Deployment of military forces as a response to the pandemic
The outburst of the coronavirus pandemic triggered a robust militarisation process in Hungary.
As a response to the COVID-19 infection, the Hungarian government has not only vested the military forces with new, extraordinary powers during the state of danger, but also took the opportunity to launch long-term reforms.
The legislative background determining the constitutional role of the military has been amended on several occasions and a bill lodged in May 2021 forecasts an overall amendment of the role of armed forces.
As a result of the authorisation gained from the Parliament during the state of danger to rule by decree, and as a consequence of the modification of the constitutional framework, the Hungarian government gained a wide discretion to decide on the application of armed military forces for any purpose.
While in other European countries deploying military forces aimed at addressing logistic and human resources needs, the Hungarian government has vested the military with unusual new powers.
One of the first measures taken during the first wave of the pandemic was the establishment of an overly hierarchical system of hospital-commanders, which has since been operating primarily to exert military control over health institutions and their employees.
The list of extraordinary solutions also comprised the deployment of soldiers to selected privately owned companies qualified as essential.
Besides fulfilling tasks with respect to disinfection, vaccination and security, armed military forces also gained an autonomous right to monitor and control compliance with lockdown measures and even take coercive measures against citizens in case of any breach of rules of curfew, including also the ban of assemblies.
Data collection regarding the application of military forces during the state of danger and the state of medical crisis is remarkably hindered: possibilities of Freedom of Information requests are limited due to military and national security reasons and take longer due to extraordinary rules introduced during the state of danger. Nevertheless, it is obvious even in lack of all detailed data, that the new powers of the military require more safeguards against arbitrary deployment, especially considering that the government intends to uphold the special legal order on the long run.
The research formulates recommendations in order to strengthen the guarantees attached to the deployment of military forces.
Our analysis is being carried out within the framework of our COVID-19 Justice Campaign Project.