The grand return of the troops
Militarization of COVID-19 and shifting military-society relations in Visegrad
Keywords:COVID-19, militarization, military-society relations, Visegrad, illiberal politics
The aim of this paper is to fill the geographical gap in the literature about the militarization of COVID-19 through a comparative exploration of how the pandemic was handled in militarized ways in Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. Drawing from official government and military statements, media articles, and expert interviews with defense intellectuals, we examine two interconnected areas – that of discourse and that of military domestic assistance. By viewing the developments through the lens of militarization and military-society relations scholarship, we argue that rather than serving as a ‘portal’ for civilian resilience, the pandemic constituted an unprecedented ‘return of the troops’ to Visegrad states and societies in terms of its size, scope, and duration, thus strengthening the pressure for re-militarization in the region that has been recorded in the last decade. The paper presents a number of analytical findings: first, it identifies the emerging gap between right-wing populist rhetoric that relied on warspeak and the human-centered communication of the armed forces; second, it reveals that military domestic assistance functioned as a military ‘band aid’ on systemic vulnerabilities, as well as incidentally converged with illiberal patterns of governance; third, it shows how the pandemic aided re-militarizing pressures, resulting in a significant boost to the defense sector, a positive public opinion about the armed forces, and military-society relations.
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