Who is Robert Fico, the sulphurous Slovak Prime Minister, seriously injured by bullets?

Who is Robert Fico, the sulphurous Slovak Prime Minister, seriously injured by bullets?
Who is Robert Fico, the sulphurous Slovak Prime Minister, seriously injured by bullets?

Robert Fico, in Bratislava on March 14, 2018 ©BelgaImage

This Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at the beginning of the afternoon, astonishment in Slovakia. Prime Minister Robert Fico is shot at in Handlová, in the Carpathian Mountains, after a government meeting. The news is initially worrying. He is “seriously injured” and appears to be between life and death. Finally, today he would be out of the woods, although he remains in the local hospital in Banská Bystrica and his injuries remain significant.

One man was arrested as the main suspect: the poet Juraj Cintula. Questioned by the media aktuality.sk, his son assured that his father had a legally registered firearm. Asked about potential political motivations, he simply replied: “I’ll tell you one thing: he didn’t vote for him. That’s all I can say“. So, political crime or not? In any case, one thing is certain: Robert Fico represents one of the most divisive personalities in the history of Slovakia, and has been for years.

From communism to a party centered around its own person

Originally from the town of Topoľčany, just 60 km from Handlová, Robert Fico comes from a modest family. His father was a forklift driver and his mother worked in a shoe store). He was still young when he began his political career by joining the Czechoslovak Communist Party, which was almost an obligation at the time to have a career.

But following the fall of the Eastern bloc and the independence of Slovakia, he did not do like other personalities, joining the myriad of new parties created during democratization. He remains loyal to the successor of the communist party, the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ). It was under this banner that he became a deputy in 1992. He simultaneously represented Slovakia as a legal advisor to the European Court of Human Rights, but he lost all the cases he handled.

In 1999, he was unhappy to see his party expelled from Parliament, the SDĽ being shunned by voters. He therefore found the solution to bounce back: create another party of which he proclaims himself the leader and which presents itself as a center-left party, the SMER. A winning bet since little by little, he managed to unite around him, especially by attacking the austerity policy of the right-wing government then in power.

The emergence of a xenophobic, pro-Russian and virulent populist against the media (or even mafia?)

In 2006, Robert Fico rubbed his hands. The SMER wins its bet and it becomes Prime Minister. But his image as a social democrat immediately crumbled. To reach the government, he allied himself with the neo-fascists of the Slovak National Party (SNS). He then begins to make the same remarks as this far-right party, with anti-Roma and anti-Hungarian comments. He also came into conflict several times with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at that time. Another controversial facet of his personality: as soon as he became Prime Minister, he presented himself as a convinced pro-Russian, determined to improve relations between Moscow and Bratislava.

With his populist tone, he consolidated his electoral base. But just before the 2010 elections, the first big scandal: a recording circulated in the media where a man, with a voice similar to that of Robert Fico, spoke of millions of euros in undeclared funds, a “parallel financial structure” having been created to hide the money from the eyes of the electoral commissions. He denies, and directly attacks the media which mentions the affair. If he manages to save the furniture for the SMER during the election, the partners of his coalition collapsed. He lost power, but not for long. In 2012, the center-right government collapsed, and Robert Fico resumed his position as Prime Minister.

Faced with this unstable context, he strengthens his populist tone. He states that not “a single Muslim migrant“will not enter Slovakia, because”Islam has no place there“, he asserts. He also remained silent during the annexation of Crimea by Russia. On the other hand, he did not fail to criticize the EU sanctions against Moscow, describing them as “threat to the Slovak economy“. Finally, he adopts a constitutional revision to block any possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage.

The years pass and his controversies do not seem to have any effect on his popularity. But on the night of February 21, 2018, everything changed. Investigative journalist Ján Kuciak is shot dead in his home, as is his wife. He worked on corruption within all state bodies (police, justice, etc.) and found links between the Calabrian mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta, and figures close to Robert Fico. Huge demonstrations take place and the Prime Minister tries to resist. He declares that he wants to give the SMER a pro-European and pro-NATO orientation. But the pressure is too great and he has to cede power to a close friend, Peter Pellegrini.

From populist to conspiracy theorist

Then begins the crossing of the desert for Robert Fico, but he does not give up. To bounce back, he starts to become a conspiracy theorist. He accuses Jewish billionaire George Soros, a favorite figure of conspiracy theorists, of interfering in Slovak politics, by flirting with anti-Semitism. During the Covid crisis, he adopted anti-vax theories, which affected one of the least vaccinated countries in Europe. He also becomes very anti-LGBTQIA+, for example calling adoption by homosexual couples “perversion“. Finally, he adopts the same discourse from Moscow on Ukraine, claiming for example that the war in Ukraine began when “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists began to murder the Russian population of Donbass“Clearly, if his party remains left-wing on the economic level, it is no longer left-wing on the societal level.

Obviously, this paradoxical political positioning is relevant in Slovakia since in 2023, the SMER wins the elections. He allied himself again with the far right and Robert Fico became Prime Minister again. His first decision: abolish the special prosecutor’s office responsible for investigating organized crime and corruption, despite EU fears for the consequences for the rule of law in Slovakia. Small clarification: several personalities from his party were then prosecuted for alleged corruption. He also minimizes Slovakia’s support for Ukraine, and moves closer to Viktor Orbán (forgetting past conflicts). The icing on the cake: he decided to put pressure on public television by threatening to cut off the tap of public funds, which was described as an attack on press freedom.

In view of his policies, the European Policy Center today describes Robert Fico as “a cynical pragmatist, hungry for power and impunity“. Recently, his ally Peter Pellegrini became Slovak president. His predecessor, Zuzana Caputova, decided not to want to stay in his post after receiving death threats.



PREV Raphaël Glucksmann, the adversary that the Macronists did not see coming
NEXT Cinema: the five cult films inspired by D-Day to see