As I walk down the path, past the grey statue of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on my left-hand side, Soviet marching music is playing from loudspeakers attached to imitation Gulag watchtowers in the forest by a small stream on my right. The sun is out and mosquitoes form small clouds over the path ahead of me, just where I will want to stand to take my next picture. As I try to focus my camera on Stalin’s moustache and disperse the insects at the same time, stout Russian voices break into song and I just can’t help myself any longer. I start to laugh. This has to be the strangest place I have ever been.
The Grutas Park is southern Lithuania’s biggest tourist attraction and has been open since 2001. The Park was the brainchild of mushroom magnate Viliumas Malinauskas, who bought all the park’s sculptures in the decade after the country became independent in 1991. He realized that after the downfall of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union, all the statues from this era of Lithuanian history would need a home and so the Grutas Park came into existence. A guide I spoke to wouldn’t verify that Malinauskas had initially wanted to take people around the park in a train pulling cattle trucks, similar to those used to export many post-WWII Lithuanians to the gulags in Siberia.