Hungarian President Katalin Novák presented the Grand Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit to her outgoing Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, at a ceremony in Prague on Friday as she expressed her appreciation for his 33-year-long political career on behalf of all Hungarians.
The honor was presented at a farewell meeting at Prague Castle following a ceremony involving the caste guard and the Czech military band. Both Czech and Hungarian flags were flown over the courtyard, and the two nations’ heads of state stood for their respective national anthems.
The Hungarian presidential office had announced in advance that Novák would award Zeman with the Hungarian state honor as “an expression of the Hungarian nation’s respect.”
“He has stood up for Hungary on many occasions, but he also has an unparalleled record of strengthening Central Europe and the Visegrád cooperation. As a token of the appreciation of the Hungarian people, I have presented him with the highest state honor bestowed on foreigners. Thank you, Mr. President,” Novák wrote in a social media post after the event.
The ceremony was followed by a meeting between the two leaders where the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Czech-Hungarian relations, and the Visegrád alliance were discussed. Novák thanked the Czech head of state for his cooperative efforts in promoting the economic, cultural and historical values of their two countries through the Visegrád alliance.
“Whoever attacks Visegrád cooperation is attacking the alliance in mind and heart, and I will work under my presidency to be able to act against this as effectively as possible,” she told reporters.
Novák revealed that both heads of state continue to condemn Russian aggression in Ukraine and stand to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. She also raised with Zeman the treatment of the 150,000-strong Transcarpathian Hungarian minority in Ukraine and vowed to speak up for those whose rights are being restricted.
Later on Friday, the Hungarian president was expected to hold an informal meeting with Zeman’s successor, former NATO General Petr Pavel, at the Hrzánsky Palace in Prague.