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What's Behind Assassination Attempt On Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico?

24.05.2024 12:57

The assassination attempt is likely to add fuel to an already extremely polarized society and will likely be instrumentalized by Prime Minister Fico’s ruling coalition to double down on its Eurosceptic and illiberal course of action The fact that the shooting occurred just 3 weeks before...

The coming to power in Slovakia of Prime Minister Robert Fico and President Peter Pellegrini, associated with more pro-Russian positions, was certainly an unwelcome development for Brussels, but not unexpected. Last week's assassination attempt on Prime Minister Fico, on the other hand, shocked all on the old continent and beyond. Indeed, Europe has not experienced such acts of violence against high-profile elected officials in more than two decades. The last recorded cases were the assassination attempt on French President Jacques Chirac in 2002, the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Dindic in March 2003, and that of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh six months later.

What kind of leader is Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico?

It is not helpful to play the blame game at this point, but the shooting of Prime Minister Fico seems to be symptomatic of the extreme polarization, inflammatory rhetoric, hate speech, and illiberal values that have engulfed European countries and the United States over the past decade, all problems that populist politicians like Fico have cultivated and fueled, to begin with.

Robert Fico, a former communist party member, is the nominal leader of a left-wing party known as Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), but has moved rather radically to the right on immigration, minority and cultural issues, reflecting the blurring of boundaries between left and right-wing populism in the charged political environment in Europe. He indeed stood behind the ultranationalist Slovak politician Milan Mazurek when the latter infamously likened the country's Roma minority to 'animals in the zoo' and accused Slovakia's outgoing President Zuzana Caputova of being an 'agent' of America and of George Soros.

In the same vein, Lubos Blaha, a senior politician from Fico's party, lambasted [1] the West in an unmistakably Putinist language in one of the parliamentary campaign speeches last October: "Fascism is coming back in rainbow colors. The fascists now wear pink colors. Today we have liberal fascism, and we must defeat it. Fascism always comes from the West. And liberty and peace come from the East."

Upon assuming power last October, Fico also delivered one of his main campaign promises by ending Slovak military donations to Ukraine, but he did not interfere with Western military deliveries to Ukraine via Slovakia, reflecting his pragmatism.

In short, the assassination attempt is likely to add fuel to an already extremely polarized society and will likely be instrumentalized by Prime Minister Fico's ruling coalition to double down on its Eurosceptic and illiberal course of action. On the other hand, the fact that the shooting occurred just 3 weeks before the European Parliament elections will likely have broader repercussions by strengthening populist forces of various strands across the European Union (EU), all developments set to be welcomed by the Kremlin.

Repercussions for the Balkans

The attempt on Prime Minister Fico's life was unanimously condemned by Balkan leaders. Beyond geographical proximity, shared Slavic roots, and a common Habsburg legacy, developments in Slovakia have a direct impact on the Balkans since Slovakia is one of the four NATO members, along with Greece, Romania, and Spain, that still do not recognize Kosovo's independence and, as such, are key to the resolution of the region's most intractable security problem.

Indeed, as I have laid out elsewhere, [2] lasting security in the Balkans is only possible by making Kosovo a NATO member because Russia's and Serbia's leverage for destabilizing the region hinges exclusively on blocking the recognition of Kosovo's independence. However, the latest developments in Slovakia and Fico's comeback to power last October to begin with do not bode well in this respect. More specifically, it was hoped that Russia's full-scale attacks on Ukraine back in February 2022 would heighten threat perceptions among the EU and NATO member states and, as such, might lead the four NATO non-recognizers to somewhat soften their stances and eventually recognize Kosovo's independence, all in the name of strengthening security in Europe. However, the coming to power in Bratislava of Fico's coalition associated with more pro-Russian positions and the potentially growing Euroscepticism and illiberalism in the aftermath of the assassination attempt make the above-mentioned scenario much less likely.

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/program/people-power/2024/4/3/slovakia-the-return-of-fico'traffic_source=KeepReading

[2] https://research.sharqforum.org/2022/08/22/ukraine-war-for-kosovo/

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu -

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