Nixon, Ford, Kissinger, and the Holy Crown
The American adventures of the Holy Crown of Hungary (a.k.a. St. Stephen's Crown) appeared to be a lesser side event during the Cold War. The Crown and assorted regalia (scepter, orb, sword, and robe) came into American custody at the end of World War II and ended up in Fort Knox by 1953. The communist Hungarian government made various attempts (ranging from blackmail to official request) to recover the regalia, but the US answer was always the same: although the Crown is Hungarian property, its return would take place only after major improvements in bilateral relations. Repatriation eventually happened in 1978, during the Carter administration. While in its own time the return triggered animated protests among Hungarians all around the United States, it received passing mention at best in various recollections with one notable exception: that of Philip Kaiser, who served as US ambassador in Budapest in 1978 and played a key part in the repatriation. Neither Secretary of State Cyrus Vance nor President Carter mentioned it in their memoirs, and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski reserved two paragraphs to it. When I first did research in the Carter Presidential Library in 1997, there was limited awareness of the story, but now, a decade and half later, there is a separate page devoted to the significance of the regalia and their return on the Library's website. Also, the recently published White House diary of President Carter deals with the Holy Crown repeatedly: the forgotten side event is gradually becoming part of official Cold War history. With the Carter administration's public accounts ignoring the event until recently, it is hardly surprising that the fate of the Holy Crown of Hungary received no attention in the various histories of the previous administrations: those of Presidents Nixon and Ford. To fill that gap, in this paper we take a closer look at the Nixon-Ford years to establish the significance of a possible return in the gradually improving bilateral relations between the US and Hungary and in American ethnic politics. (original abstract)
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