(Bloomberg) -- Hungary’s defense minister said an overhaul of senior-level military brass was underway in the NATO member state, which he called necessary to open the way for a new generation of leadership.
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The timing of the changes — with war raging on in neighboring Ukraine — has sparked criticism from opposition ranks that see it as an attempt to reshape the military’s top brass into one more loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has spent over a decade consolidating power.
Defense Minister Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky said the aim was to make room for younger soldiers with international experience and language skills to ascend the ranks. They will be better placed to oversee the expansion of the armed forces as Hungary accelerates its military modernization plans amid the regional conflict, he said.
“The most important job is to rejuvenate staff,” Szalay-Bobrovniczky told Inforadio in an interview broadcast Tuesday. He declined to say how many senior brass were being dismissed, adding that everyone affected by the cuts had by now been notified and replacements would be in place next month.
Orban signed a decree last week easing rules for the dismissal of experienced soldiers. Those who have served at least 25 years and have turned 45 can be fired with just a two-month notice period, according to the new rule.
Between 100 and 200 high-ranking military leaders, including generals, may have been ousted in the overhaul, a number that may continue to rise, Telex news website reported on Jan. 22, without saying where it got the information.
The Defense Ministry declined to answer emailed questions from Bloomberg News regarding the size and aim of the changes.
Those affected formed the “backbone” of Hungary’s army who have NATO military experience, Agnes Vadai, a former Defense Ministry state secretary and member of the opposition DK party, told ATV television on Jan. 19.
The defense minister said the moves wouldn’t affect the nation’s military capabilities, its NATO standing or allegiance to the alliance.
“Hungary is a committed and well-regarded member of NATO,” he told Inforadio. “Hungary performs well in a number of areas within NATO and this is acknowledged at all forums.”
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