russian Liberation of Estonia."
His point was clear; it was ridiculous for Estonia to speak of Russian liberation when the number of mass murders, pillaging and imprisonments was much worse under the Russians than under the Nazis.
Taiwan can ask a similar question: How can it tolerate statues of the murderous past of Chiang and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)? Taiwan's experience under Chiang and the KMT proved far worse than that under a colonizing Japan.
Even in Russia's capital they have purged statues of the "butcher" Stalin though they still honor statues of Lenin.
Now look at Taiwan. Ironically it had its first purging and rectification of history many years ago. In libraries, one can still find remnants of this in copies of old encyclopedias where KMT government censors painstakingly went through and blocked out all references to Mao Zedong (
Those who mentioned the name of Mao or communism would be jailed or even executed.
Taiwan did not suffer because of Mao. In reality, it suffered from the corruption of the KMT and Chiang following their defeat by Mao. The KMT never mentions the reality of this attempted purging, rectification and avoidance of their past history where they claimed that defeat gave them the privilege to be colonizers.
Despite this past reality, many KMT leaders resist the removal of the generalissimo as if he were a hero of Taiwan. The countries of Europe have long carried out the systematic removal of statues addressed to the memories of their totalitarian and despotic pasts. In creating anti-propaganda parks from propagandistic statues they have clearly countered the original hypocrisy of their past rulers. Taiwan needs to catch up.
The gathering of statues of Chiang in a Taoyuan park is a good start. Only when people visit that park and see the volume of statues placed around Taiwan in honor of this megalomaniac leader will they begin to realize his full character.
A side issue of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is whether to tear down the walls. A few extra gates could be built to ease access, but taking down the walls will serve no great purpose. If one visits 2/28 Park, it too has limited access and yet, visitors do not complain.
The first matter of the day would be the removal of the colossal statue of the generalissimo. This statue could be half-buried in sand Ozymandias-style in the Taoyuan park with the inscription, "My name is Chiang Kai-shek, king of kings."
Changing the name of the Memorial is also necessary. The generalissimo's throne could be left empty as a sign to any future dictators. A symbol of democracy could be enshrined and the walls filled with the names of all those killed under Taiwan's lengthy Martial Law and White Terror.
The presence of Chiang's statue is a constant reminder that Taiwan has still not had transitional justice and the return of its state assets. When will justice be served?
Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.
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