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“It combines the charms of a Disneyland with the worst of the Soviet gulag prison camp.”



StalinWorld
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. 

Not everyone is laughing along with Malinauskas and his supporters. Some have bitterly criticized the park as tacky in the extreme and an affront to hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians who were deported, shot or repressed in other ways during 1940-1991 Soviet rule. 
       Many Lithuanians were particularly incensed by plans to build a mock railway that would carry visitors in cattle wagons from Vilnius to Stalin World, a la some Mickey Mouse train ferrying tourists from one Disney attraction to another. The idea, say park developers, would be to give younger Lithuanians a hint of what it’d feel like to be deported. 
       But Leonas Kerosierius, a fierce critic of the park who has spoken out on behalf of some 60,000 survivors of Stalinist deportations still alive in Lithuania, said the facility makes light of some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. 
       “Imagine that in your country, one day armed KGB men come to your door. They beat your neighbor, rape your sister, your mother, kill your brothers...and exile your family,” Kerosierius was quoted by The National Post newspaper. “And now someone is building monuments to these killers, these rapists? No country has ever built monuments for tyrants. Are there any monuments for Hitler or Goebbles?”
       But Malinauskas, who said his own father and several other relatives were also deported, has been undeterred by the criticism. He’s even been quoted as welcoming it, saying it’s drawn even more publicity to the grounds and is contributing to its future success. 
       He said he hopes to attract at least a million visitors a year to the park, which would make it one of the most visited tourist sights in the country. 
                                          —CITY PAPER-The Baltic States

For more about the controversial artist who made some of the statues at Stalin World see
From Lenin to Zappa

For an article about a similar, if more serious museum in Estonia, see
The Gift, about the new Musuem of Occupations in Tallinn. For related CITY PAPER articles about Soviet-era repression and deportations, see Train No. 293Jailed, Stalin’s Agents, The Centurians and The Forgotten War

Stalin World is on the edge of the village of Grutas, 120 kilometers southwest of Vilnius, and a few kilometers from the town of Druskininkai. From Vilnius, take the A-4 highway. The park’s open from 9:00-19:00. For more info, call tel. 33-55511, with area code 370 from abroad and 82 from within Lithuania; hesona@druskininkai.omnitel.net; also see the website— www.travel.lt/grutas. 



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