156. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Hungarian-Americans’ Suggestions on the Return of the Crown

We are sympathetic to several of the suggestions from the group of Hungarian-Americans described in your memorandum to me of November 18.2

Our reactions to the specific comments made to you are as follows:

1. Take Steps to Strengthen Human Rights in Hungary

We are taking a close look at the state of religious freedom in Hungary and will prepare an unclassified summary study of use to interested Americans. We will also be asking Embassy Budapest to seek clarification from the Hungarian Government on questions which have been raised here relating to freedom of religion.

During Phil Kaiser’s initial discussions with the Hungarian Government on the Crown,3 he commended for Hungarian consideration the July suggestion of some Hungarian-American leaders to the Hungarian Ambassador that a general amnesty for political prisoners would generate more support here for return of the Crown. The Hungarians replied that they have no political prisoners (we have been unable to identify any) and that the question of such an amnesty was thus difficult. However, they did not reject the idea.

2. Role of Hungarian Churches in the Crown’s Return

It has been an essential condition throughout our discussions with the Hungarian Government that the Crown be received by a delegation broadly representative of the Hungarian people and that it include prominent religious leaders of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, including the Cardinal Primate. The Hungarian Government readily accepted these suggestions and has assured us that the Cardinal [Page 471] Primate will be invited to be an active participant in the ceremony of return. They have also added that no thought is being given to attendance by any prominent Party leaders. The Hungarian Government has also assured us that the Crown will be treated in a manner fitting to its national, cultural and religious symbolism.

As to the question of a church role in guarding the Crown, ever since enactment of a Hungarian law in 1498 during the reign of King Laszlo II, custody of the Crown has rested solely with non-ecclesiastical persons. In July 1976, Cardinal Lekai, the Primate of Hungary, informed our Charge that the Catholic Church in Hungary would very much welcome the return of the Crown, which he considered to be the country’s most precious symbol. He added that both the Church and the State were carefully preserving and restoring Hungary’s historical treasures and that the historical past of the country would be respected, taught and studied. While the Hungarian Government may consult the Hungarian churches concerning the presentation and guarding of the Crown, we believe that this matter is best left for discussion between the Hungarian Government and the various Hungarian church organizations.

3. Free Access to the Crown

The Hungarian Government has assured us, at the highest levels, that the Crown will be promptly placed on permanent exhibition in an appropriate historical location in Budapest and that the population of Hungary, Hungarians everywhere and foreigners alike, will be welcome to view it. Such open, permanent display will be in marked contrast to past practice, which provided for only rare public display of the Crown.

4. Emphasize the People-to-People Aspect of the Return

We fully agree that the “people-to-people” aspect of return is very important. The Hungarian Government appears to have accepted our suggestion in this respect without reservation. We believe that the US delegation should include prominent Americans from various walks of life.

With regard to the suggestion that the role of US Government officials be minimized, we believe that Members of Congress, as elected representatives of the American people, should be included in the delegation along with at least several Executive Branch representatives and that full consideration must be given to a Government official as the delegation head. Tip O’Neill wrote me strongly suggesting that House members be included. The US Catholic Conference of Bishops has asked whether they might make some suggestions for the delegation.

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5. Exhibit the Crown in the US Before Return

While there may appear to be certain domestic benefits in placing the Crown on public display here prior to its return, we believe that it would not be in the interest of the United States to do so.

Public display of the Crown at one or more locations in the United States would:

—be inconsistent with our longstanding policy of denying the use of the Crown in the United States for any public purpose;

—upset the Hungarian people and government, both of which deny our right to display it;

—precipitate renewed media interest and possible demonstrations against the return;

—increase the chances for accidental or intentional damage to the Crown and regalia;

—detract from the drama and impact of the ceremony of return in Budapest; and

—from a legal standpoint, require the concurrence of the Hungarian Government and resolution of the question of indemnity.

We also understand that the Vice President has expressed objections to the idea of public display in the United States and that President Mellon of the National Gallery of Art told J. Carter Brown that he did not want the Gallery to display the Crown.

Moreover, to demonstrate more fully our interest in the expressed concerns of American Catholics, I will be meeting during the week of November 28 with officials of the National Conference of Bishops4 and Phil Kaiser will call on Cardinal Lekai.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter Subject File, Box 14, Hungary: Crown of St. Stephen: 12/77. Secret; Exdis. Printed from an uninitialed copy. King forwarded the memorandum to Brzezinski under a December 1 covering memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 154.
  3. Reported in telegram 2916 from Budapest, August 26. See footnote 3, Document 146.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 155.
  5. In telegram 4161 from Budapest, November 30, Kaiser reported his conversation with Cardinal Lekai the day before. Lekai asked Kaiser to report to Washington that “I support the return of the Crown, the Catholic Church supports the return of the Crown, and the Hungarian people support the return of the Crown.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850050–2274)