New Hungarian regime, new or not so new decorations

Even as Hungary's economy is on the brink, the luminaries of the non-existent Christian Democratic Party spend their time coming up with a list of new decorations to be awarded to important dignitaries at home and abroad. After all, if there was a revolution and a new regime there must be appropriate ornaments attached to it. Yes, if there is a "Planet Orbán" as The Economist called today's Hungary and an "oddball" prime minister, there ought to be new state decorations. The ones that have been given out since 1990 are too closely attached to the Third Republic. Even their names contain the word "köztársaság" (republic) which was barred from the new constitution. Although the Christian Democratic bill submitted by Zsolt Semjén, György Rubovszky, István Pálffy, and János Latorcai doesn't propose that these old decorations be abolished, they are becoming a dime a dozen. For example, some of them can be awarded to as many as 350 people a year!

Not so the new/old decorations. The most important decoration will be the Order of St. Stephen. Who else? This particular decoration was established by Maria Theresa in 1764 and was abolished in 1946 when Hungary was declared to be a republic. There was good reason to abolish the Order as well as the decoration. Apparently Maria Theresa wasn't too keen on establishing a separate Hungarian order but eventually gave in, but only if the Grand Master of the Order would always be the Hungarian king. Thus, once there was no kingdom there could be no Order of St. Stephen.

Szent Istvan Rend

However, such legal niceties don't seem to deter Semjén and his friends. If one looks through the list of recipients of the Order of St. Stephen since 1764 it is clear that most of them were aristocrats and politicians faithful to the Habsburg dynasty. Here and there one can find writers or painters, for example, Kálmán Mikszáth and Pál Szinyei Merse, but there were some names among the recipients the Hungarians couldn't have been too happy with. For example, the Grand Duke Konstantin, one of the commanders of the Russian forces whose help was necessary to defeat the Hungarian war of independence in 1849, or Alfred Windischgratz who had an important role in the military attaks on the Hungarian forces. Between 1918 and 1940 Horthy refrained from awarding the order, but between 1940 and 1944 the Hungarian government made some unfortunate choices. Among the recipients we find Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister; Gian Galeazzo Ciano, Italian foreign minister and son-in-law of Mussolini; and finally, Hermann Göring, marshall of the German Reich.

The Order of St. Stephen will be the highest Hungarian decoration. Judging from the proposal, it will be awarded for extraordinary service to the country. Moreover, the person will be required to have an international reputation. I might add that the decoration will be called Magyar Szent István Rend.

Corvin-lanc es koszoruThe next most important decoration will be the Magyar Corvin-lánc (Hungarian Corvin-chain). Now, that is truly interesting because this was a decoration Miklós Horthy established in 1930 to recognize outstanding Hungarians in the fields of literature, art, and science. Originally twelve people could receive the honor yearly, but after the Second Vienna Award when northern Transylvania was ceded by the Romania to Hungary their number was raised to fifteen. The Corvin-lánc was revived during the first Orbán government when twelve people received it. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the current bill proposes fifteen recipients. After all, this government thinks very much in terms of the Carpathian Basin. A whole office attached to the Prime Minister's Office will do nothing else but busy itself with the work attached to the awarding of the Corvin-lánc.

The third decoration will be the Hungarian Legion of Honor (Magyar Becsület Rend). This is a new one. Yearly ten of them could be awarded to people for outstanding service in the interest of the nation or for unusual bravery demonstrated in the line of duty. In case some of you think that this is an ad hoc decision you are wrong. In the proposed bill there is a detailed description of what this new decoration will look like. I'm almost certain that many millions have already been spent on the design and that the prototype is ready.

Until now the president of the republic was ex officio the recipient of the Order of the Hungarian Republic. Now he will also receive the Order of St. Stephen. In addition, he will be able to use a variation of the Hungarian coat-of-arms that is held up by two angels. And if Pál Schmitt is enamored with the two angels alongside the coat-of-arms, Viktor Orbán must also be able to use a coat-of-arms that is different from the ordinary. He will have the use of a coat-of-arms that will be surrounded by ivy.

There is only one startling omission. The Order of Imre Nagy will no longer be awarded. St. Stephen came, Imre Nagy went. More about this disgrace tomorrow.


  1. “Until now the president of the republic was ex officio the recipient of the Order of the Hungarian Republic. Now he will also receive the Order of St. Stephen.”
    Is this the one-time long serving Communist President?
    Surely not – weren’t they the bad guys?

  2. “Even as Hungary’s economy is on the brink”
    The forint is practically back where it was against the CHF before the IMF ‘U-turn’, and against the Euro it’s only a couple of forint away from repeating its worst ever rate.
    So the impact of the Great IMF Bluff lasted barely a week.
    What will Orbán do now?

  3. And it just got worse:
    (From the FT)
    Moody’s lowers Hungary’s rating one notch
    The rating agency Moody’s cut Hungary’s government bond rating by one notch to BA1, below investment grade, and kept a negative outlook, citing rising uncertainty on the country’s ability to meet fiscal goals and high debt levels.
    “Moody’s believes that the combined impact of these factors will adversely impact the government’s financial strength and erode its shock-absorption capacity,” it said in a statement.
    “The rating agency’s decision to maintain a negative outlook on Hungary’s ratings is driven by the uncertainty surrounding the country’s ability to withstand potential event risks emanating from the European sovereign debt crisis.”
    Moody’s said it would further lower Hungary’s rating if there was a significant decline in government financial strength due to a lack of progress on structural reforms and implementation of a medium-term plan.
    It said it would consider stabilising the outlook on the ratings if the country were to embark on a sustainable consolidation path, involving a more consistent implementation of the medium-term plan and its euro convergence programme.

  4. It doesn’t matter what it is. A Hallmark card or the Bigass Hungarian Cross (Nagy Magyar Valagrend). What matters is who is it from.
    Like the “Munka Erdemrend” in Kadar regime (Labor Award ?). Even in the eighties you could buy them in the Ecser flee market. Geza Hofi put one on his back in one of is standups.
    It tells a lot about a country when it changes it’s decorations like underwear.

  5. How much money these under-qualified “politicians” are spending on surveys, traveling road show, separate room with a guard for the new Constitutions, mailings, illustrative artworks, piano for the President, cars, moving offices, new decorations? Where do Hungarians think this money is coming from? Don’t they see that it is coming out directly from their pocket?

  6. Some1: The letter Orban sent out this past Spring to his “subjects” cost him over 1.7 billion (miliard) forints. His speechwriter, Doncsev, charged him some 10 millions for a year worth of congratulary letters, cards, and some speeches. According to my Mom and Klubradio, letters were sent out to the retired population this past few days….probably for the same amount.
    I only need a little imagination to think how much some of the other activities might cost on your list.
    I am sure the ones who voted him in, don’t care how much money comes out of their pocket, welcoming every change, because in their eyes he can do no wrong.
    After Orban won, a friend of mine with a faraway look in her eyes told me it will take Orban to make everything right in the country at least 10 years.
    Adding, we will have to sacrifice a lot! Since then she inched toward Jobbik very gradually and I try not to see her anymore.

  7. Eva: but there were some names among the recipients the Hungarians couldn’t have been too happy with.
    Well that is an understatement, some of them would be considered in current days terms as war criminals, notably Julius Jacob von Haynau (no. 818).
    What I miss is actually the return of the King and the nobility. King Viktor and the round table.

  8. Bad timing on my part to look at these images so soon after eating….
    Especially that “St. Stephen” bauble, which looks like a Slovak motorway sign imposed on a Red Baron insignia (not to mention the fact that the Iron Cross is invariably brandished – in place of the illegal swastika – by German far-rightists). And then that crown on the top! Completely ghettofabulous bling! Just the spitting image of those car air-fresheners in the shape of crowns popular in Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

  9. Eva: “The forint is at 317 to the euro.” It is part of the conspiracy. THe whole world is against Hungary. Haven’t you heard yet? Seriously, I do not think that Orban understands that his policies that he wakes up in the morning with do harm Hungary. THere is a relationship between his nostalgic vision, his looking into the Hungary’s questionable past for guidance, his way of attempting to govern, the economical adjustments and Hungary’s tumbling. WE all understand that there is a crises in Europe, but no other countries are coming up with such jerk reactions and diversion attempts on the daily basis as Hungary. There is not a serious political or economical entity left that can take Orban or Matolcsy seriously.

  10. Some1: “I do not think that Orban understands that his policies that he wakes up in the morning with do harm Hungary.”
    Maybe now Fidesz realizes that they have to get rid of him because otherwise there is total economic collapse.

  11. AND the news about the forint weakening again!
    As of today, it’s right back where it was before the IMF bluff – both the Euro and CHF (even against the poor old £, the forint is doing badly!).
    So all that nonsense for nothing?
    What now – Orbán back to the IMF for real this time?
    It’s an upside-down world where ‘the market’ does the job the US and the EU couldn’t do, and stops Orbán’s mad plans.
    I might become a capitalist at this rate!

  12. Paul, I was too much in a hurry to post the news. It was only later that I read the posts. Sorry.

  13. Paul: “What now – Orbán back to the IMF for real this time? It’s an upside-down world where ‘the market’ does the job the US and the EU couldn’t do, and stops Orbán’s mad plans. I might become a capitalist at this rate!”
    I always thought that this would be the only way to get rid of this guy.

  14. So beside rebuilding the financial world as Matolcsy modestly stated in the Weekly Answer, he was also busy with saving the Hungarian language. As you recall one of the most important task of our “new” Government to build respect for the Hungarian language, and to save it, of course. It was discussed before that Pal Schmitt, Hungary’s president has its shortcoming when it comes to proper language use. It should not come as a surprise then that Matolcsy beside being a brilliant financial reformist, also embarked on reforming the Hungarian language. In his tax papers filed, he identified himself as an Ország Gyűlesi képviselő vesus országgyűlési képviselő. (Think of vicepresident versus vice president but reversed.)

  15. The secrets of the Orban republic are hidden.
    Who are the grey advisers and sponsors of Orban?
    A trial for crimes against humanity has to be prepared against these masters of conspiracy.

  16. Eva wrote:
    “I always thought that this would be the only way to get rid of this guy.”
    I believe that, barring real alternatives from the dysfunctional opposition, this is most likely: like Greece or Italy (or, for that matter, from Gyurcany to Bajnai) a resignation by Orban and a turn to an “expert” government, superficially from the right, much as the Bajnai government was — in the offices that count — an expert government superficially from the left.
    It will be painful and, as in Greece or Italy, of questionable democratic legitimacy, but the Hungarian economy now requires a form of triage, emergency medicine, and all of these expensive publicity stunts, wasting precious time and money on non-essential matters like awards lists, drawn-out investigations of political opponents, renaming plazas and the like, are either signs of plain administrative incompetence or, worse, cynical tactical actions intended solely to distract from inaction or failure in areas of greatest need and urgency. The question is simply if, when the core of business leaders, intellectuals, and bureaucrats with connections to Fidesz come to demand such a move in order to preserve their own interests and assets, they will not have come too late.

  17. GW:The question is simply if, when the core of business leaders, intellectuals, and bureaucrats with connections to Fidesz come to demand such a move in order to preserve their own interests and assets, they will not have come too late.
    I do not think so. The Fidesz politicians continue to play their stupid game, until something terrible is going to happen.
    Look what is going on in Esztergom.

  18. GW:The question is simply if, when the core of business leaders, intellectuals, and bureaucrats with connections to Fidesz come to demand such a move in order to preserve their own interests and assets, they will not have come too late.
    If they manage to do something sensible at all. In my impression the “revolutionary ideology” is so pervasive that some people in Fidesz are unable to think in other terms currently, while that part that still could, is principally barred from announcing a change because of the U-turn that this would mean in front of the “believers”, “brave magyars” or the disinterested observers who would not go to vote and thereby support Fidesz. The situation appears a bit different to me than that in Italy because of the recent and still ongoing “revolution”. The stakes are higher for Fidesz. But as no one has a better answer, the probability of the bleak outcome written by Gabriella (the Jobbik world) and suggested by many other contributors here some time ago has clearly risen recently.

  19. “Jobbik World” is a weird and wonderful place.
    The latest headline on Hungarian Ambiance:
    “Behind-the-scenes forces want to bankrupt the country. It is time to leave the EU and join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization”
    Have a look, there’s plenty of other weird and wonderful things on there. If you want to find out how the Jobbik ‘mind’ works, this is a good place to start.

  20. I have a theory, that in every country 70-80% of the population is simply speaking …. stupid. They can be easily brainwashed by populist politicians. Unfortunately, as it seems to me, in Hungary not only the general public is stupid, but all the governments for the last couple of hundred years. All these governments could achieve so far, is loosing steadily territories, shrinking the country & getting beaten in all the important wars. They are no better in peaceful times either.
    What is the problem with this country, he?

  21. Andy, the problem is for instance that it is claimed so easily that most people are stupid and definitely too stupid to decide and think for themselves. The point why this is a problem is that such a statement is the basis of all thinking that is opposed to democracy. “Because most people are too stupid, we/the most gifted/the rich/the nobility/the chosen few (etc.) have to decide, and not only for ourselves but also for them.” It may be tempting to think so low of other people in current circumstances, but the consequence is that you undermine the basis of democracy. What is worse, it is suggested that this is done with the best intentions. What is never considered, however, is that in many countries in Europe, and not only in the East, the transition to democracy was complicated. It included some sort of democratic education, with the help of other nations. That was the case in Germany after 1945 and in Spain after 1975. (In the US, as I understood, political education is done extensively in schools, but perhaps the American contributors could confirm this.) What follows of that for Hungary? The fact that perhaps a number of people are not yet very well equipped for a democratic political order does not mean that they could not and would not want to be better equipped. It means that such education should be attempted, instead of stating the “eternal truth” that most people are stupid anyway and can be grateful that such great minds as OV think for them. With such thinking, the inclination towards autocracy will be repeated and repeated. The ability to participate, debate and compromise does not emerge out of the blue. So I would say, the main problem of Hungary is that instead of educating people in democracy, autocracy is presented as the more convenient system: you need neither spend money for education, nor struggle to find compromises and – the big prize – the “chosen few” can feel really good.

  22. Kirsten: In Canada, government, election process, multiculturalism and democracy is taught from Grade 1. Schools can receive mock-up election ballots, election screens, etc to help students understand how election works.

  23. Kirsten: “the problem is for instance that it is claimed so easily that most people are stupid and definitely too stupid to decide and think for themselves.”
    I have news for the Hungarian government. They are not that stupid. It may take a few more months but they will wake up.

  24. “It may take a few more months but they will wake up.”
    But what will they then do? Orbán has effectively eliniated all options except vote Fides/Jobbik, or do nothing.

  25. Paul: “But what will they then do? Orbán has effectively eliniated all options except vote Fides/Jobbik, or do nothing.”
    Let’s just wait a little bit. What about if the IMF will demand certain changes in the constitution? What about if Fidesz will realize that Orbán is leading them into the abyss and the important guys revolt? There are many options.
    Of course, Fidesz, the party, can just sit and watch how the country goes bankrupt and with it they go as well.
    We will see.

  26. Kristen,
    One of the substantial results of the post-Soviet Block era is the removal of virtually all Civics (Government and Politics) and Economics education from Hungarian Schools. While on the one hand one recognizes that the topics were deeply tainted by the one-sided approach of the past, it is deeply frustrating that Hungarian educators were not able to teach a non-partisan, ideas and institutions, rights and responsibilities, commerce and credits approach to Civics and Economics. Instead, yet another generation of Hungarians is largely illiterate (not stupid) is these topics and what Civics and Economics they do know come from tangential references in a History curriculum that is insular and based more in rote memorization of a narrow set of “facts” rather than in training to investigate History for one’s self from sources rather than authorities in addition to the confusion on these topics which comes from many prominent politicians.

  27. Kirsten – I don’t know whether it’s all stupidity, or some of it is down to lack of knowledge, but I can assure you that I have met many people over the years in the UK who haven’t got the faintest idea what they are doing when (if) they vote, or why.
    And most of the rest are making such vital decisions with an ‘understanding’ based on what the Sun or the Daily Mail tell them, and no real idea of whether they are doing the best thing for the country or not.
    I am a gut democrat, in the same way as I am a gut socialist – it seems the fairest way. But if I think about it for more than a few seconds I very soon start having some pretty grave doubts about democracy.
    Why, for instance, should the majority decide everything? Is it morally right for one view to prevail over another just because more people believe it? Why should anyone have the right to tell me what to do and prevent me from running my life in the way I think best?
    But, assuming that democracy is the “least worst” system, why on earth should we accept the general franchise as a given? What sane society lets the ignorant and stupid determine who governs them and how?
    It’s not long before I am become very much an anti-democrat!
    But, as I said, I am a gut democrat. So, much as intellectually I can argue against democracy, I should never actually oppose it – it just wouldn’t feel right.
    But when I look at some of the governments I’ve had to put up with, when I look at Hungary at the moment, when I think back on the many utterly unbelievable political ‘discussions I’ve had with UK electors (the teaching of politics, civic society, etc in the UK is utterly awful), then I do wonder if our form of democracy really is the best we can produce.
    PS – dare I mention ‘paragraphs’ again?

  28. Paul, I will try to limit it to two points. The first is: democracy is one way of organising government. Nothing less but also nothing more. It is not automatically also a recipe for welfare, good government, right decisions. But is has some principles, such as one man one vote or periodical elections (replaceability of office holders), which are desirable to some (eg me). The exact arrangements in countries that consider themselves democracies are diverse, which already shows that these principles cannot be translated into reality without additional considerations. For instance that independently of the principles above, additional choices have to be made (republic or monarchy, protection of minority or dissenters’ rights, proportional representation or majority representation, strong executive or not, control mechanisms etc.). These issues should be taught in political education courses eg in schools.
    There are arguments against democracies, which some people may find compelling and which may also appear valid (even if not compelling) to democrats. But then this should be clearly stated (eg by Fidesz) and not said that “of course” they want democracy even if most people should try to abstain from participation in political affairs over and above the vote for Fidesz within an electoral system that favours Fidesz anyway.
    And the second point: I wrote that already earlier that people who may be disinterested in politics most of the time and who still wish to be taken seriously when it comes to it have a better life in countries with established, functioning democracies. The UK is part of this lucky group, where a critical mass keeps the system intact even if many people do not care. Hungary unfortunately cannot claim this. That is why being uninformed has more serious (in my interpretation) consequences; participation rights and other rights can be more easily lost. But this also shows that people are not “worse” or “more stupid” in Hungary. The task is a bit different (you need not only know how it functions if it functions but also how to make it function if it doesn’t) and it is less “comfortable” than in the UK. And to understand why it is not that comfortable (and how widely shared “knowledge” such as “most people are stupid anyway” contributes to the fact that nothing ever improves), political education appears to me to be one part of a sensible strategy.

  29. Kirsten – there’s no way I would argue against political/civic education – it is a must as far as I’m concerned (and sadly lacking in the UK).
    As you point out, democracy is simply a mechanism for electing a government, to make it more than that, many other things have to be put in place, or to be assumed as part of the culture.
    But when you go on to argue that this ‘enhanced democracy’ (my term) produces a “better life” for the people, I would argue against that. And especially when you cite the UK as part of this “lucky group”.
    I suspect the picture is much more complex than this and that the simple (apparent) causal relationship between democracy and ‘better’ life may not be as obvious as it seems. What if there is something about those countries that both gives their citizens a greater chance of a better life AND inclines them towards democracy?
    In other words, maybe the better life of the citizens isn’t the result of democracy, but but both it and democracy are results of something else.
    What this ‘something else’ might be, I have no real idea. But obvious candidates might be a more liberal, progressive outlook, religious culture, wealth generated from empires and colonisation, industrial revolutions, long established higher education systems, capitalism – and so on.
    I am far from being a political scientist, or even having studied politics, economics, etc beyond the self-taught level. But, as a UK citizen (or, until very recently, a UK subject!), I am deeply suspicious that our ‘democracy’ didn’t have much to do with anything.
    For a start, we do not really have a democracy. Our head of state achieves his or her position purely on the accident of birth (and, although it’s about to be changed, on gender), our second chamber of parliament is unelected and still includes some members who are there purely on the basis of being born into wealth and power, or membership of the Church of England. And we have no constitution.
    But, most damming of all, our constituency-based, first-past-the-post election system means that the majority of us have no effective vote at all, anyway. Elections are won or lost entirely on the views of a few hundred thousand floating voters in a few dozen constituencies. In 40 years of voting, my vote has counted precisely once – and that was an EU election, which was (broadly) proportional. And this isn’t because I voted against the party that won, it’s because I’ve always lived in constituencies which regularly have a large majority for one party. If I’d voted for that party, my vote would have still been largely irrelevant, as they could lose 10 or 15 thousand votes and still win comfortably. The vast majority of ‘our’ MPs are there because they were chosen by their parties, not by the people.
    And, of course, there is the one major problem that dogs all parliamentary democracies – elected dictatorship. Except in times of political uncertainty, the government, once elected, can do what it likes for the next 4 or 5 years (as the current one is doing). Referenda are rare beasts in the UK (I’ve seen just 2 in 40 years), so there’s nothing we can do to change government policies except take to the streets. Is that democracy?
    If all that is what makes Britain what it is today, then I would like someone to explain exactly how. More likely, Britain is what it is because of our geography (an island – not only difficult to invade, but making us a sea-faring people, and creating an insular culture), our weather (ideal climate for raising sheep – the profit from which provided the capital on which our capitalism was based), our history (first industrial revolution, free-market politics, empire, etc), and our extremely mixed race and culture and high levels of immigration and emigration.
    We are what we are because we are who we are. Our culture is the result of our geography and history, is hasn’t been legislated for by politicians or voted on by democratic elections. Of course much of it, especially in recent times, HAS been voted on and legislated for, but I would argue that to see it only that way is to see the tail wagging the dog. Our political system reflects our culture and is driven by that culture, not the other way round.
    I don’t know enough of other democratic cultures/countries to say the same about them, but I suspect the same is broadly true. Certainly you could argue against democracy being the key to the USA. For a start, they have a first-past-the-post electoral system like us, so there is no guarantee that the wining party/President actually reflects the true vote. But perhaps worse than that they currently have a fairly static 50/50 split between parties, which means that any progressive policies are effectively stymied. Policy in the US appears to be driven not by the voters, but by vested interests, big business, etc. It also has a long history of supporting right-wing dictatorships and rogue governments, and deliberately undermining democratically elected governments it doesn’t like. Far from being a good example of a functioning democracy, the US is quite possible the least democratic Western country in modern history.
    I could go on (and on!), but this isn’t the place, so I’ll leave it at that. I have no doubt that anyone with a decent political education could shoot large holes in my ‘thesis’, but I think there is some merit to my argument. Democracy, as you say, is just a method of electing a government, but I would argue that that’s probably just about all it is.

  30. Paul, with all your criticism of the UK and the US, for me they serve as the benchmark countries that have managed – with all flaws that you may name – to avoid dictatorship even in complicated circumstances. That may sound too unambitious but I think that for someone who grew up in Communism that is quite something. That is why I sometimes put the word “democracy” in quotation marks because what it means in specific circumstances is not obvious from the word alone. I write that as someone who 20 years ago started with the impression that nothing is more obvious than the need to install “democracy” and who embarked on a process of realising all the complications, in theory and practice. That you consider the US the least democratic country is interesting, I would have thought the system is a peculiar solution to the problem how to combine “participation”, “representation” and “efficiency”. What you call elected dictatorship appears desirable to some, the elections, free press and the possibility to seek redress would make the difference to a true dictatorship, while “government” is possible. (A reduction in the anarchical element in “democracy”.)
    That cultural aspects may be as decisive as the rules set in laws will be certainly true. Hopefully not to the extent to make change in the “East” impossible :-).

Comments are closed.