43 years ago, then-Senator Joe Biden promised János Kádár, Secretary-General of the People’s Republic of Hungary, to give the Holy Crown of Hungary back to its owner. What did Joe Biden have to do with it and what change did it bring to US-Hungarian relations?
As we wrote in November, the next US president spent his honeymoon at Lake Balaton back in 1977, and at the same time, he made an official visit to the Soviet country. His stay had special importance from the country’s point of view but, according to documents about the trip, Biden himself took it quite seriously as well. Apart from the then-Czechoslovakia, he only made a visit to Hungary and made sure to be as politically prepared about the country as possible. On several occasions, he asked specific information from the CIA and wrote a senate report on his experience gained during the visit, which was so positive that even the American press wrote about it.
In the 1970s, Kádár-led Hungary was already considered the “good guy” among Socialist countries, which was not a very hard task, considering the Secretary-General had to compete with Tito and Ceausescu for the title. Biden was one of the youngest Senators at the time, but he had already made a name for himself in international affairs.
He paid special attention to relations between the East and the West, to the consolidation, and to questions concerning European security.
His trip in 1977 was his first one to the Eastern European Communist countries. The American-Hungarian relations entered into a new phase, says Telex.
The Hungarian leadership was especially happy about the turn of events since they saw an opportunity to smooth out problematic questions. On the one hand, the world’s leading power wanted to set up Cooperation in Culture, Education, Science, and Technology. For the small Eastern European country, one of the issues was the position of the Most Favoured Nation that Hungary was particularly keen on acquiring but the States was still reluctant to give. And the Holy Crown of Hungary, of course, that had been sitting in the military base of Fort Knox ever since soldiers of the American Seventh Army dug it up in May 1945 next to an Austrian village together with the sceptre and the orb.
Giving the crown jewels back had been considered for a while at the time, but events only took a turn after the election of Carter and with the global détente.
The visit of the American senators was approved by the Soviets which was particularly important for the Kádár-regime in terms of western loans, but acquiring the crown was a symbolic moment for the political leadership. The decision may have been made in Washington already, and
it was the future president of the United States who brought the long-awaited news to Budapest that year.
Over the course of the talks between the diplomatic delegates of the two countries, Biden spoke positively about their relations and declared they would “give the Holy Crown back before Christmas this year.” The crown jewels arrived a little bit late, though, and Christmas turned into Epiphany, but nevertheless, the Hungarian side could be content. Moreover, Senator Biden also evaluated his Hungarian experience quite enthusiastically.
Now that the once-youngest senator will be the next US president, everyone has a different theory on how the relations between the two countries will change. In Hungary, the right-wing talks about how Biden used to compliment Kádár but now criticises PM Orbán, while the left says that the gradual détente led to the regime change after all, of which Biden was a representative himself.
Whether his election will bring a change in the current relations of the two countries and whether Hungary will become a more favourable nation, only time will tell.
When it comes to theories and projections, here you can find out more.