At the end of the Second World War, the revered crown of St. Stephen, the first Christian monarch of Hungary, was smuggled out of Austria by the U.S. Army to prevent its falling into Soviet hands. It remained at Fort Knox in the United States until it was handed over to the communist government of Hungary in 1978. The return of the crown was opposed by many in the Hungarian diaspora, especially by those who had fled the country after the brutal Soviet suppression of the uprising in 1956.
The reason for the opposition was explained to me by a special advisor to Viktor Orbán, the pugnacious and highly successful prime minister of Hungary. The crown of St. István, as he’s known in Hungarian, bestowed legitimacy on the monarch over Christianity’s thousand-year history in Hungary. The last monarch to be crowned was the saintly Bl. Emperor Karl in 1916. As the crown had bestowed legitimacy on the monarch, Orbán’s adviser told me, so, in a sense, its presence bestows legitimacy on the government. Obviously, President Jimmy Carter’s foolish mistake (one of many) of handing the crown over to the illegitimate Communist government of Hungary gave the appearance of legitimacy to a one-party autocratic state.
Now, however, in a truly democratic Hungary—“a Christian democratic state,” as Orbán called it in a speech in Italy last week—the crown lies symbolically at the very center of the magnificent parliament building in Budapest. It was during Mr. Orbán’s first premiership, in the millennium year of 2000, that the decision was made to place the crown at the heart of the Hungarian government, transferring from a small room in a museum to the Parliament Building rotunda. Symbols matter, and for Hungarians the placement of St. István’s crown speaks loudly and powerfully.
The creation of a Christian democratic state has been the central policy of the Hungarian government. It rests, says Orbán, on “three pillars: the family, the nation, and Christian freedom.” It is therefore unsurprising that Hungary’s government is so aggressively attacked by the anti-democratic forces of the European Union and its supporters in the media and academia. It could be argued that the present organization of the EU and its parliament—not to mention the grotesque and ever-growing bureaucracy that feeds it, at great cost to member states—is diametrically opposed to all three “pillars” of Hungary’s democracy.
The EU is anti-nationalistic and anti-family. According to one Hungarian member of the European parliament, György Hölvényi, it’s also the “most secular institution” in Europe. To not only proclaim the Christian foundation of one’s country but actually rebuild the nation according to Christian principles was bound to raise the ire of the jaded secularists who are successfully presiding over Europe’s dying post-Christian culture.
Orbán and the other members of the Visegrad Four—Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic—are hated in the sterile West. That’s a clear sign they’re doing something worthy to protect Europe’s Christian heart.
Hungary’s opposition to mass immigration (nearly all those seeking to cross its borders are doing so for economic and not humanitarian reasons) has caused the biggest outrage among the agents of demographic revolution. The desire to change Europe’s demography is, indeed, a policy. Orbán is unapologetic about his opposition to multiculturalism—precisely because the concept, at least in Europe, doesn’t work. The former Christian culture is instead replaced by another culture; the Faith is supplanted either by a different religion or else the new religion of evangelical secularism.
Surely it’s no coincidence that Hungary, like other Eastern European nations that suffered for decades under the murderous oppression of atheistic communism, has emerged into the light of freedom with a new appreciation for its religious and Christian heritage. The celebration of national history and culture is neither right-wing nor (it needs to be said) at odds with Catholic teaching. On the contrary, it’s utterly necessary. Without it, Westerners’ self-loathing will allow a predatory culture to create a new narrative.
The Christian democratic state of Hungary is also a shining example of both Christian charity and a practical example of how preventing economic migration. Moved by the stories of persecuted Christians in 2016, Mr. Orbán created the Secretariat for Persecuted Christians. His is the first government in the world to have a ministry dedicated to helping the suffering Church in the Islamic world. They are aiding Christians directly in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. The “Hungary Helps” program is rebuilding whole towns so families can have a real future in their homes. Unlike other nations that simply lament the persecution of our brothers and sisters in faith, the Hungarians act to defend them. This November, in Budapest, the government of Hungary will host a world conference on Christian persecution, addressing practical ways to help.
While far from perfect—no perfect government will ever exist—the example and policies of Hungary, especially its pro-family policies, should give hope to the timorous and frightened Christians of Western Europe. How can a Christian argue with Orbán’s statement that “we are a people who think that the last hope for Europe is Christianity?”
When the historian Hilaire Belloc said that “Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish,” he was not speaking about a return to Christendom per se. It’s much simpler than that. He was simply observing that Christianity is the very “cement” that holds Europe together. But if the cement crumbles, so does the building. Orbán has spoken of the danger to the European Christian culture not coming to the West but from the West. EU policies have “opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and the expansion of Islam,” Mr. Orbán says.
It’s a profound and wonderful thing that the very countries that lived through the worst darkness and oppression of the 20th century are rekindling the light of hope for Christian Europe. Hungary is at the very heart of this revival, as symbolized by the restoration of St. Stephen’s crown. It’s not a relic of the past, but the sign of hope for the future, for the next thousand years.
Photo credit: Getty Images/AFP