Hungary enlists army in fight against joblessness

GYOR (AFP) – As Hungary’s coronavirus-hit economy shrinks and unemployment soars, thousands of Hungarians are seeking to join the army, attracted by job stability and a government scheme that fast-tracks recruits toward a military career. Military service is also one of the Hungarian government’s weapons to keep a lid on joblessness.

“Since the crisis began the number of applicants has risen by 100 per cent,” Major Tamas Durgo, head of military recruitment, told AFP at an army office in Budapest.

“We have loosened the admission procedure, that doesn’t mean it’s easier to get in now, just faster,” said Durgo in front of an advertisement for military careers.

After a simplified medical test, applicants can sign up for six months of paid training after which they can either return to civilian life or – if they make the grade – embark on a career path in the army.

Apart from traditional military careers, the army also has jobs for engineers and IT experts, drivers and catering staff, said Durgo.

And besides defending the country’s borders, or taking part in foreign missions, soldiers also help out during emergencies like floods and epidemics, he said.

A man wears a face mask as he arrives to apply for a job at the recruitment office of the Hungarian Defence Force in Budapest. PHOTO: AFP

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long underlined the importance of beefing up the military.

His government has been hiking spending on the previously underfunded military since well before the pandemic, with the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on defence rising from 0.95 per cent in 2013 to 1.21 per cent in 2019. The army has had a high profile in the coronavirus crisis, for example being dispatched to look after hospitals.

Orban has emphasised patriotic education in schools while the Hungarian army has expanded a cadet programme and unveiled plans this month to operate up to 10 new military high schools by 2030.

With unemployment rocketing due to the coronavirus crisis, officials said many are jumping at the chance of a stable job that the army offers. “Already 2,500 have applied, with 900 starting basic training,” said Szilard Nemeth, a government defence official, last week.

The latest data put Hungarian unemployment rising to around four per cent in April, but analysts said the number may be almost double that given suddenly jobless entrepreneurs and freelancers have yet to register as unemployed.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast earlier this month said the Hungarian economy, which grew by 4.9 per cent in 2019, could contract by eight per cent this year, and by 10 per cent if hit by a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone who loses their job due to the coronavirus outbreak will have another one in three months,” Orban has pledged.