9 Movements That Toppled Monuments

1Statues of Confederate figures are being removed around the U.S.

A Confederate statue taken down by protesters in North Carolina (Virginia Bridges//The Herald-Sun/AP)

The alt-right march that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked a backlash against the approximately 700 Confederate monuments that have stood in public areas for the past 100 years. From coast to coast, statuary and plaques are being removed or covered daily. Many are for the removal of the statues, as they’re representative of racism and oppression, but others believe that by eliminating the monuments, history is being erased.

The majority of the monuments, however, weren’t erected until several decades after the Civil War, which ended in 1865. “(Most) were built between the 1890s and 1950s, which matches up exactly with the era of Jim Crow segregation,” says Mark Elliott, a history professor at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the biggest spike was between 1900 and 1920, with monuments that tended to glorify leaders like General Robert E. Lee, former President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, and General “Thomas Stonewall” Jackson.?
Protesters and city officials have taken down statues in Baltimore and Durham, North Carolina and there are more places in the process of doing the same. Two of Stonewall Jackson’s descendants have written an open letter to the mayor of Richmond, regarding Jackson’s statue saying, “They (the statues) are overt symbols of racism and white supremacy, and the time is long overdue for them to depart from public display.”

2The short-lived Goddess of Democracy made a long term impact on the Chinese cultural revolution

The Goddess of Democracy May 30, 1989 Tiananmen Square (Yu Li/courtesy of Fountainhead Books)

The Goddess of Democracy had a short life, but her influence is felt to this day. The figure of a defiant woman holding her torch high rose in Tiananmen Square on May 29, 1989. She was a symbol for the flagging, divided protest movement that was demanding rights and accountability from the Communist Party.

Protest organizers recruited students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts and other Beijing schools to construct the Goddess. With 8,000 renminbi worth of materials, they assembled the 33-foot high foam, papier-mâché, plaster and metal statue which faced Mao’s imposing portrait over Tiananmen. Hundreds of thousands of people soon gathered at the square to see the statue, but Communist Party leaders’ were convinced that the protests had to be crushed with force. Soldiers extinguished the protests and seized Tiananmen Square early on June 4. An armored personnel carrier pushed the statue over before troops destroyed it with metal bars.

3The 5th-century Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban after being declared false idols

Before and after, the Buddhas of Bamiyan (AP/AFP)

Before being destroyed, the Buddhas of Bamiyan, which dated back to the 4th- and 5th-centuries, were the largest standing Buddha statues in the world. In March 2001, they were declared false idols, and on orders from the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were dynamited and destroyed.

There is a silver lining—after the Buddhas were destroyed, 50 new caves were discovered, and wall paintings were found in 12 of the caves. The art is thought to have been created in the 5th and 9th centuries and is believed to be some oldest of its kind in existence.

Work on restoring the Buddhas has also started, using a technique called anastylosis in which pieces of the original art is combined with modern materials. It is thought that at least half the Buddhas can be put back together from the pieces.

4An Iraqi man who helped topple a statue of Saddam Hussein now regrets it

Saddam’s statue falls, 2003. (© PA)

Almost 15 years after the Iraq war, the country has now become a hotbed of Islamic extremism and a stronghold for ISIS, but when the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003, the mood was jubilant. The country's oppressive dictator had been ousted and the sculpture, erected just a year before to honor his 65th birthday, tumbled to the ground as American troops rolled in. ??Today, a man who helped topple the statue has regrets. Kadhim al-Jabbouri, Saddam's former motorcycle repair man, became the face of triumph and hope for Iraq in April 2003 when he struck the statue with his sledgehammer.

He had been jailed after falling out of favor with the regime, saw over a dozen family members executed by the government, and was elated when U.S. forces came. However, his happiness didn’t last. "Every year, things started to get worse. There was corruption, infighting, killing, looting," he said. "Saddam has gone, but in his place, we now have 1,000 Saddams."

Kadhim now lives with his family in Beirut, Lebanon. The statue represents a more peaceful time that he now yearns for. "I'd like to put it back up, to rebuild it," he said. "But I'm afraid I'd be killed.”

5A park in Hungary displays the fallen statues of Communism

Republic of Councils Monument, Memento Park 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)

With the fall of Communism in 1989, Budapest was left with many public works of art that celebrated that era. Four years later, the city government decided to save the statues and the idea for the Memento Park was born.

Memento Park displays more than 40 Communist-era statues in a neutral setting, neither making a mockery of them or honoring them. The park is visited by 40,000 people annually. It is operated as a private venture supported by receipts coming from ticket prices and the earnings of the souvenir shop.

6A statue of a British king is toppled in 18th-century Manhattan

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, Johannes Adam Simon Oertel (Wikimedia Commons)

Amid all the current Confederacy statue flap, it’s important to note that Americans have been pulling down statues since the country began.

On the southern tip of Manhattan Island is a small park called Bowling Green. It is the oldest in the city, and here, in March 1770, a statue of Britain’s King George III was erected.

?Six years later, on July 9, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time in New York in front of George Washington and his troops. Colonists— made up of soldiers, sailors, and a few lower class citizens—went to Bowling Green where the statue stood and pulled it down. Americans ready to be independent and free from tyrannical British rule acted in a symbolic gesture to make a historic change, from the rule of a monarchy to the state of democracy.??Afterward, lead from the statue was melted down to make 42,088 musket balls, or bullets, for use in the war for independence.

7A statue of Christopher Columbus is removed and put on trial in Venezuela

Christopher Columbus falls in Caracas, 2004

Five centuries after Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World, millions of people in central and South America lament his arrival in the Bahamas as the beginning of their ancestors' annihilation. Today, after centuries as underdogs, indigenous people are rising —peacefully—to seize political power and assert their heritage.

In Venezuela, on Columbus Day in 2004, Venezuelans protesting the 512th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival pulled down a 30 foot, 100-year-old bronze statue of the explorer. It was dragged down the street to the Teresa Carreño Theatre, where indigenous people performed songs and dances, and a symbolic trial was held. The effigy was found guilty and hung upside down from a tree. It has since been repaired, but will not be returned to its original spot—which has since been renamed Avenue Indigenous Resistance.

8A Russian statue is rebuilt after the fall of Communism

The original monument in the early 1900s (Public Domain)

One, statue, a monument to Matvei Platov in Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast, Russia, has had a second chance at life since the fall of Communism in 1989. Platov is the founder of Novocherkassk, a General of the Cavalry, and a hero of the Patriotic War of 1812.

The statue came into being one hundred years after his birth in May 1853 and was placed in Atamansky Garden Square in the city center, in front of the Ataman Palace. 70 years later, with the rise of Communism and the U.S.S.R, it was taken from its pedestal and removed by the Council of People's Commissars and transferred to a Novocherkassk museum. Two years after that, a monument to Lenin was constructed in its place, and Platov’s effigy was melted for bearings at the Novocherkassk Machine-Building Plant.??

After Lenin was removed, another monument to Platov was erected in the same spot in 1993. However, its look has been slightly altered—this time, there is no metal fence around it, no canons, and the fountain has not yet been restored.

9A Paraguayan dictator's effigy is reconfigured under a new regime

A statue of former Paraguayan dictator General Alfredo Stroessner. (Twitter)

Following dictator General Alfredo Stroessner's ouster from power in 1989, Paraguayans found themselves debating the fate of his massive steel likeness situated at the highest point of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. Some wanted it removed, while others argued for its place in history. Artist Carlos Colombino had an idea that he felt would appease everyone—he used bits of the original statue and sandwiched it between two big concrete blocks. Win, win!