The ministry of defense under Csaba Hende

Csaba Hende has had a long political career. For years, between 1988 and 2004, he held important posts in MDF. But then he suddenly left the party and soon enough became a card carrying member of Fidesz. In parliament he sat as an independent for six months as is required by law but not a day longer. He immediately joined the Fidesz delegation. I assume that he had no trust in MDF's being able to attain parliamentary representation on its own and by that time it was clear that Ibolya Dávid, the chairman of MDF, had no intention of joining forces with Fidesz again. Hende wanted a sure bet. One of his former colleagues in MDF called him "a livelihood politician" which doesn't sound as good as the Hungarian "megélhetési politikus," someone who without any principles goes where he finds his career most secure.

Viktor Orbán gave him the job of organizing the "civic cells" that Orbán dreamt up in 2002. In this capacity it became increasingly obvious that Csaba Hende belonged to the right wing of the party. In 2008 he announced, for example, that when Fidesz takes over the government they will fire all 45,000 policemen and build the force from scratch. His name also cropped up when an extremist civic cell was organized in New York City whose establishment was inspired by Hende. That civic cell even invited the notorious David Irving to give a lecture on his favorite topic, the denial of the holocaust.

In 2009 and early 2010 one didn't hear much about Hende. The civic cells' importance was fading. Fidesz as a party did well on its own; it didn't need the help of local civic cells. In fact, they often complicated matters for the party because it was impossible to control the activities of thousands of independent groups.

So, great was my surprise when the pudgy Csaba Hende was named to be Viktor Orbán's minister of defense. First, because until then one didn't associate Hende with the military and second,Hende  because István Simicskó, undersecretary of defense in the first Orbán government, seemed like the obvious man for the job. Hende himself must have realized that a lot of people found Orbán's choice surprising because he felt compelled to inform the public that he in fact has had a long association with the army and actually reached the rank of colonel.

Well, one thing is sure. He has been hyperactive as a minister. Almost daily there is something new coming out of the ministry. One day we find that the Hungarian military should emulate the tradition and spirit of the armed forces between the two world wars while the next day we hear about plans to establish a new military academy as soon as possible. He made quite a splash when he expressed his opinion that the decision to discontinue conscription was "an irresponsible move." He added somewhat threateningly that just because in time of peace compulsory military service was abolished it doesn't mean that "universal conscription" ceased to exist. MTI's description of Hende's thoughts on the subject is rather confused. In my reading Hende would like to have a ready database that would list the names and addresses of all those people who could be called up in "non-peacetime." The only reason that they don't have such a roster is the lack of information at their disposal. On another occasion he was clearer. He complained that at the time that conscription was abandoned the ministry of defense threw out all the documentation, so they "don't have records on the basis of which we could mobilize in case of trouble." I really wonder what's going on in Hende's head. Very soon Hungary will be completely surrounded by allied countries. Who is likely to attack Hungary? Probably no one, but the prime minister has expressed his concern about Russia.

In any case, don't fear. Hende is planning to have some kind of database. He announced at one point that it would take about six months to put together a list of people who could be called up for military service and another six months to give them basic training. Hende also promised to set up a volunteer army (over and above the current army of professional soldiers) of 6,000-8,000 by 2014.

A few days later he announced that under his leadership the "reconstruction of the Hungarian armed forces" is taking place because "the defense of the fatherland is a national issue. …. [They] are organizing a new army." According to Hende's concept the Hungarian army's main task is the defense of the country's borders and not what it does now: participating in peacekeeping missions all over the world as part of NATO.

Later he came up with the idea of a reserve army. The ministry has already worked out plans for establishing a military reserve force because "no army can exist without reservists." Hende is moving fast. By the first quarter of 2011 he will have the reservists ready to go. Tibor Benkő, the chief of staff, announced that  Hungary is defenseless at the moment because it doesn't have a reserve force.

The reservists already have their jobs. They will stand in front of the army barracks! Until now the ministry found it cheaper to hire civilians to do the job. But for Hende this is unacceptable. Volunteers who will receive training in marksmanship will defend the buildings with assault rifles. But surely standing in front of buildings will not be a full-time job. How will that work?

So, Hende is preoccupied with reservists, creating a larger army, defense of the borders, and mobilization of people eligible to serve. But that's not all. He doesn't think that the Hungarian army that came into being twenty years ago is really "a national army." However, "the government of cooperation," as Orbán and his men call their government, will make the army national again.

Hende's army will have another job. To guard the Holy Crown. Mind you, there is a little problem with this. The Holy Crown, thanks to Viktor Orbán who moved it from the National Museum, is in the parliament building. I don't think that armed soldiers should be inside the parliament building. In my opinion the Holy Crown shouldn't be there either.

The latest is that the ministry with parliament's blessing will enlarge the size of the current professional army by 600 persons. A new battalion (zászlóalj) will be created for the graduates of the Miklós Zrinyi Defense Academy. However, the new battalion will be named Ludovika Zászlóalj. Ludovika (Magyar Királyi Honvéd Ludovika Akadémia) was the name of Hungary's military academy before 1945. So, slowly but surely with Hende's guidance the Hungarian army is marching back to the Horthy period.

Today's news from Hende's ministry of defense is perhaps the most startling. A "civilian defense force" will be created that would be "conscripted" in time of natural disasters. Young people between the ages of 22 and 27 would have to join this civilian defense force. They would be paid during training and actual service but Hende thinks that the young people's interest could be enhanced by some extra goodies, like "a Hungarian style uniform, wearing insignias showing rank, receiving decorations, taking oaths, etc." Young people could get out of serving in this force by paying 25,000 forints "in peace time" and thus the whole civilian defense force could pay for itself. In case of emergency, all people could be called up except those of retirement age. People who commit crimes in the area of danger could face summary justice. The document that is available on the Internet goes into details about bomb shelters that are enough for only 20% of the inhabitants while in Switzerland 95% of the population could find refuge in them. However, thank God, Hende doesn't contemplate increasing the number of bomb shelters. He seems to be satisfied with "the modernization of information science capabilities of the country." Well, if there is no bomb shelter perhaps a smart phone will do!

I'm afraid Csaba Hende's ideas about the military is about as modern as Rózsa Hoffmann's ideas about education. I just hope that these lunatics will not ruin absolutely everything in site.

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Such is the bizarre behaviour of The Mighty One and his pals, that the phrase ‘the lunatics have taken over the asylum’ is beginning to sound rather hackneyed. From a UK perspective, the numbers quoted in this article seem very small. Exactly how big is the Hungarian army? Is there a single armed force, or is it divided into different services, as in the UK? (Obviously I don’t expect there to be a Hungarian navy!) As for the police, one of the things I always mention to people about Hungary is how seldom you see police (at least outside Budapest). In nearly 10 years of living, off and on, in Debrecen, the only time I’ve seen police in numbers is on Virágkarnevál weekends, indeed I’ve gone weeks without seeing any at all. Our neighbour, a local copper (and hence the only one I see regularly!) tells me that they only have two patrol cars (for Hungary’s second city), so it’s no wonder that you never see one of these either. But this summer all that changed. Practically the first thing we saw in town when we arrived in early May was a gaggle of police – yes police in the… Read more »
Rigó Jancsi

@ Paul: There is actually a river flotilla, but of course no real navy anymore after WWII. Horthy was their last Admiral. So you have a division between ground forces and air force.
I think it would be a very unique and progressive idea to abandon the army completely and move all that money to universities. But that will remain a wish.
But actually… why does Hungary need an army, when the Gárda is protecting us… /sarcasm off

Eva S. Balogh

Paul: “From a UK perspective, the numbers quoted in this article seem very small. Exactly how big is the Hungarian army?”
After a lot of searching I came up with the number: just a little over 21,000.

Odin's lost eye
Paul as you say ** “Such is the bizarre behaviour of The Mighty One and his pals, that the phrase ‘the lunatics have taken over the asylum’ is beginning to sound rather hackneyed.” ** This piece if true orchestrates the xenophobia of the ‘Mighty One’ and his little his chums. Fidesz thinking dates back to the 1870s when it was thought that a nation could seize the territory of another nation by force of arms and adsorb it. This idea was mortally wounded by the first Battle of the Marne and buried by the treaties of Trianon and Paris 1947. The last attempt to do anything like this was in the Falkland Islands 1982. Hungary is joined to the rest of NATO by several of its neighbours. God help anyone who tries to do it these days. Ok I know about Tibet but it was part of China. As to the size of armies. These days the precision guided weapon and the cluster weapon mean that small highly trained forces are the order of the day. A MRLS on the back of a 5 tonne truck can dish out s ‘slap’ the equal of a 32,000 tonne battleship with her… Read more »

Recently, when I lamented the quality of people making economic policy in Hu to someone at the US Embassy, his comment was that if you think they are bad you should see the people running the Ministry of Defense and the military.


Going way off topic here (sorry), but I wanted to comment on the Irish situation, especially in comparison with Hungary.
The Irish government have just announced an absolutely swingeing set of cuts (even existing public service pensions will be reduced) AND tax rises – including another 2% on VAT, taking it to a staggering 21% (is this the higheest in the EU?).
And this follows a previous package of cuts earlier in the year, so it’s pain on top of pain.
In contrast, although Hungary wasn’t in the deep poo that Ireland got itself into, there will be no major spending cuts in Hungary and tax cuts are promised.
Now, we all know the sleights of hand OV has used to achieve this, and I still think there will be tears before bedtime. But, looking at it from a Fidesz perspective, OV has found a solution no one else could and has done something everyone said would be impossible (meeting the defecit target, assuming he does, without cuts and tax rises).
And you have to admit, despite our reservations, they have a point.

Eva S. Balogh

NWO: “Recently, when I lamented the quality of people making economic policy in Hu to someone at the US Embassy, his comment was that if you think they are bad you should see the people running the Ministry of Defense and the military.”
I’m glad that they’re watching.


“taking it to a staggering 21% (is this the higheest in the EU?).”
Where do you live? The basic rate of AFA in Hungary is 25%


Sophist, I live mainly in the UK, but I thought AFA was 20% for some reason.
I also got the Irish figures wrong, it’s going up 2% from 21%, so the new rate will be 23%.
Is AFA directly comparable to VAT?

Hungarian Calvinist

Look at his bland face. Isn’t he cute? (Usually I NEVER judge by looks but this pic is a telltale making me wonder if his IQ equals his shoesize.)

Eva S. Balogh

Hungarian Calvinist: “Usually I NEVER judge by looks but this pic is a telltale making me wonder if his IQ equals his shoesize.)”
Put it that way. Intelligence is not the first thing you think of when you look at him.