“Over the last three weeks, since the outbreak of the war between Russian and Ukraine, the governing parties have apparently been experimenting with finding the best message, and trying out several types accordingly,” Andrea Virág, strategic director and political analyst at the Republikon Institute, told Népszava.
The top leadership, including Viktor Orbán, remains distant, emphasizing the importance of peace, while actors close to Fidesz have said something quite different, thus far typically a pro-Russian narrative. Now the other extreme has emerged, which is not a surprise as the government parties are continuously testing the public to see what society can bear and where the greater demand lies.
On Thursday night, Fidesz messaging featured a few notable anti-Russian voices:
Go home, Russians! Let there be peace!
-wrote Zsolt Németh, the Fidesz chair of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, on Facebook.
While certainly not the first Fidesz-KDNP politician to publicly advocate for peace in Ukraine, the post by well-known pro-Western and Atlanticist Németh struck a rather new tone about Russian aggression in Ukraine.
And to show that it was not an isolated incident, President-elect Katalin Novák also put up a post (pictured above) a few hours before that which simply said:
The war launched by Russia is indefensible and inexplicable.
It is also noteworthy that on the seventh day after her election as Hungary’s new head of state, it just occurred to Novák then to express her opinion on Russian aggression, which prior to that was apparently not as important as posting on other topics, such as the re-opening gala of the Opera House on March 12.
Németh’s and Novák’s posts appear to have caused a great deal of consternation among pro-government voters, based on the angry comments that appeared on them. The government’s decade-long propaganda has had a strong effect on its base, and the minds of their faithful cannot be changed overnight.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place?
Republikon’s Virág states that the war has put Fidesz into a difficult situation, since 12 years have passed since the party converted their previous strong anti-Russian voting base into supporters of Russia and the “Eastern opening” initiative. But now, for domestic and foreign policy reasons, the government is unable to pursue a pro-Russian policy, which is causing confusion among their most devoted supporters.
But they can’t be friendly to Ukraine either, precisely because of the propaganda of the last 12 years. So they remain a ‘party of peace,’ but they are also naturally looking for a new direction. One way to test this is through these statements by Zsolt Németh and Katalin Novák.
-noted Andrea Virág.
Fidesz bases everything on internal measurements. If they saw that they could win by being strongly pro-Western, they would do it. But Fidesz leadership senses that their base is divided over the issue of Ukraine and the Russian invasion.
-stated Patrik Szicherle, an analyst at Political Capital, referring to a Publicus poll that found 44% of Fidesz voters view the Russian attack as an act of aggression.
This is why, the analyst believes, the ruling party has settled on multi-level messaging: while their main message has been one of a “peace party,” news of the Russian invasion appear on various channels of Fidesz propaganda exactly as if it were “information” that came from the Kremlin.