A few days before the October referendum Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Katolikus Rádió in which he painted an unusually grim picture of the Hungarian military. He pointed out that Hungary’s neighbors have been expanding their military capabilities lately, but “Hungary is way behind.” “A serious country has its own army, an effective force,” he insisted. Of course, what Orbán neglected to tell his audience was that for the current absolutely deplorable state of the Hungarian army his own administration is largely responsible.
The Hungarian Army was never much to brag about, but at least earlier governments allocated more money to the military. In 2006 the government spent 283 billion forints for defense, which was 1.24% of the GDP. Today defense spending is 0.79% of the GDP. The MSZP-SZDSZ governments steadily, if modestly, raised military expenditures while the Fidesz government has consistently shrunk military spending. The current plan is to increase the military budget by 0.1% each year. That means that the country will reach the level of military spending during Gyurcsány’s last year in office only in 2022.
This is at least the second time the Orbán government has announced its intention to do something with the Hungarian army. In 2014 they promised the modernization of equipment, but without adequate resources it is hard to replace all the antiquated and often unusable tanks, helicopters, and artillery. According to a 2014 article, Hungary had 15 tanks, 12 howitzers, and 0 helicopters. At that time there was talk about purchasing Italian-made helicopters, but so far nothing has come of it. Although at the military base at Tata there were about 50 Soviet T-72 tanks manufactured in the 1970s, half of these were good only for parts. The 12 guns are also Soviet made, D20s. At that time experts estimated that the Hungarian army’s arsenal was 20 to 30 years behind the times.
And don’t think the situation was better when it came to uniforms. Hungarian soldiers serving in Afghanistan, for example, had to return in their old uniforms so they could be used by the soldiers taking their place. As for fighter planes, I assume the readers remember the two Gripens that were practically destroyed in accidents due to inexperienced pilots. Apparently, there isn’t enough money for fuel for extended flights. Hence pilots are inadequately trained.
Then there is the problem of personnel. The Hungarian Army consists of about 25,000 men and women, but “under the best of circumstances only 4-5,000 of them could be sent to a fighting unit.” Recruiting hasn’t been successful. As a source told Index, “today only those come who have no other opportunities. The mother of numerous children in the hope of 80-90,000 forints a month.” Those who have technical skills would rather work for one of the auto manufacturers where they make a great deal more money.
Under these circumstances it is hard to imagine that the Orbán government will be able to attract 20,000 people as reservists in the near future. Because this is the plan. Moreover, it looks as if these additional men and women will be part of a kind of alternate army, organized along the lines of the National Guard in the United States. This idea has been kicking around for a while. István Simicskó, minister of defense, who was undersecretary of defense in the first Orbán government (1998-2002), has been smitten with the idea for some time. At first he wanted to call it Magyar Gárda, but then came the far-right paramilitary formation that usurped that name. In 2007, while in opposition, he pushed for the establishment of a Honi Gárda (Home Guard). Now as minister he is in the position to implement his plans, and it looks as if he has convinced Viktor Orbán to endorse them.
Orbán outlined the plan for a territorial Honi Gárda, if they settle for that name, which will consist of at least one company of reservists for every “járás.” Currently there are 174 “járások” in Hungary. A Hungarian company (század) consists of 3-5 platoons (szakaszok), which consist of 30 men and women. Therefore, even if we assume only 3 platoons to a company, we are talking about 15,750 new recruits who will have to be trained, armed, and paid. However, I assume that the companies will consist of four platoons because Orbán specifically talked about 20,000 men and women. This plan, under the present circumstances and given the limited funds available, sounds like a pipe dream to me. But Orbán indicated that the ministry will begin the organization of these territorial units on January 1, 2017. These territorial companies will be attached to the ten already existing garrisons.
Some military experts might be skeptical about the viability of setting up such an ambitious alternative army, but the government has already approved the plan. Only the details remain to be worked out. Apparently by setting up such local units the government “would like to strengthen the patriotic commitment and generosity of the population.”
A network of military sports clubs will also be established through which the army will try to reach youngsters at a very early age. Simicskó was talking about seven-year-olds.
The government also wants more school children to acquire basic military knowledge. Simicskó claims that they don’t intend to introduce militarism into the educational system. Rather, they would like to instill “a value system, a cast of mind that is based on patriotism.” As he said, “our task is difficult because in a sense we represent a counterculture.” He complained about “children sitting in front of the computer whose social responsibility is minimal.”
Some people, including me, would call Simicskó’s plan brainwashing. Instead of beefing up the army, which at the moment couldn’t resist an invading force even for the short period required before the arrival of NATO forces, the government will now spend who knows how much money on the indoctrination of the youth. Everything is subordinated to political considerations by the Orbán government. Even the security of the country. Under the guise of military preparedness the government will be spreading the “values” of the illiberal state to a new generation of cadres. Another shameful move on the part of Viktor Orbán.