War machine

Locals protest over new military base to be built at Gyulafirátót without their consent

On 28 June, a public forum was held on the planned military base near Gyulafirátót, Veszprém County. It turned out that the planning has been going on for years, the location was chosen in 2019, but locals claim that they only found out about the project this year. According to the Ministry of Defence, last year they had already talked to the local residents about the plans for the investment, but the presentation made for the 24 February event, mentioned by the MoD, does not say a word about the base.

More than 25 hectares of forest were cleared in early February in Gyulafirátót, Veszprém County to build a new military camp next to the shooting and training range, less than 750 metres from the border of the settlement. The locals were outraged that they had only found out about the project by chance, when the work had already begun. What is more, the situation is complicated by the fact that Gyula Porga, the mayor of Veszprém from the governing party, Fidesz, contradicted the information provided by the Ministry of Defence and claimed that no one had informed him about the construction.

In addition, noise from the firing and training range has caused conflicts between residents and soldiers before – most recently last month, when  due to an international exercise loud noise and gunfire could be heard even after 11pm.

Local forum with zero information

In light of the previous events, it is not surprising that many people were looking forward to the public forum organised by a local NGO called Élhetőbb Rátótért on 28 June, to which our newspaper was also invited. Tibor Benkő, Minister of Defence, Péter Ovádi, Fidesz MP for the region, Gyula Porga, mayor of Veszprém, Sándor Katanics, for Veszprém, and the Hungarian Defence Forces, including the newly elected Commander, Romulusz Ruszin-Szendi also participated in the event.

The minister of defence stated that they would like to figure out how the cooperation with the locals could be better, but in spite of his word, there weren’t any real promises or response to the problems of the locals.

Source: honvedelem.hu

The location was chosen in 2019

It was clear from the forum that the gigantic investment is expected to temporarily house 2-3 thousand Hungarian and foreign soldiers. In other words, the number of the current residents of Gyulafirátót (the population is about 3,000) could suddenly double, even if – as the Ministry of Defence has repeatedly tried to stress – the soldiers were only to stay temporarily on the base for 3-4 weeks.

According to the Minister, the idea of hosting an international camp in Hungary was first discussed in 2016 at the NATO summit. Then, the search for a suitable site began after that, and the area near Gyulafirátót was finally accepted two years ago, in 2019.

One year later, a public briefing was held on 24 February 2020, when the participants were introduced to the details of the military exercises expected during the year, and it was also mentioned that „the base is planned”, i.e. the plan for the investment was made public almost 1.5 years ago.

However, it seems that the nearly 100 locals present at the forum were completely unaware of this, just as the mayor claimed that he had not been informed about the project, even in spite of the fact that there was more than one consultation with the municipalities concerned. Some say that the 2019 municipal elections may be behind the silence surrounding the project, as it was suspected that it would not be welcomed by the public. (Gyula Porga has been the mayor of Veszprém since 2010, but in the last municipal elections in autumn 2019 he won barely two thousand more votes than Sándor Katanics, who stood with the support of the opposition coalition.)

Source: Youtube

– On 20 March 2019, János Czaun, the local government representative of the Gyulafirátót from Fidesz, according to screenshots in the local Facebook group, refuted the news about the construction of a “NATO base” (the post has since been deleted);
– On 24 February 2020, the local organisation of Hungarian Defence Forces (MH BHK) held its briefing on the 2020 training events in a neighbouring settlement, Várpalota;
– On 29 February 2020, honvedelem.hu published a short report about the event in Várpalota a few days earlier, stating that “a briefing on this year’s training events was held”. The newspapers of Veszprém also reported on the event in a similar way;
– in March, the municipality was sent a notice of the opening of the building authority procedure;
– in December, the forest clearance demonstration was held, where, according to an article in honvedelem.hu, „in addition to the municipality’s leaders, representatives of Verga Zrt. and the Veszprém County Government Office were also present”;
– On 7 February 2021, a Facebook post was published in the group, revealing that 26 hectares of private forest had been cut down by mistake;
– honvedelem.hu was the first to report on the project, on 15 February;
– On 25 February, Tibor Benkő replied to Gyula Porga, saying that the March 2020 notification mentioned above was not addressed to the mayor by mistake, so he was not personally informed;
– On 1 April, the first meeting on the military base construction took place between Tibor Benkő, Péter Ovádi, Gyula Porga, Sándor Katanics and the president of the local NGO;
28 June, a public forum was held.

The plan was not mentioned earlier

The Ministry of Defence has repeatedly pointed out that at the annual briefing in Várpalota in February 2020, mayors and local councillors from the area were able to hear about the plans for the base construction, so we tried to find out what exactly happened at the event a year and a half ago.

We managed to get hold of a presentation that was shown at the meeting, which talks about the military exercises and other programmes planned for 2020, but doesn’t mention the base construction at all.

We have also contacted the Ministry of Defence to clarify this  contradiction, but as of the publication of this article, we have not received a reply to our questions.

There are no records available

We also contacted Sándor Katanics, who told us that only a few months ago he had spoken to people who had attended the briefing last year, but they did not remember the military base being mentioned. „I also spoke to someone who looked at his written notes at the time, but he also confirmed that the subject did not come up at the briefing and if it had, he would have taken notice, as the area is affected by a development of this magnitude,” he explained.

Katanics also said that he had received the minutes of this year’s event, which presented the 2021 training plan, and asked the Hungarian Defence Forces Bakony Combat Training Centre (MH BHK) to forward the minutes of last year’s event to him.

However, they were unable to do so and the MH BHK informed him that „no written record of the Mayor’s briefings in previous years” had been kept.

Local residents attending the public forum

Locals are not happy

The public forum also offered the opportunity to ask questions of the participants. „I think they don’t even know what our problem is. Do you really want to build this military base here? Because then there is no point in us being here,” – said one of the locals.

However, participans tried to convince the locals that the camp would not make a substantial difference to people living in the area, because there would be no more military exercises or more noise.

There was also a demand to move the project further away from the city, to the north-northeast. Tibor Benkő quickly concluded that „what has been planned for 3 years cannot be put elsewhere”. Asked why the project had not been presented before the plans were finalised, Tibor Benkő replied that he could only take responsibility for what happened „in his time”. The minister was appointed in 2018.

A week after the meeting, on 6 July, the focus returned to the base when opposition MPs in Veszprém announced at a press conference that they would call an extraordinary meeting of the local government in order to ensure that the base is implemented as far away from the settlement as possible.

At the press conference, Sándor Katanics noted that he did not understand why the construction of the base had not been discussed earlier, especially in light of the fact that in August 2019, the Minister of Defence presented the Zrínyi 2026 Defence and Military Development Programme at the Veszprém County Government Office in Veszprém. The event was attended by Gyula Porga, among others.

Written and translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, longer version of this is article is available here in Hungarian. The previous articles about the base can be found here and here

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