Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

So why does a statue of Rocky Balboa stand in a small town in northern Serbia? And why did citizens of Mostar (in Herzegovina) decide that a statue of Bruce Lee could unite their troubled town? We take a look at statues that seem improbably out of place.

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Every large European city has its improbable statues. Why, one might ask, is Rodin’s wonderful sculpture The Burghers of Calais in a public garden in London rather than in France? The answer requires a little appreciation of history, for Rodin’s sculpture recalls the moment in 1347 when England’s King Edward III agreed to spare Calais, then under siege, if six citizens gave themselves up as hostages.

From London to Xirdalan where, well before Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak slipped into political oblivion on 11 February, the citizens of Xirdalan were daubing the local Mubarak statue with graffiti. Xirdalan is not an obscure Egyptian town, but a small city in Azerbaijan, north-west of the capital Baku. With its Mubarak offering, Xirdalan takes our prize for having the most out-of-context statue in the world.

The chances are that Xirdalan’s city fathers have by now responded to local calls to remove Mubarak from his plinth in the local park, where he has sat for many years against a backdrop of two fake pyramids. It is one of those little ensembles that are as tacky as they are memorable.

In 2008, Mubarak’s wife Suzanne visited the statue. At the time we judged this to be an odd sort of pilgrimage, for surely Mrs Muburak gets to see Hosni in person over cornflakes every morning and has no need to travel to Azerbaijan to see his image in stone. Suzanne too left her mark on Xirdalan, which commemorated her visit by naming a local school in honour of Egypt’s first lady.


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About the authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.

This article was published in hidden europe 33.