I spent a day reading through an anonymous police message board on Facebook to see what their concerns are.
Whenever I see police dealing with political protests I always wonder if some of them feel there is a clash between his personal values and the role he plays on command. When I asked an old school friend, he simply invited me to follow a Facebook page where anonymous questions are answered by commenters – often under their second Facebook profiles to avoid professional backlash. Being followed by your employer is our new, shared reality and puts a damper on the whole internet thing for those who knew it before it became colonized by states and politicians.
The group – and its local subgroups – collect donations of cold medicine, foot warmers, pain killers and warm gloves, snacks and tea, blankets and masks. Sounds soothing to me, the citizen.
So I submerged for a day in a world I donˋt know first hand. The most frequent themes and concerns were as follows:
1. How can I resign?
During the state of emergency no one is allowed to resign. And states of emergencies are sticky. Few people know that we have been under a state of immigration emergency since 2015. Some may remember the border huntsmen ads where the government was recruiting brave men to “hunt” illegal immigrants. Well, that emergency never officially ended. And it has consequences.
One of them is that members of law enforcement are not allowed to resign. This is a pattern though. They are obviously needed and a precondition of state and living in civilized society – yet the government would go out of its way not to waste good, stealable public money on them. Instead of fixing their terrible, low salaries, they are tricked in every possible manner (see later), one of which is that they are not allowed to resign. For some, it is a form of enslavement – just like the case with nurses, who have been made to sign contracts not to resign during emergencies, maybe ever, but never received a living wage in exchange. They, too, are absolutely necessary. And perhaps that is why the least necessary job cohort on the planet, politicians, are reluctant to pay them. After all, admitting that some jobs carry more social value may make one start thinking that some jobs donˋt carry any – and politicians easily jump in mind.
Post after post is asking the question how they could leave the force, because they cannot live off this salary (see later). It is now somewhat mixed as jobs have dried up in the entire economy, unemployment is rampant due to the pandemic, so there isnˋt really anywhere else to go for many. Yet, the topic lingers and anecdotes and urban legends are shared where a policeman who wasnˋt allowed to resign resorted to clever tricks to be fired (admittedly, a suboptimal way of leaving the force, but desperation is powerful), like firing a gun into an inanimate object or driving through a hypermarket hall in his police car.
But most commenters just admit that it is not permitted these days because of the severe shortage of policemen.
2. 140 thousand forints
That is most policemenˋs salary that you see on the streets. That is 390 euros per month.
What is worse, they are forever hounded by their bureaucrats who use any and every excuse to deduct sums from their salaries, paying for this and that, spying on them if they buy lunch during patrol (good luck affording a kebab on a 390 euro salary, anyway), or just deduct sums randomly and under nondescript titles that anonymous posters are trying to get help with. They are desperate to find out where every cent goes – and we really are talking cents – but obviously, they are slowly worn down by a thousand cuts. Their union is no help.
The fact that they are forced to accept overtime but never get paid has become a political issue – but it’s not like they’re allowed to strike. This Christmas they received two candies and a card as a bonus. Angry commenters were wondering how much was paid and to whom to get the candies branded with the police logo and why they didn’t get that money instead.
Imagine that if you go to work as a policeman, you still donˋt get a mortgage of a loan because of your low salary.
They joke a lot that they are paid in perseverance, because that’s what their superiors wish them.
3. Should I take the short or the long course?
Why do people still go to work for the police, you may ask naively. Because the options are bleak and if you donˋt know the reality of it, police sounds like a life career with a certain degree of job safety. At least that is what everyone assumes. And because everyone so forcefully assumes it, there is ample ground to abuse that assumption and recruit new people who will invariably get surprised by the reality.
One of the new recruitment drive for street cops is a 10-month quick course they can take. They may even start getting their future salaries, the infamous 410 euros a month during training – having signed the contract in advance. And that little money is a powerful lure when one is stuck without a career or training. There is also a longer, more traditional training, and it is a peek into the world of bureaucratism that one needs to figure out which one is good for what. And it is a testament to just how helpless these people are that they ask Facebook for legal information on their career.
But legal security also seems to be a problem. There was talk of an earlier move by the government to retroactively change the status of servicemen to reduce their pensions. And one such move, if swallowed, is always followed by worse when the country is based on the logic of bullying its own, in other words authoritarianism.
4. 89% of position filled. LOL
Some minister or police leader must have said that curretly 89% of police jobs are filled and Facebook canˋt have enough LOLs about that. Anecdotal evidence shared puts the value under 50%, and even that may be optimistic. No wonder we have all these emergencies and the military is used more and more often. (The police appears to be pitted against their much better paid cousines, Orbánˋs parallel commando, and even against the military that is now getting all the toys and money, ever since Orbánˋs son seems to have embarked upon a military career. Pitting job groups against one another by favoring one and starving the other is vintage Orbán.) Without the perennial states of emergencies we would be left without doctors, nurses, ambulances or policemen – only with thousands of thieving politicans to take care of us.