Why Slovakia's Robert Fico Is Good For Putin — And Even Better For Orban
One man's victory in Slovakia may move the tides of European support for Ukraine, and play into an "illiberal temptation" that is spreading across the continent, with Hungary's prime minister set to cash in on his perennial clash with the EU.
PARIS — Robert Fico, remember this name: you might hear a lot about him in the coming months. Fico emerged as the winner of Sunday's legislative elections in the central European nation of Slovakia, following a highly contested campaign.
To understand the significance, one must only look at who congratulated him first: Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, who had been previously isolated in his pro-Putin stance. On X (formerly Twitter) Orban wrote: "Look who's back! Congratulations to Robert Fico for his impressive victory in the Slovak elections. I look forward to working with a patriot."
Orban indeed has reason to rejoice. If Fico manages to form a coalition — which is not certain as he only has one-quarter of the votes — the Hungarian leader may feel less isolated during the upcoming European Council meetings. There would then be two leaders simultaneously challenging both the support for Ukraine and the integration projects of the 27 European Union member states. For decisions that require a consensus, they would be two leaders capable of blocking them.
Robert Fico is not a newcomer. He previously served as Prime Minister on two occasions and made a dramatic resignation in 2018 after the assassination of the journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner in Slovakia. This case exposed the infiltration of organized crime within the ruling elite. Meanwhile, we've stopped taking count of how many of Fico's inner circle have been convicted of corruption.
Anti-migrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Brussels
Yet even if the 59 year old leader of SMER, the National Populist Party, is a clone of Orban, his party is a member of the Social Democratic group within the European Parliament. It is a contradiction that the Social Democrats will have to resolve if Fico implements the program he campaigned on.
Why does a campaign like this resonate with certain sectors of European public opinion?
Indeed, he was elected by promising to end support for Ukraine, even though Slovakia had been the first country to offer its combat aircraft to the Ukrainian army. He is also against sanctions on Russia. Furthermore, he has a significant anti-migrant, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Brussels agenda.
We must try to understand why such a campaign resonates with certain sectors of European public opinion, which have undoubtedly become receptive to nativist voices, believing that support for Ukraine has cost too much.
Budapest, Sept. 25, 2023: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks in parliament to open the autumn session
There is also widespread disinformation through the use of deep fakes, manipulated recordings, or videos that flooded during the campaign. The recent arrival of thousands of migrants in Slovakia is attributed to Hungary's manoeuver in closing certain migration routes.
The "illiberal" temptation exists everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Warsaw yesterday, responding to the call of the liberal opposition, just two weeks before the legislative elections in Poland. The goal is to defeat the Law and Justice Party, an illiberal party, which hopes to retain power.
Europe remains an ideological battleground, which will be fiercely contested leading up to the European elections next June. It will be the ultimate test of power dynamics on the continent, and Slovakia serves as a warning signal.
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