Their exact number is not yet known with certainty., but the order of magnitude is telling enough. More than a hundred senior Hungarian officers, including colonels and even generals, were placed on early retirement by order of the Ministry of Defense. A new decree has just authorized Budapest to terminate the contract of officers aged over 45 years and who have accumulated at least twenty-five years of service.
According to an investigation by the independent media Telex, they would be between 100 et 200 to have already been pushed out and their number is expected to grow in the coming weeks. Officially, this major cleaning is motivated by a desire to rejuvenate the army and to raise the ranks of young people. The explanation is considered a bit short by several members of the opposition, who sounded the alarm.
Fact, this decision is all the more surprising as it is part of a context of strengthening the Hungarian army, which the government of Viktor Orbán has made a goal since 2017. Last year, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine at the gates of Hungary, defense spending increased by 30 %. They should achieve the goal of 2 % you PIB, recommended by NATO to all its members, from here 2024.
According to Ágnes Vadai, opposition MP and former Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defense, what is playing out at the moment is a process of “de-NATO of the Hungarian army”. “Officers over 45 years are those with international experience, who speak foreign languages and who have been trained with NATO codes”, she claimed. The manner in which several soldiers learned of their hasty retirement adds weight to the hypothesis of the political purge. Selon Telex, some were summoned to Budapest to receive their thank you letter while they were on mission abroad or engaged in NATO.
Moreover, the profile of the new Minister of Defense, named this summer, has already raised many questions. Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, 52 ans, former ambassador and businessman, is suspected of having links with Russia through a Russian-Hungarian consortium active in the rail sector in which he was a shareholder. He is also suspected of a conflict of interest., this time as a shareholder of a Czech aircraft manufacturer which has just sold jets to the Magyar army.
Although Hungary is a member of NATO, Budapest is a source of concern for the Alliance. Parliament has still not voted to ratify NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, which makes Hungary the only country to still block the process, with Turkey. The country's permeability to Russian intelligence services also poses a threat of confidential information leaking to Moscow. Mostly, Budapest clings to its “pacifist” line, by refusing to send arms to Ukraine or even to allow arms convoys to cross its territory. This week, Hungary, however, ended up approving the sending of 500 million euros of additional European military aid to Kyiv, while affirming its opposition to new sanctions.