Magyar Gárda: let’s muddy the waters and call it the Homeland Guard

Viktor Orbán publicly recalled many times that his disillusionment with Kádár’s soft dictatorship began with his one year of compulsory military service between high school and law school. Orbán, by all accounts, had a fiery temper as a child and reacted badly to anyone telling him what to do and what not to do. The story is often told that one day as a punishment he was forbidden to have seconds in the school cafeteria. So he sent a classmate to get seconds for him. The teacher wasn’t fooled and ordered him to give back the plate. Instead of obliging, he threw the food against the wall. It’s easy to imagine how the young Orbán reacted to military discipline. His conflicts were not political but sheer rebellion against authority. He was punished constantly and left the army hating it from the bottom of his heart.

A few years later, when he was already prime minister, Orbán suddenly discovered the beneficial effects of military service on young men’s minds and bodies. He announced that only military service makes a man out of a boy. Thus, between 1998 and 2002 nothing happened to transform the ridiculously small and inadequate compulsory service military into a voluntary professional army as the SZDSZ demanded. Moreover, his government tried to make it more difficult to avoid service, which was quite easy in those days. Anybody who had a doctor friend or who was ready to pay a little extra to the family doctor became exempt. Only the poorest and least influential families’ boys had to serve. Meanwhile, Hungary didn’t fulfill its obligations toward NATO as Celeste Wallander pointed out in a study in the November-December 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs. By that time the Orbán government had lost the elections, but the criticism hit István Simicskó, former undersecretary of defense, hard. He created quite a stir in Hungary and the United States by his disparaging remarks about Celeste Wallander and her "study if you can call it that." Simicskó’s hobby horse, especially after the Medgyessy government (under pressure from the SZDSZ) abolished compulsory service and established a professional army, became the creation of a national guard. The inspiration for this military reserve unit came, of course, from the United States. In the last four years or so, one heard only sporadically about Simicskó’s pet project.

A few days ago, behold, Simicskó again became vocal about the formation of a voluntary reserve army, but it seems its new name is to be Honi (Homeland) Gárda instead of Nemzetőrség (National Guard). Why now? Some observers think that this is just a Fidesz tactic to divert attention from the Jobbik’s Magyar Gárda which, given the cooperation on the local level between the Fidesz and the Jobbik, might reflect badly on the Fidesz itself. I don’t know. Whatever the political strategy, I consider the establishment of a Honi Gárda a singularly bad idea that would serve only the agenda of the far right.

Let’s start by saying that the maintenance of such a reserve unit would be quite costly, which the country can’t afford given the huge budget deficit. Interesting that the Fidesz, which only a few days ago wanted to save money on the elections by not providing envelopes for the ballots would now gladly spend billions on a voluntary reserve unit. The members of the Honi Gárda would need monthly stipends, training, and military exercises. We are talking about an incredible expense.

But money is the least of my worries. My real concern is that, were a reserve army to be established, those obvious members of the Magyar Gárda could end up in a government sanctioned, official reserve where they would get military training funded by tax dollars. I was especially astonished to read that Imre Szekeres (MSZP), minister of defense, welcomed the idea and suggested serious discussions about the proposal by the five parliamentary parties. Szekeres is not a stupid man. Doesn’t he realize what could happen if the Fidesz-Christian Democratic suggestion becomes a reality? Or, perhaps he dreams of a larger army, more authority, a larger budget? I hope that nothing will come of Simicskó’s brilliant idea because the SZDSZ, at least, hasn’t been fooled. The party’s spokesman didn’t mince words: his party doesn’t support the establishment of the Honi Gárda. He didn’t spell out their reasons but Sándor Révész, writer and journalist, did in Saturday’s Népszabadság. I was glad to see that his line of reasoning is exactly the same as mine. He finished his article thus: "The MSZP must say ‘no’ to the Honi Gárda in self-defense, and also in the defense of the republic." Indeed.