After Hungary returned an ancient suit of armor to Poland, Warsaw is seeking to repay the favor by gifting a medieval manuscript to Budapest, but many locals are opposing the move.
Plans by Poland’s government to gift a treasured manuscript to Hungary are looking increasingly uncertain after officials and clergymen voiced their opposition to the move.
At stake is the Catalog Of Corvinus, a 15th-century book that describes in poetic verses the contents of a library that belonged to Hungary’s King Matthias Corvinus. The royal library contained thousands of books and was one of the largest in the world, but it was looted by invading Turkish forces in the early 1500s and its contents mostly lost.
Elaborate illustrations on the opening pages of the book were made by Italian artist Attavante degli Attavanti and it was written by Naldus Naldius. The manuscript is currently held in the Copernican Library in Torun, central Poland, after it was donated to the city by a wealthy local in 1594.
A lawmaker with Poland’s ruling party has put forward legislation that would permit the state to pay around $6.2 million to the library to take ownership of the book, before presenting it to Hungary.
The planned gift comes a year after Hungary returned to Poland a 16th-century suit of armor that belonged to the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus.
After World War I, the gilded armor had mistakenly been identified as belonging to a Hungarian king and was stored in a Budapest museum. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the return of the armor was made “in the name of friendship.”
The Polish and Hungarian governments are closely allied over flashpoint issues such as migrant resettlement quotas in the European Union and the “promotion” of homosexuality to children -- stances that put them increasingly at odds with Brussels.
On February 16, the European Court of Justice ruled that the EU can withhold funding from member countries that fail to “uphold the rule of law,” making it likely that Poland and Hungary could lose tens of billions of euros in funding.
Away from the wider geopolitics, many Poles are fiercely opposed to the gifting of the Catalog Of Corvinus which is considered a historical jewel of Torun. Critics of the planned handover say the book cannot be compared to the suit of armor since it came into Polish possession centuries ago through an apparently legitimate purchase and donation.
On February 14, several senior figures in Torun appealed to MPs in a joint statement, calling for them to “withdraw from the initiative to deprive the Copernican Library in Torun of the priceless manuscript in its collection, which is invaluable for Torun and the region, and an inseparable part of the spiritual and material heritage of Poland."
A petition has been launched in an attempt to stop the gift from going ahead.
Piotr Babinetz from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party told Polish media that he is “not surprised that there is controversy,” but says, “We are seeing this from the perspective of the great damage that was done to Poland during a series of wars, but the Hungarians also suffered great losses due to the Turkish invasions -- for example, in the case of the Matthias Corvinus royal library, and they would like to see this manuscript returned home.”