The clashes in Charlottesville that caused the death of anti-fascist demonstrator Heather Heyer began over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. A Confederate general, Lee oversaw, among other campaigns, the invasion of Pennsylvania in 1863, which resulted in a "slave hunt," during which freed former slaves (or "contraband") were rounded up and returned to their "rightful owners." However, the Charlottesville statue is not a Civil War-era relic, as some conservatives seem to suggest. It was erected in 1924, nearly 60 years after Lee finally surrendered. This was at the height of a rash of revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy and the war it fought in defense of slavery, and a huge number of these Confederate statues went up during this period.

These statues coincided, too, with the establishment of the segregationist Jim Crow laws and a devastating campaign of racial violence and murder by the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently argued that "these statues were a part of … terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone's lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city."

Like Stalin's statue and the Zeppelin Field grandstand, these Confederate statues were designed with a specific effect in mind: to celebrate the cause of white supremacy in the United States and to shore up support for the relegation of black Americans to the status of second-class citizens. Many of the statues were built while American Nazis held rallies at New York City's Madison Square Garden and some even later, during the fight for the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s.

They were cheap and mass-produced, designed to evoke a noble history that never existed. That's why, when the protesters toppled the Confederate soldier statue outside the former courthouse in Durham, the whole world saw it fold like a Coke can, bending into an unrecognizable crumple. Like the Nuremberg grandstand, it conveyed its true essence in the moment of its destruction — hollow, superficial, weak.

It's not too difficult to imagine a monument park one day existing in the American South. All the crumpled statues of Jim Crow can line its verges, along with pictures of their crimes and information about the age of slavery in the United States. Or perhaps the statues can remain in their current positions and be recentered around their true context. (See one suggestion for what that might look like here.)

In Hungary and in Germany, these recontextualizations were only possible, however, because communities were able to agree on a new reading of history and a new way of seeing these monuments. This required a democratic understanding of public memory as an active force. Whether this will be possible in the United States amid the current atmosphere of extreme polarization is another question. And public memory, as it ever was, is a product of power: who holds it, who gets to remember, whose histories are privileged above others.

The false appeals to the immutability of recorded history among the Republican right are a symptom of Confederate nostalgia, for a time when America was an apartheid state. This is the "again" in Trump's campaign slogan, and these statues are the cheap bronze tokens of that imagined past. This sort of nostalgia was once thought to be a sickness of the body, a matter for leeches and medicine, something to be drawn physically from the patient.

If there is to be any justice in our conception of memory, the Confederate statues as they are around the United States must be drawn out of public life. They must either be radically recontextualized or they must be removed. Authorities must understand that if they do not offer a democratic way for this to occur, protesters will take matters into their own hands, as they did in Budapest in 1956 and as they did this week in Durham. Unless these steps are taken, the statues will keep on falling.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.