Many of Zsolt Németh’s Facebook followers were surprised by the anti-Soviet slogan of Hungarian freedom fighters shared by the Fidesz representative, one of the party’s founding fathers, on Thursday evening. The statement “Russians go home” falls out of line of Fidesz’s self-defined “strategic calm” on the Russian-Ukrainian war, especially considering its historic implications. Many Fidesz voters were quick to chastise Németh’s statement, while the opposition alliance United for Hungary welcomed the clear stance against Russia.
Németh took a straightforward 1956-style approach to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, writing “Ruszkik haza! Legyen béke! (Russians go home! Let there be peace!” Below the post he commented “peace is in the interest of the entire world!”
An Atlanticist Politician Makes His Opinion Heard
The statement would normally not be such a big deal; the overwhelming majority of the international community recognizes that the current war is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereign borders and wants Russian soldiers to leave the country. Considering the Hungarian government’s “strategic calm” which many critics view a form of neutrality regarding the war despite Hungary’s Western commitments; its hesitance to denounce the Russian invasion as Russian aggression and to take a clear stand with Ukraine, a statement which likens Russian invaders to the Soviet occupiers fought by Hungarians in 1956 undoubtedly goes against the party discipline of the past weeks.
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Németh is a highly relevant voice in the governing party, especially considering that he was one of the founding members of Fidesz in 1988. He has been a member of the National Assembly since 1990, and currently serves as Chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee. A supporter of Atlanticism, Németh has never been pro-Russian.
Despite his prominence in the party’s history and his experience in foreign policy, Németh has noticeably been operating in the background of Fidesz politics for years. His name certainly does not show up as frequently as relatively newer members such as Péter Szijjártó, Gergely Gulyás, or perhaps Zoltán Kovács. Although he was the right hand man of Hungarian foreign policy during the first two Orbán governments (1998-2002, 2010-2014), serving as state secretary under Foreign Minister János Martonyi, he has not had a position ever since Péter Szijjártó was appointed as Foreign Minister in 2014. In the past 8 years, Németh’s highest position was president of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committe, the relevance and influence of which cannot be compared to his previous post.
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The relevance of Németh’s statement can be found in how it shows the split in the camp of Fidesz voters when it comes to the conflict: viewing it from a historical lens and identifying with the Ukrainians from shared experiences with Russia in 1849 and 1956, or viewing it from the political lens seeing Viktor Orbán’s strengthening of relations with Vladimir Putin over the past 12 years.
Fidesz Followers Up in Arms Over Opposition to Russia
Telex gathered together some of the comments on Németh’s post for context, they are quite clearly from Fidesz supporters. The following are translations with their spelling corrected.
- This post and this politician are the shame of Fidesz!
- If you don’t delete this in 10 minutes, you can forget about me and my wife’s vote
- I think this is a bit too strong! I would have expected something like this from MZP [Péter Márki-Zay]!
- Do you think it was important for you to speak? It was a mistake
- Zsolt… it’s clear that there needs to be peace. But from our side, this ruszkik haza (Russians go home) … Wrong time, wrong place.
- Why didn’t you write this about any of the wars which America started? Think about that for a bit!
- God save the world from Western democracy. There’s no democracy in America either, according to Donald Trump.
- Let there be peace! Many don’t see the end, but the Russian army is fighting to eliminate the deep-state forces attempting to gain world domination. The ones we can thank for viruses, vaccines, wars, pollution, etc.
- It would be better for you to hold back. Be neutral, like the government. The second statement is plenty: Let there be peace! You’re the politician, should I be educating you?
There are plenty more where these comments came from, all one needs to do is look under the storm of comments which have reached Németh’s post. It is quite surprising and perhaps ironic to read how angry people can be over a patriotic statement rooted in Hungarian history, calling for peace, not to mention the affinity to the fact that Russian tanks physically crossed the border of a sovereign state with the intention of imperialistically taking land.
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Fidelitas, the governing party’s youth wing, commented “let there be peace!” Of course, the message is open to interpretation, but keeping one half while omitting the anti-Russian part says quite a bit.
PM Candidate Márki-Zay Welcomes Németh’s Statement
Fekete-Győr András, from the opposition’s centrist liberal Momentum party, on the other hand, added to the statement, saying “Russians go home! Let there be peace! Orbán, beat it!”
The opposition alliance’s candidate for Prime Minister, Péter Márki-Zay, also drew attention to the statement, saying “Zsolt, I’m glad your conscience has awoken against Viktor Orbán. It’s never too late.” Other opposition representatives, including Tímea Szabó, István Elek, István Szent-Iványi, Gábor Kerpel-Fronius, and Szabolcs Szabó, responded to the statement, either voicing their support, questioning whether Németh actually meant what he said, or telling him to share it with Prime Minister Orbán.
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The crowd could be heard chanting "ruszkik haza, ruszkik haza! (Russians go home!)" the motto heard by Hungarians during the fight against Soviet rule in the Revolution of 1956.Continue reading
Government-critical conservative weekly Magyar Hang got in touch with Németh on Friday morning to discuss his statement. Zsolt Németh, when asked about the contradiction between his post and Fidesz’s policy, said, “I do not agree with this statement,” and then hung up.
Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI