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AP: Pro-Russian populist strives for power in Slovakia

29-9-2023 |

Slovakia holds an early parliamentary election on Saturday that pits populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who campaigned on a clear pro-Russia and anti-American message, against a liberal pro-West newcomer Michal Simecka.

Fico and his leftist Smer, or Direction, party vowed to reverse Slovakia’s military support for neighboring Ukraine in Russia’s war, if his attempt to return to power is successful.

Slovakia’s vote is a key test that could put the country on a new course away from Kyiv and towards Moscow, threatening to break a fragile unity in the European Union and NATO.

Fico’s main challenger is the relatively new liberal pro-West Progressive Slovakia. The winner of the vote traditionally gets the first chance to create a government.

The government lost a parliamentary majority after Freedom and Solidarity withdrew from it in September 2022 last year and requested the no-confidence vote.

The coalition was a staunch supporter of Ukraine, donating arms to the Ukrainian army while opening its border with neighboring Ukraine to refugees fleeing the war with Russia.

The country is currently headed by a caretaker government.

Fico, 59, opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining NATO.

Robert Fico
Photo: TASR / Jaroslav Novák

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the U.S. should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

His return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its democratic course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

He has a clear source for his inspiration.

“War always comes from the West,” Fico said at a rally. “And freedom and peace always come from the East.”

Fico repeats Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unsupported claim that the Ukrainian government runs a Nazi state from which ethnic Russians in the country’s east needed protection.

Known for foul-mouthed tirades against journalists, Fico campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights and threatened to dismiss investigators from the National Criminal Agency and the special prosecutor who deals with the most serious crimes and corruption.

After Smer lost the 2020 vote, the four-party coalition made fighting corruption a key focus. Dozens of senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and business people, many linked to Smer, have been convicted of corruption and other crimes. Fico himself faced criminal charges last year for creating a criminal group and misuse of power.

Fico led Slovakia from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018.

Source: AP