Márta Mátrai

The new Parliamentary Guard: What will Fidesz use it for?

It was sometime in late July or early August that  a 168 Óra headline announced that “László Kövér is organizing a private army for himself.” This is not an accurate description of the new 349-member Parliamentary Guard (Országgyűlési Őrség) that is supposed to replace the 266-member Republican Regiment (Köztársasági Őrezred) that was created for the defense of the parliament and the office building in which the members’ offices were situated.

What was wrong with the Republican Regiment? Most likely nothing because, according to reports, most of its members have been taken over by the new Parliamentary Guard. But this government must change everything to make it bigger and grander. Also, if there is no Republic of Hungary there cannot be a Republican Regiment either.

This new police unit not only has very expensive, tailor-made uniforms to the tune of 2.3 billion forints but also has wider jurisdiction than its predecessor. Members of the Republican Regiment couldn’t enter the chamber, while a parliamentary guard can if the presiding speaker so requests. For example, if László Kövér finds an opposition member’s speech objectionable he can ask the member to leave the chamber. If he refuses, Kövér can ask for a guard to escort him out. If the MP refuses to oblige, the guard can forcibly remove him. He will have all sorts of equipment short of firearms to assist him in this task, including handcuffs, pepper spray, and a stun gun. The problem is that Kövér seems to have an extraordinarily short fuse; his sensitivity is incredible given his own manners. So, one never knows when he will decide that he has to ask the police to come to his rescue.

In October 230 people from the old Republican Regiment and hundreds of  others from the police force vied for this cushy job. The lowest monthly pay for a member of the parliamentary guard was set at 400,000 forints, more than three times the average salary of an ordinary policeman. By October 8 they picked the happy 349 people who in the case of the men had to be at least 180 cm tall and in the case of women 170 cm. After that came the special physical and psychological training about which we know nothing.

Magyar Hírlap made sure that its readers don’t find the establishment of a parliamentary guard that is responsible for “order in the chamber” unusual and informed them that “such a guard already existed in the last century. On July 4, 1912, István Tisza instructed the guards to lead out the protesting members of the opposition. Later the scene was repeated when Parliament voted for the reform of the Army Bill in preparation for war in the summer of 1914.”  A rather unfortunate comparison.

As for the uniform, I read several articles on the subject but it is still not clear to me how many uniforms each guard will receive.  There is the  dress uniform which consists of black pants and a dark green tunic with claret-colored piping, black shoes and shako. But Népszava also talked about “társasági öltözet” which should be an outfit for “social occasions.” Another outfit is called “szolgálati gyakorló ruha” which, if I understand it right, is the uniform worn in performing everyday duties. The dress uniforms cost 68.5 million, the uniforms for social occasions 25.3 million, and the ordinary service uniforms 18.8 million. Just the piping costs 9.8 million forints. Orbán is right: there is no such thing as “austerity” in Hungary! All these details were kept secret until yesterday when the new members of the Parliamentary Guard swore allegiance in front of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen that had been placed by the first Orbán government in the Parliament building.

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sargeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the spaker of the House

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sergeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the Speaker of the House

But there seems to be an even fancier outfit for those who will also perform ceremonial functions. Here is a picture of soldiers wearing this uniform:

Parliamentary guards at ceremonial function

Parliamentary guards at a ceremonial function

I should also say a few words about this new-old position of Sergeant-at-Arms (or in Hungarian háznagy). This position existed in the Hungarian parliament until 1945 but was abandoned after the war. When HVG announced the appointment of Márta Mátrai to the post, they introduced her as “the housekeeper of the House.” Indeed, her duties will be somewhat similar: keeping order not only in the chamber but also in the offices situated in the building. The Sergeant-at-Arms also keeps a list of the addresses of the MPs, takes care of handing out official documents to the members, and helps the speaker keep order. At least according to the Pallas Nagylexikon published at the end of the nineteenth century. I assume, but I’m not sure, that she will be the nominal head of the Parliamentary Guard. At least this is the case in the British Parliament. But Ms. Mátrai’s role will be not ceremonial as is the case with the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons. In England the security of Parliament buildings and the members is provided by the Palace of  Westminister Division of London’s Metropolitan Police Services, whose members are not armed. Moreover, the British police are there to defend the members, not to lead them out.

In the United States there is also a Sergeant at Arms who is an elected officer of the House of Representatives. He is the chief law enforcement and protocol officer of the House and is responsible for maintaining order on the House side of the United States Capitol complex.  The Sergeant at Arms reviews and implements all issues relating to the safety and security of members of Congress and the Capitol complex. The Sergeant at Arms also coordinates extensively with the U.S. Capitol Police and various intelligence agencies to assess threats against members of Congress and the Capitol complex. Again his duties and those of Ms. Mátrai are not the same.

And one final look at the uniform. Apparently real experts in the history of Hungarian military uniforms designed them and claim that they are in the finest tradition of Hungarian military uniforms. The trouble is that quite a few people see a striking resemblance between them and the uniforms of the Wehrmacht.

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

Unfortunately, there are similarities. Especially when it comes to the placement of pockets with buttons and the six gold buttons in the front of the tunic. The color green is reminiscent of the old German uniforms. But, the shako is traditional all right. It was typical Hungarian military headgear that was adopted in many countries and the name picked up in many languages, including English.

We will see what László Kövér and Márta Mátrai will use the members of this beefed up Parliamentary Guard for. Will they really use them against opposition members whose behavior is objectionable to the presiding speaker? Possibly. Of course, the question is whether they will be used only against MSZP, LMP, and DK members or whether Kövér will be equally strict with members of Jobbik when they begin making anti-Semitic speeches as they have done on several occasions in the past.