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Hungary Ends Millennium Festivities

After 20 months of festivities, ceremonies and prayer services, Hungary is ending a series of events marking the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of the Hungarian state. The commemorations have been marked by controversy.

Hungarian government leaders accompanied by a military guard of honor gathered in front of the Parliament building in Budapest Monday to commemorate the country's first king, St. Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state.

His crown, which the King received in the year 1,000 from Pope Sylvester II, is now on display in the Parliament building on the banks of the Danube River.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter returned the crown to Hungary after it was taken from the country following World War II.

Even St. Stephen's right hand is on display. The preserved hand is in St. Stephen's Basilica, which was officially handed over to the Catholic Church. The right hand was expected to be carried trough the streets of Budapest Monday, as part of a Catholic procession.

Hungary's August 20 national holiday meant a more joyful end to 20 months of ceremonies in which Hungary marked its blood-stained and troubled first millennium as a nation. It included several lost wars and at least two lost revolutions, including the anti-Communist fight for freedom in 1956, which was crushed by the Soviet Union.

Hungary analyst Tamas Kiss says that in a country with so many lost struggles, King Stephen is one of the country's most important heroes. "King Stephen," Mr. Kiss said, "was the founder of the Hungarian state. He transformed a virtually nomadic tribe into a settled tribe of more or less cultural people who have actually joined Europe. He was the one who actually as the Head of State founded Hungary."

Pope John Paul II said last week that the country's deep spiritual conviction should help today's Hungarians to base a prosperous future upon the traditions of the country's Christian past.

Hungarian opposition politicians have criticized the millions of dollars spend by the government on huge millennium festivities. One event included placing St. Stephen's Crown on board a Danube River vessel last week, so it could be taken to the city of Esztergom.

The Hungarian government, however, has defended the expenditures, saying that the people should celebrate as the country prepares for what many people hope will be a more peaceful millennium for Hungary.

Hungary became a full member of NATO two years ago, and hopes to join the European Union by 2004.