The militarization of Hungary

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.

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Member

Are they going to bring back the “levente” organizations? Again some idiot is dreaming about the period between the first and the second world wars?
By the way the MIG-29s were retired last year. In what condition are those birds? Who would want those? Some south American dictator? India? A MIG-29 Fulcrum is about 30 million dollars new, while a Leopard 2 is about 6 million. The tanks probably more useful if Laszlo Kover wants back that few truckloads of pebbles along the Danube from Slovakia …

Kirsten
Guest

Difficult to imagine that this growth strategy will yield the fabulous tax income expected for the near future. At least the Crown is safe, what a relief.

Paul
Guest

“All 900 of them will be serving in Budapest as riot police.”
I was wondering how seriously OV took the possibility of serious resistance to him on the streets. Now we know.
He’s not going to go without a bloody fight.

Ron
Guest

To have basic Military Science at schools is not necessary bad, if the education is focused on management, such as Sun Tzu or Napoleon and quality issues. And as per the story of the professor that seems to be the case.
As to some kind of new Hitler Jugend I am not so thrilled.
As to the other issue with bodyguard turned terrorist fighter, I wonder how many terrorist they caught or assisting in prevention.
Furthermore, I wonder under the NATO agreement how much they need to spent on Defense and on what. Are they breaching the treaty?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Ron: “Furthermore, I wonder under the NATO agreement how much they need to spent on Defense and on what. Are they breaching the treaty?”
Yes, they are. They are supposed to spend 1.8% of the GDP but the actual money spent is well under 1%.

Ron
Guest

Paul:”All 900 of them will be serving in Budapest as riot police.”
I assume that to be member of the riot police was based upon voluntary basis. After 2006 I assume that not many policemen wanted to be part of this, if the politics are not backing them up.
So the voluntary base is missing now. And very soon it may be difficult for the government to hire new police recruits or even army recruits.

GW
Guest
“They are supposed to spend 1.8% of the GDP but the actual money spent is well under 1%.” This, the major hardware move from air forces to tanks, and increases in lowest-level soldiers and designated “riot police” adds up to the “military” spending being more for internal then external purposes. The nostalgic palace guard uniforms are a useful distraction, but a distraction from numbers and an attachment to the person of OV that should frighten anyone who believes in smooth transitions between democratically-elected governments. The fact that the government is so willing to avoid its NATO agreements — many NATO partners are deficit in this regard, but none so egregiously — suggests that it preparing to go it alone. Ron wrote: “After 2006 I assume that not many policemen wanted to be part of this, if the politics are not backing them up.” I think we should not underestimate the potential of larger scale young, untrained, male unemployment with a growing nationalist propaganda to create a huge supply of recruits with “authoritarian personalities.” If you don’t need to provide your soldiers with high tech weaponry, military and para-military employment can be a cheap tool against unemployment and a way of… Read more »
nimh
Guest

Insanity..

Joe Simon
Guest

The Militarization of Hungary? The usual peevish, petulant and incorrect reaction so characteristic of Spectrum. ‘Katonai alapismeretek’, a subject that will be elective in some schools. In a country where there is no conscription, for students to learn something about the military is not a bad idea. The Swiss also have a similar system.

pusztaranger
Guest

Another aspect: I wonder if part of the plan is to train soldiers cheaply in order to lend them for profit later. The government wants to make the Hungarian work force the most flexible in Europe (Hungarian Work Plan/forced labour), so why not train kids from poor areas, especially Roma, for military service and then lend them to conflict parties elsewhere via private contractors, much like the közmunkások, generating income for the state. On a defence ministry conference on “Roma integration in the Army” this spring, state secretary for integration Zoltán Balog referred to the army as “the most important institution in terms of social integration”. Trading soldiers was big in 18th century German absolutism, so why shouldn’t it work for OV today.

GW
Guest

Joe Simon:
There is absolutely no comparison with Switzerland, which has universal male conscription into a near-universal reserve army.

blondé
Guest

Eva I’ve been reading your blog for years and first of all I would like to wholeheartedly thank you for writing it with such devotion and objectivity. I am not too keen on the politics and I wish the current political scene here was boring enough for you to write more about culture and history.
Perhaps loosely still on the subject of the dangers of militarization of Hungarian society today, you could write a blog about the Sándor Képiró trial that ended today with a non-guilty verdict and the implications of it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Blondé: “you could write a blog about the Sándor Képiró trial that ended today with a non-guilty verdict and the implications of it.”
Indeed, it is an important topic and I will get to it. But, as you said, unfortunately politics is not at all boring in Hungary. Here is the mayoral race in Gyöngyöspata and there is also the charge of “espionage” and what is behind it. It seems that the secret is no longer a secret. I wish I had more time but it is not easy to write a blog of about 1,000 words every day.
Thank you for your kind words.

elevezett-nemzet
Guest

all activities are generated by the underemployed civil servants.
they are afraid to lose their jobs, so they try to dream up flattering proposals.
it would be better to pay their salary and let them stay home to refrain from damaging all Hungary in cooperation with the insane fidesz, kereszteny dems, and rossszabbiks…

koeszmeod
Guest

Thank you Eva for all.
Speaking about hot topics:
Kepiro Trial:What can we expect? As we learnt from the New Constitution, Hungarians are not responsible for the Holocaust.
Gyongyospata =Tragedy
Freedom House Testimony on July 15 2011
“Freedom House President David Kramer testified today before the US Helsinki Commission regarding the suppression of internet freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region. Mr. Kramer began with a prediction that Belarusian President Lukashenka’s “days are numbered” and emphasized the importance of the internet in mobilizing young activists in Belarus. Mr. Kramer went on to summarize the status of internet freedom in several OSCE countries and highlighted the chilling effect new legislation has had on online media outlets in Hungary.”
http://www.freedomhouse.org/images/File/speeches_and_testimonies/HelsinkiCommissionTestimony-InternetFreedom.pdf
(Hungary is on page 9)

Paul
Guest

“The Militarization of Hungary? ‘Katonai alapismeretek’, a subject that will be elective in some schools. In a country where there is no conscription, for students to learn something about the military is not a bad idea. The Swiss also have a similar system.”
See how much better that reads? A valid point made, an arguable comparison suggested. All in all, a valuable contribution to the debate, and a very welcome different opinion.
But, as always, the pro-Fidesz posters shoot themselves in the foot by not being able to hold back on the insults and invective.
Why do you do it? If you post on here in the hope that your different opinion will actually influence us, then you undermine any chance of success you have as soon as you start on the personal attacks and intemperate language.
We badly need someone voicing a valid difference of opinion on here, it’s far too comfy without it, but it has to be presented in a way we can respect.

Hoping
Guest

Eva “It seems that the secret is no longer a secret.”
What is it? Watching TV and news all evening and nothing about this. Can you tell?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

You want me to kill my own story for tomorrow? But I suggest that you read HVG (July 18) and try to put two and two together.

Member
chayenne
Guest

the idead of a new ‘riot police’ clearly suggests to me that Orban is well aware of the possible implications of his political and economical program. After a point, people who have nothing to lose anymore because they have been thrown into abject poverty will go out in the street and revolt. that would of course be a terrible thing to happen, but in my opinion everything that is going down in the country right now is leading up to such a culmination of events. Orban wants to have a large riot police at hand, just like his very own private Counter-terrorist people whose only resposibility is to protect his precious person and maybe other members of his government if the time comes. Also, the purchase of tanks makes one visualise a riot scene in the streets where the angry mob can only be forced to retreat by such means. I really wish that all this is just the figment of my imagination. But it all seems so logical.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
I was re reading the Treaty of Paris 1947. This is peace treaty which restored Hungary’s right to self government. I was looking for articles concerning restitution. When I stumbled across this Part III Military and Air Clauses. Article 14 (which states) “Personnel not included in the Hungarian Army or Air Force shall not receive any form of military training or military air training as defined in Annex II” which I have copied below. ANNEX II (See Article 14) DEFINITION OF MILITARY AND MILITARY AIR TRAINING 1. Military training is defined as: the study of and practice in the use of war material specially designed or adapted for army purposes, and training devices relative thereto; the study and carrying out of all drill or movements which teach or practice evolutions performed by fighting forces in battle; and the organised study of tactics, strategy and staff work. 2. Military air training is defined as: the study of and practice in the use of war material specially designed or adapted for air force purposes, and training devices relative thereto; the study and practice of all specialised evolutions, including formation flying, performed by aircraft in the accomplishment of an air force mission; and… Read more »
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A. Horvath
Guest
The Hungarian Armed Forces are in pathetic shape. Manpower (30,000) is about 1/2 the size of the NYC Police department. There are no real reserve forces. The Army lacks armor, artillery, anti aircraft weapons, attack helicopters and just about everything is old Warsaw Pact crap. The Air Force is tiny (about 14 modern fighter planes). The senior leadership is mostly Warsaw Pact retreads and is of questionable loyalty. The Hungarian people lack confidence in the Armed forces because of 1956, 1945, 1920, 1918, 1848 etc. and refuse to provide the necessary funding. All of the surrounding countries, including the smaller ones like Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia have modernized their armed forces. In a real war the Air Force would last 2-6 hours and the Army would be wiped out as a fighting force in 24-48 hours. The entire country would be occupied in 72 hours or less, too soon for NATO help to arrive. Hungary need a minimum force of about 75,000-95,000 men, 500 modern tanks, 100 + helicopters and an air force of 300 modern combat planes to provide a credible defense. If they do not do this, Hungary will disappear from the map.
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