Hungarian army recruitment: modern-day impressment?

An outcry followed an article that appeared in Kisalföld, a regional paper serving the county of Győr-Moson-Sopron in the northwestern corner of the country. The newspaper learned that people who are currently employed as public workers had received notices to appear at the Hungarian Army’s recruiting center in Győr. If they do not oblige, their names will be deleted from the list of those seeking employment.

Following up, a reporter for the paper got in touch with the recruiting office. He was told that at the recruiting center public workers will receive information about careers in the military and will be given the usual tests. If a person is fit to serve and refuses, he will lose his public work status and therefore his job. Well, that sounded very much like eighteenth-century British impressment. Moreover, within a few hours it became known that public workers in other counties as well will have to pay a visit to the recruiting office. It seems as if the ministry of defense is planning to involve the whole country, hoping to get new recruits this way.

The ministry of defense didn’t outright deny the story reported by Kisalföld. The ministry’s statement stressed only that “acceptance of service is not compulsory. It is merely an opportunity.” That’s fine and dandy, but since it is the ministry of interior that is in charge of the public works program, any retaliation would come from that ministry. After all, according to the rules and regulations, if a public worker declines a job offer, he loses his public works job. But today the ministry of interior assured the public that as long as the public worker shows up at the recruiting office, he will have fulfilled his obligation and will not have to worry about his job in the public works program.


We know that the Hungarian Army, according to some estimates, needs an additional 8,000 men and women, but this doesn’t strike me as the best way to beef up the numbers. Yes, at least in theory, military service could benefit those young men and women who lack the skills necessary to get steady, good-paying jobs. Ideally, the army could offer them an opportunity to learn useful skills. But the Hungarian army is not that kind of a place. Moreover, the pay is low.

It is hard to get exact figures on the pay of military personnel. In 2012 Csaba Hende, then minister of defense, in an answer to a socialist MP, said that enlisted men and women on average receive 137,425 forints a month, non-commissioned officers 191,157, and officers 389,522. The take-home pay is about half of these amounts, that is only $246 for an enlisted soldier. In 2011 a career advisory site outlined possibilities for youngsters if they chose a military career. According to information the site provided, 4,800 people visited the recruiting centers in 2011 but only 1,170, among them 80 women, got to the point of actually submitting an application, and only 837 were accepted. According to the career advisory site, a private first class’s basic pay was only 106,000 forints, a corporal made 119,000, a buck sergeant 130,000, and a sergeant 142,000 forints. No wonder that interest in signing up is minimal.

At the very end of 2014 the government at last announced a 30% hike in salaries, starting July 1, 2015, and it promised that by January 1, 2019 salaries will be 50% higher on average than now. The government loves to talk about what they call “életpálya,” which simply means “career,” usually used with an adjective like “katonai életpálya” (military career) “pedagógus életpálya” (teaching career). I came to the conclusion that having a career in their vocabulary means earning “a salary one can live on.” Even with all the wage hikes, the ordinary enlisted man will not have a military “career.”

Despite all the rhetoric, the Orbán government, instead of allocating more money to the military, systematically reduced its funding. For the latest wage hikes the ministry simply had no money. The added expenses were covered by the prime minister’s office.

Hungary is supposed to have a military force of 29,700 men and women. In June 2014 Csaba Hende talked about 5,921 unfilled jobs in the army. And, he said, past efforts at recruitment had yielded meager results. Since then another 2,000 or so have left the army. Thus, the size of the Hungarian army at the moment is only 22,000. Therefore, at the end of 2015 the decision was made to increase the intensity of recruitment in 2016. The army began advertising on the internet and decided to launch mobile recruiting centers, I assume in smaller towns and villages.

It is on the level of enlistees that shortages are acute. According to military analysts, the shortage of personnel could easily be remedied if the army would change the balance among officers, non-commissioned officers, enlisted men, and civil servants. As it stands now, the percentage of professional officers in the force is 30%. If their numbers were reduced to 10%, a great deal of money would be freed to pay the enlisted soldiers and the non-commissioned officers better. Apparently, a healthy mix would be 10% officers, 30% non-commissioned officers, 50% enlisted men and women, and 10% civilians. But such a move would meet stiff resistance from the officer corps, especially the “untouchable” general staff. As long as a more reasonable balance cannot be introduced, the recruitment effort will not be successful.

But let’s return to the deal between the ministry of defense and the ministry of interior. As it is, the public works program is used, especially in smaller places, as a political weapon. Most of those who take part in the program are at the mercy of the mayors, who decide who will and who will not be hired. In smaller places, although voting is secret, it is easy to figure out whether the fairly large public works crew voted for Fidesz. These small-town mayors behave like feudal lords during the reigns of weak kings, who carved out large regions where they acted like “kiskirályok” (little kings). In fact, people refer to these local tyrants as little kings.

The people who have no way to earn money outside of the public works program are in a subservient position economically and politically. I suspect that the ministries of defense and interior thought that some form of impressment was a capital idea, a policy that would fly under the radar. I do hope that the assurances coming from the ministry of the interior are for real because otherwise Hungarians are in bigger trouble than we think.

July 26, 2016
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Wonderful idea…
press-gang recruits from the homeless and jobless…
How motivated they will be to serve their homeland! How eager! What wonderful 21st-century warriors! Full of expertise, I am sure.

Istvan – you are the one to comment on this one.


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Totally OT, as per – but I no longer get HS posts on Facebook.

I haven’t changed anything and I’m still listed as following HS. Has anything changed at the HS end? Has anyone else got this problem?


Nothing changed, and I do get the updates. Maybe you should check your setting on Facebook. Could be that you accidentally unsubscribed from the feed? On the left menu bar school to Pages, click on Pages feed. Locate HS. Is it still there? If not, find HS through your search (top left corner), and Like the page.


Although I haven’t got the correct numbers of how many people are serving in the Hungarian defence establishment, and I doubt if anyone knows (!), but the uninitiated reader should know that the numbers include EVERYBODY that in one way or another is tied to the Ministry of Defence. Thus even the nurses and doctors in the hospitals that are general hospitals, but administratively belong to the Ministry of Defence. So, it is anyone’s guess that how many ‘fighting soldiers’ Hungary has. Considering the conditions (not only pay, but equipment and the likes) I doubt that we can talk about an army of the 21st century. The recent accident in which 3 bomb disposal soldiers died seems to stem from complete unprofessional attitude and lack of funds. And this is typical to all areas in Hungary; military, political, social or economic… So dear readers, you can extrapolate from these to any matter that is discussed with regards to present day Hungary…


I would add:
Lack of qualified schooling …
Though there are exceptions!
A remote relative of my wife has served as an officer in theHungarian contingent that got sent to Kosovo and later to Afghanistan – and he said that thery’re all really qualified there. Of course a simple mistake there might have ugly consequences …

So the idea of using out of work poor ignorant peasants as cannon fodder is really atrocious!

Only Fidesz could come up with something like that – always remember Lázár’s motto:

If you have nothing then you are nothing!


Absolutely idiotic!

Today’s soldiers need at least basic understanding of complicated systems – I’m sure Istvan can explain it, unless he doesn’t get a heart attack first just thinking about the chaos these people might produce … 😉


And imagine the current people serving who will have to serve alongside people who are totally unable to get a job on the market and/or are uneducated, poor, backward gipsies. The Hungarian army is certainly not the progay, ratially inclusive etc. army of the US. It is the army of white working class, overwhelmingly of rural origin who have the predilection of disliking the roma, who in turn have the reputation of being unruly.

The draft existed in Hungary until something like 2002. By that time 98% of kids living in Buda (the most affluent districts) were deemed unfit for service. Translate: they all could get a paper by some doctor that they were unfit. Nobody could seriously think that Buda kids would live together with dirty, uneducated people from the country. This applies to the current crop of troops who are white people.


I do not understand why they need to hire unemployed, and gypsies (in the program are mainly gypsies).

In 2010 Fidesz introduced a law, which allow certain schools to give military lessons, and people could take exams in it.This was done under the supervision of the so-called “katonasuli”, and at least one of the schools stated at that time that many liked the lessons. They expected about 25, but the actual number was 100 (in 2011).

I know that some of the kids went to the French Foreign legion, but as I understand it the number is low.


Re: .’ 18th century impressment’

And there’s a lesson also in 1st century conscription…
When the German tribes in 9 A.D. destroyed 3 Roman legions in the Teutoberg , Augustus mad with rage at losing them and fearing an imminent German ‘invasion’ put Rome on high alert, called a state of emergency and put troops on the Rhine. And he instituted conscription which Romans didn’t take too well. They saw it as a drastic measure to a highly exaggerated threat that would never come. As a Roman historian put it, ‘ when no men of military age showed a willingness to be enrolled he made them draw lots , depriving of his property and disenfranchising every fifth man of those still under thirty-five and every tenth among those who had passed that age’.

It remains to be seen how the population will take to ‘recruitment’ and its sacrifice. Could be a stressor just as it was in the 9th between rulers and ruled. And things would really be bad though if some resorted to thumb slicing as one father did to his sons to make them unfit for the army!

As many readers of Eva’s blog may be aware numerous Hungarian soliders have come to the USA for training, in particular by the Ohio National Guard. I have meet some Hungarian officers and they had complaints about the underfunding of the Army and as I have indicated in a post over a year ago I had occasion to indicate briefly to PM Orban himself when he visited Chicago for NATO summit these concerns. So what is in the news is actually old news. Part of the problem in recruitment is the pay as Eva mentions, but it is also the low level of skill training done for enlisted personnel. Wolfi touches on this in his post. I was in the Army what is called a G4. Effectively I was under the command of U.S. Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for logistics. Our job has very intellectual it involved policies and procedures for Army Sustainment Command staff and subordinate units that provide global logistics, supply and service support for the Army in peace, crisis, war and stability operations. Our job was to establish, analyze, synchronize and monitor equipment management, facility engineering requirements, supply and maintenance compliance procedures, stationing, logistics and operational… Read more »

Fideszniks should now shut their mouths about US government officials’ comments about public affairs in Hungary, because by endorsing one candidate for the presidency Orban has intervened in American politics in the most direct manner possible. I cannot recall anyone in the US embassy or State Dept. ever endorsing any Hungarian party.


This is a brilliant point. Well done.

It makes a complete mockery of OV’s relentless winging about Soros and others interfering in Hungarian politics. Not to mention the Clintons.


I guess Orban will be out of luck when begging for money from Trump who he endorsed and admires. I think at this point whoever gets into the White House will kick Orban’s butt big time. Clinton will despise him, Trump maybe throw a bone for Orban’s support, and will tell him to finance his own army if he wants to remain the member of NATO (if there will be a NATO). I just cannot wait and watch as this will unfold for this Hungarian fool, named Orban.


Fidesz and Jobbik are gaining further ground, MSZP is lagging further behind says Tarki, which is not Nezopont, Szazadveg and other Fidesznik organizations.

It seems whatever people at this blog say, voters actually like the government. I see people reading in the beach Magyar Hirlap, Magyar Idok, Uj Ember but not Magyar Narancs or ES.

Fidesz and Jobbik together have over 70% of the votes.

Rural people are happy as a clam, and to the extent they are not, they still prefer Orban and Vona infinitely better over the ineffectual, infighting left wing.

Reality Check

” voters actually like the government” No evidence from Tarki that this is true.

Armando reports the percentages for decided voters only. It is not a measure of Hungarian voters preferences overall. He can not claim Hungarians are happy with the current government since only 30% support them.

Hungary is not a country where its citizens are content with their government and only a small percent support the most popular opposition party. Other polls referenced by Eva show that a large percent want political change.

There are graphs at this link from Tarki – Top graph is all voting age citizens and graph below it is voters with a stated preference.


Even though they don’t make enough money to get through the month, (the majority of …) Hungarians like their mafia …

What does that tell us?

Nur die allerdümmstenKälber wählen ihren Metzger selber …


Wolfi, we should take TÁRKI’s data with a very large grain of salt. In 2002 TÁRKI predicted a landslide for Fidesz, and after that did not happen some insiders admitted that they had published false results.
Fidesz, and only Fidesz, gets the real data from them. And Fidesz pays TÁRKI quite handsomely to release the results Fidesz wants the public to see.


Also Wolfi, even TÁRKI shows that the largest group of voters are those who are unwilling to say whom they will support, or who say they have not made up their minds. I cannot believe people in Hungary today have not made up their minds about Fidesz.
That group alone is larger than the group of alleged Fidesz supporters.
And why do I say “alleged” Fidesz supporters? Because in Hungary today, especially in rural Hungary, people are lying about whom they will support. This is because in many rural areas local Fidesz bigwigs punish people who say they do not support Fidesz.

This is why Fidesz has lost in local by-election after by-election, despite the fact that polls show Fidesz leading.

TÁRKI puts the undecided/no answer voters as about 38% of the electorate, and Fidesz supporters at about 30% of the electorate. Do you think that 38% will vote for Fidesz? I am sure they will not. Do you think everyone who says they will support Fidesz is telling the truth? I am sure many of them are lying.

Whom they will support in 2018, I do not know, but I am sure it won’t be Fidesz.


Does not say/know : 38%

Fidesz: 30%
MSzP+DK+LMP+Egyutt: 17%
Jobbik: 14%

Another poll.

“The current Hungarian government fights only the corruption in which it does not participate”

Yes, overall: 57%
Yes, Fidesz voters: 47%


TÁRKI’s main client has been Fidesz for quite some time now – since the first Fidesz cabinet (1998-2002), if not before.


For those who read Hungarian this article describes in some detail the Hungarian Army pitch to public sector workers