142. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1
- Strengthening Relations with Hungary—The Crown of St. Stephen Issue
The Crown of St. Stephen, the paramount symbol of Hungary’s nationhood and Western Christian tradition, and other coronation regalia have been in our safekeeping since they were given to us by the Crown Guard at the end of World War II. We have publicly acknowledged that they are property of the Hungarian nation. Our policy that the Crown’s return will be addressed in light of improvement in bilateral relations has encouraged Hungary to move ahead with us in anticipation that we will follow through in good faith. Today only three major issues separate us from the firm working base of “normalized” relations—the Crown, most favored nation status and consolidation of USG-owned property in Budapest. So far the Hungarian leadership has made informal requests for the Crown. If we take no action during the current year, they may make a formal demand—and the United States has no legal grounds to refuse.
The Communist regime in Hungary is a far cry from being democratic, but over the past few years, Hungary has developed into the most internally liberal country in the Warsaw Pact: a tolerant attitude toward dissidents, good church-state relations and a modus vivendi with the Vatican, openness to Western information, a relatively liberal travel and emigration policy, and an innovative, decentralized economic system. Party Leader Janos Kadar has so far successfully defended this position against Warsaw Pact hardliners.
Domestic Political Aspects
Congressional attitude is split on the Crown. Several (e.g., Vanik, Frenzel, Thompson, Bingham and Fenwick) believe the time has come [Page 443] to return the Crown. Vanik, who has a substantial Hungarian constituency, has suggested the idea of a joint resolution favoring return. Opponents of return include Horton and Oakar, sponsor of a recent bill requiring that the Crown not be returned without Congressional authorization. We have not yet conducted a survey of the leadership in Congress, but we believe the domestic political problem is manageable: that there would be a brief, limited flurry of protest but no sustained opposition.
Some Hungarian-American groups oppose return of the Crown, charging it would bestow “legitimacy” on the Kadar regime. For most Americans, return of the Crown would not be an issue, and return would probably be supported as a moral act. As Congressman Frenzel said, “It’s theirs’ it’s right to return it to them.”
We believe that the presence of the Crown in Budapest would serve as a continued national inspiration to the Hungarian people and that this would soon be recognized here, even by opponents of its return. Furthermore, such steps as consultations with Congress (and a possible joint resolution supporting return), Congressional participation in the transfer of the Crown in a public ceremony in Budapest, and a Hungarian commitment to place the Crown on permanent public display would mitigate initial adverse reaction.
I strongly support the early return of the Crown to the Hungarian people because:
—U.S.-Hungarian relations have improved substantially, meeting our stated condition for considering the Crown’s return.
—Morally and legally it is indefensible to continue to withhold from the Hungarian people their most important symbol of nationhood.
—Return of this symbol of Hungary’s independence and Western, Christian tradition will concretely support our long-range goal of encouraging greater autonomy, national identity and Western orientation in Eastern Europe.
—Support for return is emerging in Congress and domestic opposition is limited.
—It would be in our interest to return the Crown in a generous gesture by a new Administration, rather than in the context of Hungarian demands.
—The prospect of the Crown’s return would facilitate a favorable resolution of the complex property problem in Budapest.
—There is no countervailing reason for holding on to it—we cannot expect the emergence of a non-Communist government in the foreseeable future, and it would be inappropriate to seek to “trade” the Crown for something we want.[Page 444]
If you concur that return of the Crown is appropriate, we will consult with the leadership in Congress (in the House, O’Neill, Rhodes, Zablocki and Derwinski, who has already indicated he would offer only token opposition; in the Senate, Byrd, Cranston, Baker, Sparkman and Case). Unless we encounter unexpected, strong Congressional opposition, we would then go ahead immediately with quiet “hypothetical” talks with the Hungarians about how transfer could occur.
That the Crown of St. Stephen be returned to Hungary this year and that the State Department take the necessary action to effect its transfer along the lines I have outlined.
- Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 27, Hungary: 1–12/77. Secret. Nodis.↩