161. Letter from Representative Mary Rose Oakar to President Carter 1

Dear Mr. President:

I am outraged by the State Department’s announcement today that the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen will be returned to Hungary on January 6th and 7th of next year. Deceit and deception have characterized the entire handling of this issue by your Administration. Just as this decision shows gross insensitivity to the plight of the people in Hungary, so the manner in which the issue has been handled shows a total lack of concern for the millions in America and throughout the world who feel so strongly about the Crown and object to its return.

On November 9, I, along with several other Members of Congress, personally heard you tell the Hungarian-American leaders I brought to the White House that you wanted them to list the conditions under which they felt return of the Crown would be acceptable, and that you would listen closely to what they had to say.2 Believing you to be a man of your word, these men and women who represent thousands of concerned citizens carefully and thoughtfully composed messages to you on the conditions they felt should be imposed upon return of the Crown. Also in response to your request, on November 29 I personally delivered to your representative, Mr. Robert King of the National Security Council staff, a letter to you in which I summed up the views on the Crown that were unanimously expressed to me by the Hungarian-American community.

I never received a reply to this letter from you.3 Because the Crown was not returned during Secretary Vance’s trip to Europe in early December as had originally been planned, I began to believe that you were indeed going to listen to our views before making a final commitment on the Crown. Earlier today, just an hour or two before the State Department’s announcement, a member of my staff called Mr. King to ask when I could expect to receive a reply to my letter. She was told that no reply could be sent yet because the Hungarian government had [Page 484] not yet replied to messages of the United States regarding conditions for return of the Crown that you insisted upon. He said that my letter thus could not be answered, because you did not have the information needed to answer it.

About four hours later, at approximately two o’clock, I received by special messenger from the State Department copies of correspondence between the American Ambassador to Hungary and the Hungarian Foreign Minister stating the very conditions that just a few hours ago supposedly were not known. Just yesterday, George Boutin, an economic officer of the Department of State, outright denied the news account in the Washington Post calling for the Crown’s return on or about January 7th and 8th. He said details on the Crown’s return still had not been made between our two countries.

These statements, obviously, were false, and so apparently were the statements you made concerning your desire to listen to and consult with Hungarian-Americans on this issue. Hungarian-Americans and others concerned about the safety of the Crown were never consulted in the first place when, according to the State Department, a review of U.S. policy on the Crown was undertaken during the late spring and summer of this year. To my knowledge, no one outside the Administration, even those who pointedly asked about the Crown, was ever told that a review of this policy was underway. It is clear that even the cryptic announcement made by the State Department on November 3 would not have been made but for a leak of the decision to the media.

It is also clear that since that announcement and our November 9 meeting, the Administration has conducted what amounts to an elaborate charade, speaking in terms of concern for the views of those opposed to return of the Crown, but going ahead with your plans as if we did not exist. While you were under no obligation to accept the views we offered, you could have kept your word and at least listened, and you could have at least provided us with truthful answers to our questions. The events of today show that you did neither. For the second time in a little over a month, I have, as a Member of Congress, heard of an important Administration decision on a matter on which I repeatedly expressed great concern, from a State Department functionary after members of the press had the same information. And in both instances, the substance of the message was contrary to what I had been told repeatedly by the Administration on earlier occasions.

To me, this is a very sad day for our country and for all of the oppressed people of the world. I had fully supported the human rights policy you enunciated at the beginning of your Administration, believing it to be consistent with the highest traditions of American foreign policy. Now, it is clear that your human rights policy is nothing more [Page 485] than empty rhetoric, and freedom loving people everywhere today feel the pain of this realization.


Mary Rose Oakar
  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. No classification marking. A stamped notation on the letter indicates that it was received at the White House Congressional Liaison Office on December 19. Hunter forwarded the letter to Brzezinski under a December 20 covering memorandum, recommending that, in light of his December 15 letter to Oakar, no response was necessary.
  2. See Document 152.
  3. Brzezinski signed a letter to Oakar on December 15. See Document 160.