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Fico will not become a second Orban: a view from Slovakia

It is too early to worry about the implications of the victory of Slovakia’s pro-Kremlin politician Robert Fico on western aid to Ukraine, says Slovakian writer Mesik
Fico slovakia ukraine aid
Slovakia’s election winner Robert Fico, known for his anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, is unlikely to follow in Viktor Orban’s footsteps. Photo: TASR
The parliamentary elections held in Slovakia last Saturday resulted in the victory of SMER-SSD, the party of pro-Kremlin politician Robert Fico, who had campaigned against military aid to Ukraine. The results caused some commotion about the future policy of Slovakia in the EU and towards Ukraine, with some global media warning that Ukraine should be worried. Slovakian writer Jurak Mesik, however, contends populist Fico, far from having the influence of Orban, will speak to please his voters, but act to ensure the continuity of money flows from the EU. Slovakia’s future foreign policy now hangs on what the third-largest party will choose….

The results largely confirmed public opinion polls over the past few months –  Robert Fico (former three-time prime minister with a corrupt, pro-Kremlin reputation) won. However, with his 42 deputies (out of 150 in the Slovak parliament), he is miles away from positioning himself like Orban.

Slovakia election results
Preliminary results from Slovakia’s 2023 parliamentary elections, showing Robert Fico’s SMER leading

It was encouraging to see that the fascist Republika and the mafia family business Sme Rodina (“We Are Family”) did not make it into parliament. Republika was “cannibalized” by Fico, whose rhetoric attracted fascist voters.

Overall, two governments can emerge from the results, and the main political kingmaker is Pellegrini’s Hlas – Sociálna Demokracia (“Voice – Social Democracy”), the third-largest party in the election, with its 27 deputies.

If Pellegrini, [earlier a member of Fico’s party who created Hlas in 2020, yet parted with Fico on foreign policy, vowing not to end military aid to Ukraine], chooses a coalition with Fico, one more coalition party would be needed to get a majority in parliament.

Both potential candidates are problematic for Hlas, which is supportive of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, as well as of Slovakia’s EU and NATO orientation: either the nationalist/Russophile SNS (Slovak National Party – 10 seats) or the Catholic-conservative KDH (12 seats).

[75 seats are required to form a majority coalition government in Slovakia’s 150-seat parliament, to have enough seats to govern without needing support from other parties.]

A three-party coalition of Fico with SNS would have the support of 79 votes (42 + 27 + 10); with KDH, the coalition would have 81 votes.

If Pellegrini gets a better offer from Progressive Slovakia (PS), which is coming out of the election as the second-strongest party, then a four-party coalition would be needed.

This could be:

PS (32 seats) + Hlas (27 seats) + KDH (12) + SaS (11); together they would have 82 seats.

However, a marriage of the liberal SaS (“Freedom and Solidarity”) and the socially liberal PS (Progressive Slovakia) with the conservative KDH could be quite shaky.

If Pellegrini chooses marriage with Fico, he will be able to tame Fico’s anti-West/anti-Ukraine/pro-Russia rhetoric and steps.

I think Pellegrini would insist that his portfolio includes the foreign ministry and that he gets to appoint a professional diplomat with a clear pro-Western resume as minister, as it was in Fico’s previous government.

[In this case] Fico will be forced to tame his rhetoric against the EU, NATO, and pro-Kremlin rhetoric, and Slovakia will vote together with Brussels on all important votes. After all, EU money is a big perk of governing…

In both arrangements – with or without Fico – the coalition will be glued together by turning a blind eye to the misuse of state resources, compromised business with friends’ companies, and other corruption. Such is the price of many coalition governments…some glue is needed, and money is a time-tested tool for that.

Procedurally, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, according to our constitutional tradition, will first ask Fico, as the winner of the popular vote, to form a new government and give him some time to do so. If he fails to build a coalition, she will turn to the leader of Progressive Slovakia and ask him to try forming a government.

In summary, while I would certainly have preferred Pellegrini to choose PS […], I do not expect Fico IV to become a “geopolitical catastrophe,”

Fico is a pragmatic man focused on money and power, not an ideological fanatic. Also, his political force is far from the strength [legitimacy] of Orban’s party in Hungary. Fico will speak to please his voters but act to ensure continuity of money flows.

It could be different if Russia were stronger and richer, but it is becoming weaker and weaker, poorer and poorer, and will be so until it falls apart.

We are grateful to Yevhen Bystrytskyi for his cooperation in publishing this article

Related: 

Juraj Mesik is a Slovakian scholar and writer. His latest book is “2023: The Year the Russian Empire Died”
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