Yesterday I was combing through the Hungarian News Agency’s reports for the day when my breath was taken away. By the end of the school year of 2012/13 students will be able to choose “basic military science” as one of their subjects for the matriculation examination. Honestly, I had to read it twice in order to comprehend this latest “surprise” from the Orbán government.
Matriculating in basic military science in Hungarian gymnasiums is a historic first. Not even the Horthy regime came out with such an outlandish idea. They solved the problem of a forbidden standing army by establishing an extracurricular movement for boys where surreptitiously they were given basic military training. But the boys didn’t have to matriculate in the subject.
During the first years of the Rákosi period there was a brief experimentation with preparing us for some military attack by the imperialists, but the whole thing was scrapped in no time. I remember only a couple of lectures given on the subject by outsiders who were most likely members of the military.
After a little research I learned that basic military science is already taught in 27 schools in Hungary, but these are vocational schools (szakközépiskolák), not gymnasiums. If students can take basic military science as a matriculation subject, it means a change in the curriculum. All schools with students interested in studying military science will have to offer a course in the subject, and there must be a member of the matriculation committee who is capable of judging the student’s preparedness.
This piece of news came on the heels of another announcement by the Ministry of Defense. Soon a military high school will open its doors in Debrecen. Military schools were numerous before 1948, but after the communist takeover only one such school remained in Budapest. Even that was closed after the Hungarian revolution. While military schools in the United States are known as “schools for troubled kids,” the Hungarian military schools in the past catered to the children of the upper middle class with political views that reflected the government’s official ideology.
Today the Hungarian army organizes summer camps lasting a week for children interested in military matters. One of the two sites is Debrecen because most of the recruits come from eastern Hungary. Most likely because of the high unemployment rate and general poverty. The officers who run the camp make these youngsters work very hard. Here is a picture from this year:
I wouldn’t be surprised if the first military high school in Debrecen would soon be followed by others. Csaba Hende, the minister of defense, takes this whole business very seriously.
Hende only recently announced that the army will also have a large role to play in the organization of public works projects. The training soldiers receive is perfect preparation for the supervision of the thousands of unemployed the state will hire for very low wages at public works projects. They have a knowledge of logistics, transportation, and providing food and shelter.
The military took over the job of guarding of the Holy Crown in the parliament building. In this case Hende argued for such a change in the name of historical tradition. Between the two world wars it was the duty of a special unit of the Hungarian army to guard the crown, which Hende called the “embodiment of the nation.” What Hende neglected to mention was that at that time the crown was not in the parliament building where armed military men really shouldn’t be allowed. But from here on between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. “four soldiers will be guarding the crown in a special uniform with a Kossuth-saber but in the background there will be other soldiers with firearms.” Here is a picture of what these crown guards (koronaőrök) look like:
These guards get special training with “their indispensable instruments, PA-63 pistols and KGP-9 machine guns.” The Crown Guard (Honvéd Koronaőrség) will consist of 82 men–8 commissioned officers and 72 non-commissioned officers.
That is not the end of special units within the army. Beginning in January 2012 soldiers will guard the Sándor Palota where Pál Schmitt has his office. We don’t know yet how large a unit this will be, but it already has a name–“Honvéd Palotaőrség” (Palace Guard). And if that is not enough, there will be a special battalion that will serve during military parades (Honvéd Díszzászlóalj).
Someone in the government must think that President Schmitt’s life is in danger since not only the Palace Guard will defend him but also the Terrorelhárítási Központ (Anti-terrorist Center). That group was created by the Orbán government immediately after Fidesz won the elections. It is often described, and not without reason, as Viktor Orbán’s private army because it was created from a rather large group of personal bodyguards Orbán had when he was merely the chairman of an opposition party. In 2002 Orbán hired János Hajdu, a former counter-intelligence officer, who in no time created a “security unit” which, according to people who are familiar with the internal workings of Orbán’s entourage, eventually became “a classic secret service organization.”
It was rumored even before the elections that in case Fidesz won Hajdu’s bodyguards would be incorporated into the police force as a special unit whose job it would be, just as before, to look after the personal safety of Viktor Orbán. But surely, they couldn’t admit that the members of this group had no other duties than to be responsible for the safety of the prime minister. Therefore it was named Terrorelhárítási Központ (TEK). Hajdu was immediately made brigadier general and the unit received a separate building and 10 billion forints. Also for the sake of appearances, TEK became responsible for the safety of Pál Schmitt. As far as I know, TEK’s only activity since September 1 has been the arrest of two armed men who entered the country from Slovakia.
Another tidbit, perhaps reflecting the government’s paranoia, the new graduates of the Police Academy who were recruited from all over the country are not returning to their hometowns. All 900 of them will be serving in Budapest as riot police.
And finally an interesting arms development. You may recall that a few months ago Csaba Hende wanted to purchase old tanks from Austria. Austria was selling these vehicles because it had no need for them. It was difficult to fathom why Hungary should need them. But Hende keeps repeating that the Hungarian army is incapable of defending the country. They would need more people, more money, and naturally more tanks.
That’s why I was surprised to hear yesterday that the same Csaba Hende wants to sell 24 MIG-29 fighter planes. Admittedly, with MIG-29s one couldn’t really defend the country. Tanks I think are much more suitable for the kind of warfare Hende most likely has in mind. But there is a bit of a problem with these planes. Hungary received them from Russia as compensation for Russian debt incurred and Hungary needs Russian approval for their sale. Assuming that Russia agrees and the MIGs are actually sold, Hende can return to the idea of purchasing tanks. Perhaps not even old junkie ones from Austria but brand new ones with which he and his soldiers can defend the country. Against? The neighbors? Domestic dissidents? Who knows.