In Slovakia, Fico’s Return Has Europe—and Ukraine—on Edge

In Slovakia, Fico’s Return Has Europe—and Ukraine—on Edge
Robert Fico, the former Slovak prime minister and head of the leftist SMER party, waves to his supporters during an election rally, in Michalovce, Slovakia, Sept. 6, 2023 (AP photo by Petr David Josek).

A highly controversial three-time former prime minister who opposes military support to Ukraine and echoes Russian arguments on the war looks set to win Slovakia’s parliamentary elections on Sept. 30, with the potential to reverse the European Union and NATO member state’s political direction. Robert Fico’s Direction Social Democracy, or SMER, stands at around 20 percent in a recent poll by news portal, with Progressive Slovakia, or PS—a liberal, Europhile and pro-Ukraine party—in second place at 17 percent.

Fico has been accused of having presided over a captured and corrupted state during his two terms as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018. He was forced to resign in 2018 following the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and Kuciak’s girlfriend, a crime that highlighted the shady nexus of business and politics in Slovakia and led to the biggest street protests since Slovakia’s independence in 1993.

A subsequent election in 2020 ushered in a fractious center-right coalition government led by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party, or OL’aNO, riding on a popular wave of support for change. Under former Prime Minister Igor Matovic and his successor in 2021, Eduard Heger, the new government started deep reforms and judicial processes to uproot corruption and realign Slovakia with the EU mainstream, while providing staunch support to Ukraine. Yet progress on bringing the corrupt to justice has been patchy, and the anti-Fico coalition has lost popular support amid international crises and infighting.

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