I’ve been asking my dear readers to vote which topic I should write on. Currently “Hungarian history (as related to today’s politics)” is among the most voted options. So I decided I should write on one of my favourite topics, the Holy Crown of Hungary, that is the crown of St. Stephen who founded the Kingdom of Hungary in AD 1000.
Someone who knows little about Hungary and Hungarian history will surely find it weird why the coat of arms of a republic features a crown, why a crown is enshrined in the new Constitution which was passed in 2011, why a crown is often featured on the Hungarian national flag… Why does a crown seem to be so important in a republic what Hungary is?
For a factual and detailed summary, please read up on the Holy Crown in the Wikipedia. You’ll find all the basic facts there but I really wanted to write about the political implications of these historic facts for the political life of today’s Hungary. An important thing from a state theory point of view is that, according to the doctrine of the Holy Crown, the Holy Crown itself was regarded a legal person which represented the country and its peoples, the state of Hungary. The ruling monarch was a subject to the Holy Crown, too, and (s)he ruled in the “name of the Crown”. This is somewhat similar to the British “Crown concept”, I think.
The Kingdom of Hungary restricted the absolute power of the monarch already in the Golden Bull of 1222 . This was the second constitutional document after England’s Magna Charta in 1215 in Medieval Europe. The document established the rights of the Hungarian nobility, including the right of resistance, that is to disobey the king when he acted contrary to law. This meant there was no absolute monarchic power in Hungary, that is there was some kind of constitutional monarchy, already in the early 13th century! This way one may say in fact that the Holy Crown is related to the very start of democracy in Hungary… That’s an exaggeration, of course, but let’s remember that absolute divine power was the rule in most European feudal states until the 16th or even the 17th century.
But back to today’s Hungary! Like Deputy Prime Minister Navracsics put it recently (link in Hungarian), the Holy Crown is a basic pillar of Hungarians’ national identity. One could say the Holy Crown is an important national symbol for the Slovaks, who have a very similar culture and mentality to Hungarians’ but a very different (Slavic) language, and who lived in the Kingdom of Hungary. (The Kingdom of Hungary was called”Uhorsko” in Slovak until the dismemberment of Hungary by the Dictat of Trianon in 1920. Post-Trianon Hungary, also “Kingdom of Hungary” until 1946, is called “Maďarsko” in Slovak.) Similarly to Hungarian folk motifs, the Holy Crown often occurs in Slovak folk motifs, too.
When the USA, whose troops captured the crown jewels in WWII and safeguarded them from the Soviet Union for decades, gave the Holy Crown back to Hungary in 1978, one of their conditions were that the Holy Crown must be put on display. The Communist regime fulfilled that requirement by hiding the crown in a dark corner of the Hungarian National Museum. They tried hard to present the Holy Crown as merely a museum artefact and they tried to strip it of any political significance.
After the fall of Communist regime in 1990, there was a lengthy and heated debate what coat of arms should replace the Communist one. The so-called Liberals and the Socialists, the successors of the Communist party, insisted that the coat-of-arms without the crown, which was is use after the dethronement of the Hapsburgs in 1849 for a few months, and which was also used later in the anti-Soviet uprising in 1956, should be used.
The insults thrown at the Holy Crown in this early and heated dispute in the first months of Hungary’s fledgling democracy already signalled the ensuing long cultural and political cold war in Hungary. The conservative, right-wing parliamentary majority chose the traditional coat-of-arms with the Holy Crown.
Fast forward by ten years: On 1 January 2000, on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s founding, the first Orbán-government moved the Holy Crown of Hungary to the Hungarian Parliament Building from the Hungarian National Museum. The so-called left-wing (“Liberals” and “Socialists”) were even more furious this time than in 1990. They were throwing even harsher insults at the Holy Crown (and also at Prime Minister Orbán who was thought to be behind this move). I think, as a reaction, the Holy Crown became even more “fashionable” among right-wingers and it became an even more important political symbol. A lot of cars in Hungary feature the Holy Crown… including mine. After an eight year disastrous postcommunist Liberal-Socialist rule, the second Orbán government swept into power in 2010. They were given an absolute (two thirds) majority by the Hungarian electorate and this allowed the Fidesz-Christian Democrat coalition to pass a new Constitution at last instead of the inherited, substantially and multiply amended Communist constitution which was in effect until 2012. The preamble of the new Constitution makes a reference to the Holy Crown of Hungary as a symbol of national unity and Hungarian national identity. The postcommunists predictably cried to the heavens again… with little success. Now probably even the postcommunists are coming to terms with the fact: the Holy Crown ‘rulez’ in Hungary ! 🙂