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Military Presence at Orbán’s State-of-the-Nation Speech Draws Controversy

Ábrahám Vass 2020.02.19.

A number of high-ranking military officials were present at Orbán’s state-of-the-nation address. Since many view the speech as a party event, one of the organizers being Fidesz’s party foundation, their presence raised doubts and controversies.

Military officials present at Orbán’s speech included, for example, former chiefs of staff, Brigadier General-Commander of the Hungarian Defense Forces (Magyar Honvédség- MH) Ferenc Korom, his deputy Lieutenant General Gábor Böröndi, and Major General Zoltán Mihócza – Acting Commander of the HDF Joint Force Command.

Fidesz’s party foundation among the organizers

Their presence, however, raises a number of questions and controversies. While the 1993 Homeland Defense Act prohibits soldiers to participate in party events, a paragraph of the law allows  a way to bypass this prohibition. If the commander gives special permission to the soldier, or he/she represents the army as a body, one can go to such an event,’ but thus far, there apparently has been a consensus between the parties about the separation of party politics from the military.

In addition, one of the event’s organizers, is in fact Fidesz’s party foundation, Foundation for a Civic Hungary (PMA), according to the government’s official information site kormany.hu. The other being the Association of the Hungarian Civic Cooperation (MPEE), according to the site. Moreover, only Fidesz politicians and those loyal to the party are invited to the event, which Orbán held even as an opposition politician.

Leftist daily Népszava cites liberal political analyst Zoltán Ceglédi, who argued that Orbán “…is constantly looking for maintaining a sense of danger, and the presence of the soldiers can easily uphold and increase this.” He added that the PM’s special relationship to the public law system might have also played a part, as he tends to blur the line between the various branches of power and roles.

According to another analyst, Dániel Mikecz, the presence of military leaders suggests that the government was trying to present the PM’s annual evaluation as if it were a state event, hence increasing its significance. He added that while there are indeed signs of militarization in Hungarian public life, the soldiers’ presence at the PM’s speech might also serve to further blur the line between Fidesz and the state.

HM and Németh see things otherwise

Népszava asked the Ministry of Defense (HM), which sees things otherwise. HM argued that Sunday’s speech was not a party event, but a “governmental evaluation of the year.” Parliamentary State Secretary and HM’s Deputy Minister Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), in a Facebook post, declared the same line of thinking. He thanked soldiers for their participation and claimed that the annual state-of-the-nation address was organized for the 22nd time by the Association of the Hungarian Civic Cooperation (MPEE), a “true” Hungarian NGO founded by [former president] Ferenc Mádl in 1995.

Németh then cites the PM’s speech in which he said: “…we need good soldiers and good officers. That is why I am pleased that the officers who are here with us have accepted my invitation. Thank you! Everyone can now see: the Hungarian Defense Forces are back. I ask you to make sure that while soldiers don’t show up at party events, they can participate in governmental and civil meetings, to occupy their esteemed place in Hungarian social life.”

Anyhow, Democratic Coalition (DK) announced their plan to initiate a meeting of the Parliament’s Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement. In a statement, they wrote that “…by their actions, which evoke the images of North Korean party congresses, these generals have become mere party soldiers, forgetting that they have sworn to serve their country as a whole and not Fidesz.”

featured image via Viktor Orbán- Facebook