CITY PAPER reports on an unlikely theme park provoking laughter—and
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 facilitypart
amusement park, part open air museumis 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 its 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
Worlda name thats 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: Theres 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 whod flown in to report on the bizarre spectacle.
The park was opened on April 1, April Fools Day, but its 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
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 itd 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
But Malinauskas, who said his own father and several other relatives were also deported, has been undeterred by the criticism. Hes even been quoted as welcoming it, saying its drawn even more publicity to the grounds and is contributing to its
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. 293, Jailed,
Centurians and The
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 parks open from 9:00-19:00. For more info, call
tel. 33-55511, with area code 370 from abroad and 82 from within Lithuania;
also see the website www.travel.lt/grutas.