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.
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.
The 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.