The new Parliamentary Guard: What will Fidesz use it for?

It was sometime in late July or early August that  a 168 Óra headline announced that “László Kövér is organizing a private army for himself.” This is not an accurate description of the new 349-member Parliamentary Guard (Országgyűlési Őrség) that is supposed to replace the 266-member Republican Regiment (Köztársasági Őrezred) that was created for the defense of the parliament and the office building in which the members’ offices were situated.

What was wrong with the Republican Regiment? Most likely nothing because, according to reports, most of its members have been taken over by the new Parliamentary Guard. But this government must change everything to make it bigger and grander. Also, if there is no Republic of Hungary there cannot be a Republican Regiment either.

This new police unit not only has very expensive, tailor-made uniforms to the tune of 2.3 billion forints but also has wider jurisdiction than its predecessor. Members of the Republican Regiment couldn’t enter the chamber, while a parliamentary guard can if the presiding speaker so requests. For example, if László Kövér finds an opposition member’s speech objectionable he can ask the member to leave the chamber. If he refuses, Kövér can ask for a guard to escort him out. If the MP refuses to oblige, the guard can forcibly remove him. He will have all sorts of equipment short of firearms to assist him in this task, including handcuffs, pepper spray, and a stun gun. The problem is that Kövér seems to have an extraordinarily short fuse; his sensitivity is incredible given his own manners. So, one never knows when he will decide that he has to ask the police to come to his rescue.

In October 230 people from the old Republican Regiment and hundreds of  others from the police force vied for this cushy job. The lowest monthly pay for a member of the parliamentary guard was set at 400,000 forints, more than three times the average salary of an ordinary policeman. By October 8 they picked the happy 349 people who in the case of the men had to be at least 180 cm tall and in the case of women 170 cm. After that came the special physical and psychological training about which we know nothing.

Magyar Hírlap made sure that its readers don’t find the establishment of a parliamentary guard that is responsible for “order in the chamber” unusual and informed them that “such a guard already existed in the last century. On July 4, 1912, István Tisza instructed the guards to lead out the protesting members of the opposition. Later the scene was repeated when Parliament voted for the reform of the Army Bill in preparation for war in the summer of 1914.”  A rather unfortunate comparison.

As for the uniform, I read several articles on the subject but it is still not clear to me how many uniforms each guard will receive.  There is the  dress uniform which consists of black pants and a dark green tunic with claret-colored piping, black shoes and shako. But Népszava also talked about “társasági öltözet” which should be an outfit for “social occasions.” Another outfit is called “szolgálati gyakorló ruha” which, if I understand it right, is the uniform worn in performing everyday duties. The dress uniforms cost 68.5 million, the uniforms for social occasions 25.3 million, and the ordinary service uniforms 18.8 million. Just the piping costs 9.8 million forints. Orbán is right: there is no such thing as “austerity” in Hungary! All these details were kept secret until yesterday when the new members of the Parliamentary Guard swore allegiance in front of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen that had been placed by the first Orbán government in the Parliament building.

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sargeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the spaker of the House

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sergeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the Speaker of the House

But there seems to be an even fancier outfit for those who will also perform ceremonial functions. Here is a picture of soldiers wearing this uniform:

Parliamentary guards at ceremonial function

Parliamentary guards at a ceremonial function

I should also say a few words about this new-old position of Sergeant-at-Arms (or in Hungarian háznagy). This position existed in the Hungarian parliament until 1945 but was abandoned after the war. When HVG announced the appointment of Márta Mátrai to the post, they introduced her as “the housekeeper of the House.” Indeed, her duties will be somewhat similar: keeping order not only in the chamber but also in the offices situated in the building. The Sergeant-at-Arms also keeps a list of the addresses of the MPs, takes care of handing out official documents to the members, and helps the speaker keep order. At least according to the Pallas Nagylexikon published at the end of the nineteenth century. I assume, but I’m not sure, that she will be the nominal head of the Parliamentary Guard. At least this is the case in the British Parliament. But Ms. Mátrai’s role will be not ceremonial as is the case with the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons. In England the security of Parliament buildings and the members is provided by the Palace of  Westminister Division of London’s Metropolitan Police Services, whose members are not armed. Moreover, the British police are there to defend the members, not to lead them out.

In the United States there is also a Sergeant at Arms who is an elected officer of the House of Representatives. He is the chief law enforcement and protocol officer of the House and is responsible for maintaining order on the House side of the United States Capitol complex.  The Sergeant at Arms reviews and implements all issues relating to the safety and security of members of Congress and the Capitol complex. The Sergeant at Arms also coordinates extensively with the U.S. Capitol Police and various intelligence agencies to assess threats against members of Congress and the Capitol complex. Again his duties and those of Ms. Mátrai are not the same.

And one final look at the uniform. Apparently real experts in the history of Hungarian military uniforms designed them and claim that they are in the finest tradition of Hungarian military uniforms. The trouble is that quite a few people see a striking resemblance between them and the uniforms of the Wehrmacht.

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

Unfortunately, there are similarities. Especially when it comes to the placement of pockets with buttons and the six gold buttons in the front of the tunic. The color green is reminiscent of the old German uniforms. But, the shako is traditional all right. It was typical Hungarian military headgear that was adopted in many countries and the name picked up in many languages, including English.

We will see what László Kövér and Márta Mátrai will use the members of this beefed up Parliamentary Guard for. Will they really use them against opposition members whose behavior is objectionable to the presiding speaker? Possibly. Of course, the question is whether they will be used only against MSZP, LMP, and DK members or whether Kövér will be equally strict with members of Jobbik when they begin making anti-Semitic speeches as they have done on several occasions in the past.

48 comments

  1. Eva S. Balogh :

    Ron :
    I believe that you are too optimistic. In 2014 there will be no Cohesion Funds for Hungary, no money in The National Bank of Hungary, and the country will be or is in the process of being declared bankrupt.

    I also have my doubts that Hungary will receive the cohesion funds from the European Union and then Orbán will be in real trouble.

    I doubt that the EU would cut cohesion funds to punish Hungary for its wayward political ways. But the EU is a creature of law and can only cut cohesion funds for two (legal) reasons: a) if the country’s budget deficit fails to meet the prescribed targets or b) if there is fraud.

    If Hungary comes under examination because of its out-of-kilter budget, it will have lots of company around the EU. For that reason ECOFIN (the council of finance ministers, which decides on such things) will get cold feet cutting JUST Hungary while they will simultaneously have no political will to cut EVERY country with a budget deficit above targets. Imagine the cries of double standards if ECOFIN cut only Hungary’s funds!

    The same problem arises with the second standard: fraud. Given all of the revelations that Eva has covered in previous posts about the way that Fidesz-connected companies have cornered the market on cohesion fund projects, perhaps fraud could be proven. But that would take a full investigation — which would take a long time and meet with tremendous government resistance. Plus, many other EU countries have been suspected of very similar fraudulent tender processes and a full-out investigation of Hungary alone will be also open to charges of double standards.

    If cohesion funds were a prize for being a responsible steward of European values, then the EU could do what Eva and Ron are suggesting. Then the government of Hungary should be rightly afraid of losing funds. But if cohesion funds are allocated as development funds contingent only on economic indicators (as in fact they are now), then it is hard to imagine that the EU will find a straightforward way to use cohesion fund cuts to respond to what is fundamentally a political issue.

    This is why I keep saying that the answer has to come from Hungarians mobilizing the political process to achieve a different result at the next election – hard as that will be.

  2. The problem is that Matolcsy and Orban un-orthodix doings will not have any affect on their government but on a (hopefully a new) government in 2014. I plainly cannot see what kind of changes are you suggesting from the Hungarians that could have any affect until 2014? Yes, Hungarians can make a noise and hopefully have a democratic and fair election in 2014, but it will be the government at the time who will have to suck up the “punishment” of the EU. As far as I am concerned there is no solution coming from the EU for many of the current problems rightly brought in front of them. It is like if they will punish the whistleblowers by slowly grinding some process that would become irrelevant by the time something will be done.
    Thanks to the previous government, many of the contracts (Mercedes), and the cohesion fund were in place, that actually made Orban and Matolcsy look much better than they really are.
    So, maybe the EU should rise to the task or “tie their pants up” (a Hungarian expression “felkotni a gatyajukat”)and have a system in place that actually would punish those who deserve to be punished but excel the help to those who are willing cooperators.

  3. Some1 :

    CharlieH :
    The unnecessarily convoluted ‘ceremony’ of the Hungarian soldiers who guarded Pál Schmitt in his castle still makes me laugh – especially when involving a snappy dog!

    That was fun. It is like a SNL skit.
    The good news is that the next government will have a head start with saving money. They just have to cut back on the unnecessary expenses that are plenty of course.
    The same time, I am hoping that the opposition are already working on to figure out how to take out all the cr*p from the Constitution, and how to let all the “Fidesz installed forever” people from leading positions even if they do not gain 2/3.
    I can only hope that Ms Scheppele will be close by to provide a helping hand when it comes to restore democracy in Hungary.

    That dog possesses more sense than most of the members of Bekemenet!

  4. Kim Lane Scheppele :

    Eva S. Balogh :

    Ron :
    I believe that you are too optimistic. In 2014 there will be no Cohesion Funds for Hungary, no money in The National Bank of Hungary, and the country will be or is in the process of being declared bankrupt.

    I also have my doubts that Hungary will receive the cohesion funds from the European Union and then Orbán will be in real trouble.

    I doubt that the EU would cut cohesion funds to punish Hungary for its wayward political ways. But the EU is a creature of law and can only cut cohesion funds for two (legal) reasons: a) if the country’s budget deficit fails to meet the prescribed targets or b) if there is fraud.
    If Hungary comes under examination because of its out-of-kilter budget, it will have lots of company around the EU. For that reason ECOFIN (the council of finance ministers, which decides on such things) will get cold feet cutting JUST Hungary while they will simultaneously have no political will to cut EVERY country with a budget deficit above targets. Imagine the cries of double standards if ECOFIN cut only Hungary’s funds!
    The same problem arises with the second standard: fraud. Given all of the revelations that Eva has covered in previous posts about the way that Fidesz-connected companies have cornered the market on cohesion fund projects, perhaps fraud could be proven. But that would take a full investigation — which would take a long time and meet with tremendous government resistance. Plus, many other EU countries have been suspected of very similar fraudulent tender processes and a full-out investigation of Hungary alone will be also open to charges of double standards.
    If cohesion funds were a prize for being a responsible steward of European values, then the EU could do what Eva and Ron are suggesting. Then the government of Hungary should be rightly afraid of losing funds. But if cohesion funds are allocated as development funds contingent only on economic indicators (as in fact they are now), then it is hard to imagine that the EU will find a straightforward way to use cohesion fund cuts to respond to what is fundamentally a political issue.
    This is why I keep saying that the answer has to come from Hungarians mobilizing the political process to achieve a different result at the next election – hard as that will be.

    As to the legal framework for the country’s budget deficit fails to meet the prescribed targets. The budget of Hungary fails to meet the targets set by the EU from the beginning. Currently, it is not only ECOFIN deciding this. There is wave going to Europe, feeded by the media, not to give money to “weak” EU members. And people want tighter controls on expenditures and to combat fraud.
    As to fraud it is already starting. The Czech Republic will be penalized for fraud, only the amount is very low, currently. The following is in Dutch.
    http://www.trouw.nl/tr/nl/4496/Buitenland/article/detail/3366143/2012/12/20/Brussel-straft-Tsjechische-corruptie-met-EU-subsidies-mild.dhtml

  5. Kim Lane Scheppele :
    The same problem arises with the second standard: fraud. Given all of the revelations that Eva has covered in previous posts about the way that Fidesz-connected companies have cornered the market on cohesion fund projects, perhaps fraud could be proven. But that would take a full investigation — which would take a long time and meet with tremendous government resistance. Plus, many other EU countries have been suspected of very similar fraudulent tender processes and a full-out investigation of Hungary alone will be also open to charges of double standards.
    If cohesion funds were a prize for being a responsible steward of European values, then the EU could do what Eva and Ron are suggesting. Then the government of Hungary should be rightly afraid of losing funds. But if cohesion funds are allocated as development funds contingent only on economic indicators (as in fact they are now), then it is hard to imagine that the EU will find a straightforward way to use cohesion fund cuts to respond to what is fundamentally a political issue.
    This is why I keep saying that the answer has to come from Hungarians mobilizing the political process to achieve a different result at the next election – hard as that will be.

    Actually there are lots of investigations going on in new member states and recently the Commission acted quite resolutely in this regard. For example a series of funds were suspended in the case of Romania (ironically mostly cutting the financing of post-doctoral fellowships) and only a few months ago they withdraw 2 billion (!) euros from the Czech Republic. So, I do not see how would it be possible for anyone credibly speaking of double standards if at last the Commision would do its duty and decide to punish Orbán and his lot for what they are doing not even in a conspiratorial way, but proudly and defiantly.

  6. Ron :
    As to the legal framework for the country’s budget deficit fails to meet the prescribed targets. The budget of Hungary fails to meet the targets set by the EU from the beginning. Currently, it is not only ECOFIN deciding this. There is wave going to Europe, feeded by the media, not to give money to “weak” EU members. And people want tighter controls on expenditures and to combat fraud.
    As to fraud it is already starting. The Czech Republic will be penalized for fraud, only the amount is very low, currently.

    I very much welcome this fact.

    1. Here is a quick Google translation of the Finnish original. I didn’t try to fix up the translation:

      Hungary, in 2012 the news many of the highlights have been already featured in this blog: Fidesz party at high speed through the runnomien laws, especially in the new constitution and the accompanying advertising campaign reception, President Schmitt plagiaattiskandaali and embarrassment of the difference, as well as a new, reliable Fidesz-työrukkasen appointment as president, public scandal provoked numerous Anti-Semitism and Racism eruptions, Azerbaijan ax murderer the same offense attracted disclosure, the Prime Minister höpinät half-ass discipline and the Minister of Finance in this regard ravings mongolitäplästä Hungarian ass, still are rising rumors of the Prime Minister’s mental health problems, Parliament domestic violence debate aroused by the scandal, protests, the government in favor of and against the increasingly weirder and oikukkaammaksi propelled by economic policies, desperately trying to survive without the support of the International Monetary Fund (and control!) … As I said earlier, the state funds are not enough universities in the heating of buildings (the condition of the system of student not to mention), or “incurable” cancer patients classified as drugs. In contrast, those in power is enough money of friends oligarchs, football stadiums (the Prime Minister Orbán is a great football fan, and his home village Felcsútiin rising real “football academy”) or the Board of Directors self-congratulatory campaigns. Latest scandal aroused expenditure was in the headlines a couple of days ago: Parliament guarding care are not enough ordinary soldiers, porters, security guards or police officers, but it has been established for a new special parliamentary security guards, the men receive a salary at least three times the ordinary police salary amount and the kultapunoksiset uniforms – such as recently occurred – will pay for at least half the normal Hungarian annual road barriers, per man. (And, similar in color and cut strangely Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht uniforms. More specifically, English-Hungarian Spectrum blog.) […]

  7. Eva S. Balogh :
    Here is a quick Google translation of the Finnish original. I didn’t try to fix up the translation:

    I just pilled off the key terms. THis what Hungary is know for in 2012 (no correction on google translation either):
    – the runnomien laws, especially in the new constitution and the accompanying advertising campaign
    – President Schmitt plagiaattiskandaali and embarrassment
    – new, reliable Fidesz-työrukkasen appointment as president,
    – public scandal provoked numerous Anti-Semitism and Racism eruptions,
    – Azerbaijan ax murderer
    – Prime Minister höpinät half-ass discipline and the Minister of Finance
    – rising rumors of the Prime Minister’s mental health problems
    – Parliament domestic violence debate aroused by the scandal
    – protests, the government in favor of and against the increasingly weirder and oikukkaammaksi propelled by economic policies
    – desperately trying to survive without the support of the International Monetary Fund (and control!)
    – the state funds are not enough universities in the heating of buildings (the condition of the system of student not to mention)
    – “incurable” cancer patients classified as drugs [referring to the stop of drug treatments to to some cancer patients]
    – In contrast, those in power is enough money of friends oligarchs,
    – football stadiums (the Prime Minister Orbán is a great football fan, and his home village Felcsútiin rising real “football academy”)
    – Board of Directors self-congratulatory campaigns.
    – Latest scandal aroused expenditure was in the headlines a couple of days ago: Parliament guarding care are not enough ordinary soldiers, porters, security guards or police officers, but it has been established for a new special parliamentary security guards, the men receive a salary at least three times the ordinary police salary amount (And, similar in color and cut strangely Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht uniforms. More specifically, English-Hungarian Spectrum blog.)

  8. Eva S. Balogh :
    Here is a quick Google translation of the Finnish original. I didn’t try to fix up the translation:
    Hungary, in 2012 the news many of the highlights have been already featured in this blog: Fidesz party at high speed through the runnomien laws, especially in the new constitution and the accompanying advertising campaign reception, President Schmitt plagiaattiskandaali and embarrassment of the difference, as well as a new, reliable Fidesz-työrukkasen appointment as president, public scandal provoked numerous Anti-Semitism and Racism eruptions, Azerbaijan ax murderer the same offense attracted disclosure, the Prime Minister höpinät half-ass discipline and the Minister of Finance in this regard ravings mongolitäplästä Hungarian ass, still are rising rumors of the Prime Minister’s mental health problems, Parliament domestic violence debate aroused by the scandal, protests, the government in favor of and against the increasingly weirder and oikukkaammaksi propelled by economic policies, desperately trying to survive without the support of the International Monetary Fund (and control!) … As I said earlier, the state funds are not enough universities in the heating of buildings (the condition of the system of student not to mention), or “incurable” cancer patients classified as drugs. In contrast, those in power is enough money of friends oligarchs, football stadiums (the Prime Minister Orbán is a great football fan, and his home village Felcsútiin rising real “football academy”) or the Board of Directors self-congratulatory campaigns. Latest scandal aroused expenditure was in the headlines a couple of days ago: Parliament guarding care are not enough ordinary soldiers, porters, security guards or police officers, but it has been established for a new special parliamentary security guards, the men receive a salary at least three times the ordinary police salary amount and the kultapunoksiset uniforms – such as recently occurred – will pay for at least half the normal Hungarian annual road barriers, per man. (And, similar in color and cut strangely Nazi Germany’s Wehrmacht uniforms. More specifically, English-Hungarian Spectrum blog.) […]

    Do you have a link to the original?

  9. Eva, I have read the original in Finnish – why was this mentioned? It is basically a quick summary of what happened in Hungary last year, I can’t see anything that you haven’t covered.
    Happy New Year to everyone!

  10. “Minister of Finance in this regard ravings mongolitäplästä Hungarian ass”

    At first I thought this says “the Finance Minister is a mongoloid ass” (agreed). But no. This is saying “Matolcsy is raving about the Mongolian spots on the Hungarian butts”.

    It turns out they are blue not red according to the Wiki:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_spot

  11. Cheshire cat is right — I have hardly mentioned anything that Eva wouldn’t have covered in her blog. (I’m not following Hungarian political and public life as consistently as Eva, my blog is about more general impressions of Central European, mainly Austrian and Hungarian, public life and culture.) And please, don’t use Google Translate — I’ll be happy to provide summaries in English, if somebody really needs them.
    But once I’m at it, let me add something I haven’t found time to write about in my blog. in Finland, Hungary doesn’t get much media coverage (according to my gut feeling, clearly less than in Germany and Austria, which isn’t very much either…). But a few weeks ago there was an editorial in the leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat about the deplorable state of democracy in Hungary. The ambassador, of course, reacted at once, introducing a marvellous new (at least to me it was new) concept: Hungary does have a democracy, not a “consensus democracy” (such as the Finns are accustomed to) but a “majority democracy”. (Because tough times need tough measures…)
    BTW, it seems that the funding for “incurable” cancer patients’ medication will remain, after all, although Zoltán Balog in this interview still finds arguments for it: http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article112263986/Hass-beherrscht-das-Leben-in-Ungarn.html .

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