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A Short History of the Hungarian Corvin Chain Award.

Photo: Gergely BotárThe Hungarian Corvin Chain Award for Merit was founded by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during his first term in office in Prime Ministerial Decree 2/2001 (VIII. 14), as an award bestowed by the Prime Minister. Hungarian Corvin Chain Awards were first presented on 24 August 2001 to nuclear physicist Ede Teller, Kossuth and Széchényi Award winning zoologist János Balogh, economist Sándor Lámfalussy, historian János Lukács, Kossuth Award winning architect Imre Makovecz and Kossuth Award winning writer Magda Szabó. Nobel Prize winning chemist György Oláh, Wolf Award winning mathematician László Lovász, Széchényi Award winning literary historian István Nemeskürty, Kossuth Award winning ethnographer Zoltán Kallós, Oscar-winning cameraman Vilmos Zsigmond and Kossuth Prize winning composer Sándor Szokolay were presented with the Award on 1 December 2001. Once the number of award winners had reached twelve following the second award ceremony, the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain was formed with the award winners as its members, who elected István Nemeskürty as it's Chairman. The Award winners, who could also express their opinions with regard to issues relating to Hungarian art and educations, were given the opportunity to nominate one creative talent from each of their professional fields, who would be given funding of half a million forints a month for a period of three years in the form of a scholarship.

Following the change of government in 2002, the bestowing of Hungarian Corvin Chain Awards was stopped, the payment of scholarships was suspended and the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain was unable to continue operating.

The second Orbán government, which came into office in 2010, raised the Hungarian Corvin Chain to the rank of state award in Act CCII of 2011 on the Use of the Coat of Arms and Flag of Hungary and on State Awards. Government Decree 87/2012 (IV. 26) on the Hungarian Corvin Chain and the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain set down detailed regulations regarding the bestowing of Hungarian Corvin Chain Awards, and the operation of the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain and the Hungarian Corvin Chain Office. In accordance with the Decree, the Office's Director, Professor György Granasztói, who was appointed head of the Office by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán beginning on 1 April 2011, may make recommendation for the presentations of the Award, for which he must acquire the preliminary support of Hungarian Corvin Chain Award winners. The Director of the Hungarian Corvin Chain Office may recommend Hungarian or foreign citizens to be awarded the decoration who have achieved outstanding merit with regard to the furthering of Hungarian science, art, education and culture, and who are prepared to participate in the work of the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain.

The Board, which is made up of Award winners, shall work to further science and art, in addition to Hungarian national education and culture, and shall assure the prestigious nature of the Award. The Board shall express its opinion on whether those who have been recommended to receive the Hungarian Corvin Chain Award are, while taking into account the individual's public activities, worthy of the Award based on their work in the field of Hungarian science, literature or art and/or their services towards the furthering of Hungarian national education and culture. If requested to do so, the Board shall also express its opinion with regard to the state of Hungarian scientific and artistic life, education, culture and any other fields it may regard as important, and on draft government decisions concerning them. It shall closely monitor the status of Hungarian scientific and artistic life, education, culture and any other areas it views as important and may make recommendations or publish official statements in the public interest with regard to these. The members of the Board may not award scholarships according to the new regulations.

The Hungarian Corvin Chain Office, which operates within the framework of the Prime Minister's Office, deals with the recommendations made for the bestowing of the Award and performs the administrative and organisational work relating to its presentation, in addition to assuring the conditions required for the operation of the Board and performing the tasks of the Board's Secretary.

The historical antecedent to the current award is as follows: on 11 October 1930, Governor Miklós Horthy established the Hungarian Corvin Chain, Hungarian Corvin Wreath and Hungarian Corvin Insignia awards, based on an idea of Minister for Culture Kunó Klebelsberg. According to Article 1 of the Award's statutes, which were written by Klebelsberg and authorised by the Governor, the Award was bestowed by the Governor at the proposal and recommendation of the respective Minister for Religion and Public Education to those who had, in their opinion, achieved outstanding merit within the fields of Hungarian science, literature and the arts, or in the furthering of Hungarian culture. The Award differed from other decorations in that the winners of Hungarian Corvin Chain and Hungarian Corvin Wreath Awards formed a Board with its own statutes that, among others, had the right to decide on future Award winners.

The Corvin Chain Award, which is identical to the original award, is a copy of a thirty-five millimetre diameter medal created by an Italian artist in the 15th century and which depicts a bust of King Matthias Corvinus in profile with the circumscription "Mathias Rex Hungariae". The medal is surrounded by a richly decorated, partly enamelled, pierced circular frame with the inscription "Pro scientia - litteris - et artibus" along the upper circumference. Above the decorative medal can be found the enamelled coat of arms of King Matthias, which hangs from a gold plated silver chain. The total length of the pendant is one hundred millimetres. The miniature Corvin Chain is an identical copy of the pendant part of the Hungarian Corvin Chain Award in a size of forty millimetres. The perpetuation of the Award is represented by the engraving of the Award winner's name and the date of presentation on the back of the Award. If there is no further room for the engraving of names on the back of the Award, the medal is closed by the engraving of the word "Closed" and the year in which the right of ownership of the last possessor of the Award ended, after which it is passed on to the Hungarian National Museum for permanent safekeeping.

Since the presentation of Awards in 2001, four members of the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain have passed away: János Balogh, Ede Teller, Magda Szabó and Imre Makovecz in 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2011, respectively. With their passing, the number of Board members was reduced to eight.

The Hungarian Corvin Chain Awards were next presented on 30 May 2012. In view of the fact that the Award had been raised to the rank of state award, the Awards were presented by the President of the Republic, who in Parliament's Hunter Hall presented the Awards jointly with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Speaker of Parliament László Kövér to Kossuth Award winning opera singer Éva Marton, Member of the Academy, university professor and physicist Zsolt Bor, Kossuth Award winning pianist and chief musical director Zoltán Kocsis, Széchényi Award winning theologian and teacher István Jelenits and Member of the Academy, pharmacologist and former President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Szilveszter E. Vizi. With the new Award winners, the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain now had 13 members, who at their first inaugural meeting confirmed literary historian István Nemeskürty in his position as Chairman.

During its sessions, the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain formulates official opinions not only with regard to current issues concerning Hungarian scientific and cultural life, but also with regard to important social issues. In its statement published on 28 March 2013, the Board welcomed the Government's efforts to combat the various forms of racism and agreed on the importance of  the measures with which the Government is striving to make the suffering of Hungarians who were persecuted because of their origins, religion or culture part of the nation's collective memory.

With the death of composer Sándor Szokolay on 7 December 2013, the number of members of the Board of the Hungarian Corvin Chain has been reduced to 12.