Last month, the Danube surged over its banks as record-breaking floods hit Central Europe. The city of Budapest escaped fairly unscathed. The surrounding small villages were less fortunate. A friend of mine mentioned he would be off work – he wasn’t sure when he could return. He lives on Szentendre Island – in the Danube just north of Budapest. His wife is in the Hungarian military. She had been called into the barracks while he watched their children, filled sandbags and readied his family for evacuation.
As we chatted about her role in the military, the subject of guns came up. I asked what type of weapon his wife carried. “Oh no, the Hungarian military is not allowed to carry weapons.” I laughed. Isn’t a military without weapons the definition of a drill team? I pictured the Hungarian military performing a half time routine at a football game while a bunch of “hook ‘em horns” crazies looked on.
It turns out weapons were collected in 1989 when the communist government fell. The nascent democratic government worried the military may turn against them in an attempt to wrestle back control. This struck me on many levels: the idea of an unarmed military; the thought that anyone wanted the old communist government restored; and the realization that I struggle to think beyond my American biases.
In Slovakia, I never met anyone who rued the fall of communism. But in Hungary, friends often assert the country was better off under communism. It seems the political structure of the early 1980s Hungary was a kinder and gentler communism than that experienced by other countries . With the current financial difficulties in Hungary, a belief exists that it was a better system when everyone had something while few existed on the economic extremes. I won’t debate this – accepting my role as an observer (and of course, blogger).
The military exists in Hungary to protect the people. No longer is this protection from armed invaders (and let’s face it, the Hungarians never did particularly well against that anyways). Last month, Hungarians needed protection from a once in a life time flood. And the military responded. They closed Margit Island and worked around the clock to fill and stack sandbags. They also piled bags near the Chain Bridge to protect the core of the city.
This makes sense. It is another definition of the concept of protection – something which also is provided at home when the National Guard is mobilized during hurricanes or other natural disasters. But of course, as an American, I am familiar with the much larger version of an armed military. It never occurred to me they could exist without weapons.
There are days when I notice things and form an opinion. I keep these opinions to myself and try to keep an open mind to modify my opinions as I see the world from a new perspective. But my point isn’t to write a blog in order to argue the role of armed militaries globally. Frankly, I’m just fascinated by an army without guns. And I chaff at my predictable inability to suppress laughter when I realize the world is broader – and different – than what’s found in my own backyard.
Categories: Insiders Budapest