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MTI

Serving a three- or five-year terms in the armed forces have suddenly become a respectable occupation, with applicants often waiting years to don their uniforms. The armed forces are set to earn money from property sales, and its numbers will fall to 29,000 by the end of the year. For serving members, the quickest way to better pay and promotion is to serve on a foreign mission.

Monday was a busy day for the Hungarian army, with 82 new soldiers turning up for work at the training base in Szentendre. At the same time, a team of 129 career soldiers set off from Debrecen to carry out peacekeeping duties in Kosovo. Colonel Judit Arato, the Szentendre base's press officer, has been a career soldier for three years, and has moved as many times, as the bases on which she was serving were closed down. But the graduate PR manager has done well in uniform, benefiting from a secure job.

Job security was the main motivation for the new soldiers as well. Zsolt Szabo, for example, gave up a middle-management job in an electricals company to serve as a soldier in Kaposvár. The 34-year-old said his former job burdened him with great responsibility and little pay. He had done a year's military service in the past, but his colleague, the 29-year-old Vitéz Nemes, is donning military uniform for the first time. Both had to wait a year to join the army, backing up the recruiters' assertion that the army can now pick and choose. Csilla Noémi Király, with a degree in environmental protection, could only have found a job if she obtained a driving licence and learned a foreign language. But without a job, she could not pay for the necessary courses. She will be forced to move, to Hódmezővásárhely.

She is not the only one graduate prepared to serve as a private. János Ocsovai, an engineering officer and head of the recruitment section, told HVG that last year 5 per cent of new recruits to the lowest ranks had university degrees. A probationary private earns HUF101,300 a month, a sergeant HUF124,600.

"If what we are doing today is armed forces reform, then the Trianon Peace Treaty was an armaments programme," said Lajos Kósa the Fidesz mayor of Debrecen. He accused decision-makers of short-sightedness. He said Hungary should not behave as if it were a member of an "eternal and unshakeable alliance", subordinating its every decision to this and abandoning the capacity to set up its own independent national guard if it proved necessary.

It is true that the reforms brought about many closures. Apart from the training bases in Szombathely and Tapolca, now closed, soldiers have disappeared from Nyíregyháza and Taszár The Socialists really are taking an all-or-bust approach. They are counting on Hungary not having to confront a traditional military threat, and assuming further that if such a threat emerged, they would not need to fight the enemy alone. "You may have heard that we have been members of NATO since 1999," György Keleti, Socialist MP and chairman of the parliamentary defence committee said, when asked if the Hungarian Defence Force remained capable of defending the country. The former defence minister pointed out further that Hungary did not have enough aeroplanes to police its own airspace, but that in the case of a real threat there would be joint air defence within a NATO framework.

And - say it sotto voce - the way to prove that Hungary can contribute to NATO is by taking part in peacekeeping missions. It is vital to national prestige that the Swedish Gripen fighters be introduced and deployed in international missions. Unfortunately, most of the development funds had to be spent on the aeroplanes themselves, meaning that the purchase of special winter and summer boots had to be delayed.

Soldiers sent on international missions are better equipped than their colleagues at home. But only while they are abroad - afterwards they return their equipment to stores. But the main attraction is money: even common soldiers can save HUF1-1.3m during a six-month tour abroad. Where, in the days of compulsory military service, conscripts would seek out comfortable office jobs, nowadays a woman in the legal department will leave behind her administrative work to serve a second tour as a common fusilier in Kosovo.

The Bocskai Regiment in Debrecen has a waiting list of hopeful candidates to enlist, according to the regiment's commander, András Szücs his can partly be explained by the fact that a military career is most popular in eastern Hungary, and also by the fact that more are sticking the course than was expected. A few years ago, it was common for people to enlist to keep warm during the winter, leaving the army at harvest time, when agricultural work became available. Now, benefits are such that few are tempted to leave before their five years are up.

Gergely Fahidi

English version

Firing on the flagship

The storm over the Financial Times's Hungarian supplement continues. Fidesz published its advert about the supplement in December. Now it is asking for a special parliamentary committee to be established. The FT was supposedly to be excluded from the affair, but it somehow found its way in. They have now written a strange letter to London. They continue to attack the Gyurcsány government. But what does the supplement actually say?

hvg.hu English version

Compaigning tricks

The attempt to sell the publisher of Magyar Vizsla as a civil society organisation failed spectaularly, just as did the Socialists' attempt to distance themselves from the scurrilous book The Victor. We can only hope that voters will not be deceived by such campaigning tricks.

HVG English version

Attila Michnai

In order to have a genuinely fair tax system we need things to be clear and transparent, and we need precise figures. The current system, tinkered with anew every year, has none of these features. For the moment, we can only guess which members of society will bear what share of the burden, and nor does anyone know how much any individual gets from the common kitty.

HVG English version

Parties background

There has been a rash of supposedly non-affiliated organisations campaigning for one or other of the main parties this year. This practice could lead to complete circumvention of campaign finance laws.

hvg.hu English version

European championships 2012

The Hungarian Football Association (HFA)is leaderless, while it has only until the end of May to present its joint bid with Croatia to host the 2012 European championships. Unlike in the past, this time the ouster came from inside - along with a promise to kick-start the sport. But there are rumours that business lobbies lurk behind the changes.

HVG English version

The new CEO of Budapest Airport

Budapest Airport is the least competitive airport in the region, but its growth opportunities are all the greater, according to the 46-year-old Briton, whose company BAA International has paid HUF465bn for a 75-year contract to operate the airport.

hvg.hu English version

Impression

We are a couple of days now into 2006, but President László Sólyom's new year address is still making waves. The attacks are coming from all quarters, but at least people are talking about it. Maybe that is what he wanted?

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