Csaba Hende, Viktor Orbán's surprise choice as minister of defense, has been super active ever since the cabinet was formed. If one were to judge the state of the Hungarian army from Hende's verbiage one would think that an incredible amount of money is going for the defense of the country. There was talk about buying new tanks, setting up an army reserve, and giving more duties to the present army of about 20-30,000 men. They created a special unit to guard the barracks, another to guard the Holy Crown. There will be another just to guard the president's office. In addition, there was talk about setting up new military high schools and completely reorganizing Hungary's military academy.
As I was reading about all these alleged new developments I kept wondering about their cost. Where is the money coming from? The truth seems to be that talk comes cheap because Hungary has never spent less on defense than it does today. Less than 1% of the GDP! Lately it was even reported that the Gripen fighter planes were grounded because of a lack of fuel.
But then why all this talk about "defending the country, even if singlehandedly, against hostile action"? For that "one needs heavy artillery: tanks, guns, and men." Chief of the general staff Tibor Benkő was convinced last September that for that kind of preparedness the army would need to double its budget. Instead, the defense budget was cut.
Benkő, talking on Duna TV, expressed his firm belief that "without a reserve army one cannot speak of a military force." If we take him at his word, in the chief of staff's opinion Hungary doesn't even have an army. When he was asked whether compulsory military service should be reinstated, he hesitated a bit and answered: "I don't think that we should talk about compulsory military service. On the other hand, we must not close the door in front of those youngsters who would like to play soldier a bit." In the original, the last part of the sentence was: "akik szeretnének egy kicsit katonáskodni." How charming. Here is a caricature of all this boasting about a strong Hungarian army.
"Csabi, the whole world will be frightened to death of this new Hungarian military force." Actually, the wording is a tad less polite.
The reference to the reserve as the backbone of any armed forces shows that a fair number of Hungarian military men are not entirely happy about the 2004 decision to abolish compulsory military service and set up a professional army.
In May 2011 a plan for a new law on military affairs was leaked. It caused quite a stir because it contained a reference to reintroducing military service for men between the ages of 18 and 40 in extraordinary defense situations (rendkívüli védelmi helyzetben). In the last few years the alleged problems of abolishing compulsory service came to the surface: "the supplementation of the personnel of the Hungarian Army is no longer ensured because of the decrease of trained reservists."
On the face of it this doesn't make much sense, as the author of progressziv.blog noted. A professional army can certainly have a supply of trained reservists to draw on–just think of the U.S. "weekend warriors" who ended up in Iraq. Perhaps the Fidesz government wants to reintroduce some kind of military service separate from the professional army. Let's say six to nine months of initial training in order to set up a reserve force like the National Guard in the United States. In fact, for years Undersecretary of Defense István Simicska's hobbyhorse has been the introduction of such a force in Hungary. Recruitment for the National Guard would be on a voluntary basis, and I have a fair idea who would be interested in taking advantage of such an opportunity. Perhaps the fellow who wrote a comment to an article entitled "Perhaps they will reintroduce compulsory military service in Hungary" that appeared in Napi Gazdaság on May 17, 2011. He stated that "Hungary must be strong enough to be able to defend the country alone against an attack by any of its neighbors." I'm sure that this man would be ready to join the reserves for the day when such an attack occurs.
Of course, at the moment it is hard to imagine that one of Hungary's neighbors would attack her. After all, most of them are members of NATO just as Hungary is. Austria is neutral. Serbia and Ukraine would like to belong to NATO. So, such an attack under the present circumstances is highly unlikely. On the other hand, all this nationalist talk encourages non-Hungarian nationalists to talk about bringing back compulsory service as well. For example, the Slovak Ján Slota who claimed that Hungary was planning a war against Slovakia. Slota’s claim is based on the fact that compulsory military service might be reintroduced in Hungary, something that he says proves it is “getting ready for war”! Slota's arguments sound very much like those of the Hungarian military. According to him "it is high time for Slovakia to get its military capabilities into shape and get young men back into some kind of compulsory military training … whether compulsory military service is reintroduced or whether young men just undergo some kind of basic training" is really up to the politicians to decide.
The Ministry of Defense is vigorously denying the government's intention to reintroduce compulsory military service, and most likely the military establishment is telling the truth. There is simply no money for it. But I'm convinced that if there were sufficient funds they would establish some kind of military force, perhaps a kind of home defense force (Heimwehr). It seems the League Against Compulsory Military Service which ceased its activities on November 13, 2004–that is, after compulsory military service was abolished–also thinks that the reintroduction of mandatory military service might be in the offing. The League reconstituted itself only a few days ago.
The controversy over the role of the Hungarian military came to my mind because it is on August 20 that the graduates of the Hungarian Military Academy take their formal oath. President Pál Schmitt addressed the graduates. In his speech he said that "Soldiers have a new mission today. They are the ones who must change the country's attitude toward patriotism." And what I considered to be truly frightening was Schmitt's reference to the duties of soldiers which, according to him, consist not only of the defense of the country with weapons in hand; "it is the duty of the soldiers to defend the country from all kinds of danger that can be injurious to its well being, which wastes its strength, and which weakens it." Thus, the army's duties are all embracing. It can, according to this formula, intervene every time it feels that the country's interests are threatened, even by an internal force. And, of course, the army will decide what the true interests of the country are.
I really wonder whether this man knows what he is talking about. Because if he does and his "boss" has approved it, then the country is in bigger trouble than we think.