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The BBC's Nick Thorpe reports
"The crown is no longer a relic of the past relegated to a museum case"
 real 28k

Saturday, 1 January, 2000, 20:35 GMT
Hungary hails national symbol

The holy crown of St Stephen The crown has become a symbol of the Hungarian state

Thousands of people lined the streets of Budapest to watch the Holy Crown of the 11th century Hungarian King, Saint Stephen the First, delivered to parliament, marking its re-establishment as the national symbol.

Crowds: But opponents attacked the move
In a move marking the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the Hungarian state, troops in ceremonial uniform carried the crown in a glass case through the capital to the majestic turn-of-the century Parliament building.

Parliamentarians passed a law just before Christmas to restore the crown to its former role as the symbol of the Hungarian state.

Even though Hungary is a republic, the crown of St Stephen, the nation's first king, has long commanded great respect among the people.

Symbol of unity

Prime minister Viktor Obran welcomed the crown to the buildings along with President Arpad Goencz and the parliamentary speaker Janos Ader.

As the crown, accompanied by an orb and sceptre, was placed in the Cupola Hall, Mr Orban told parliament that it was "a living symbol of the Hungarian state, manifesting the unity of the nation."

Security for the crown Pomp and ceremony: Troops wore traditional costume

But opposition politicians criticised the ceremony as a glorification of the Middle Ages and said that the crown was a symbol of a Christian kingdom and belonged to a museum, not to the parliament of a republic.

Critics say the move could even undermine Hungary's image as a modern European state advancing towards membership of the European Union.

One member of the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats, Tamas Onody, said last week that as the country stood on the threshold of the New Year, it was confused about whether it was welcoming the 21st century or the 13th.

He argued the moving of the relic to a major institution of democratic Hungary would elevate its role.

According to one legend, King Stephen the First of Hungary received the Crown, a gift from the Pope for his Coronation on Christmas Day in the year 1000.

The crown was stolen, lost and damaged many times. It was taken by American troops to Texas after World War II and returned in 1978.

It is thought to be of Byzantine origin, and is in such fragile condition that only one specially trained archaeologist is allowed to handle it.

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See also:
10 Sep 99 |  Europe
Hungary's role remembered
14 Oct 99 |  Europe
EU set to spread east
03 Nov 99 |  Iron Curtain
Budapest's changing face?

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