The scene that unfolded in mid-September during the electoral campaign is like Slovak politics in recent years, a free-for-all. A former prime minister, Igor Matovič, was molested in his pick-up truck by a former interior minister, Robert Kaliňák, when he tried to disrupt another ex-prime minister's press conference with a megaphone , Robert Fico.
Since the still unpunished assassination of journalist Ján Kuciak in February 2018, and the subsequent fall of Robert Fico, major anti-corruption operations have purged institutions and resulted in dozens of indictments. But the country has failed to regain political stability, trying four heads of government in five years.
On huge posters along the country’s roads, his party, SMER, promises “order, stability and social security.” The neofascist Our Slovakia party pledges to stop all support for Ukraine, while the Christian Democratic Movement wants to introduce a generous family allowance. And the list continues, since around ten parties hope to have seats in the Slovak National Council after the elections.
Robert Fico's SMER takes the lead. Although it is affiliated with the Party of European Socialists and its leader claims to be a social democracy, its slide towards national populism is spectacular, with its neighbor Viktor Orbán as an obvious model.
“Fico is now targeting extremist voter groups. He serves them in the same package his hostility to NGOs, to LGBT, to the United States, and his sympathy for Putin’s Russia,” explains Beata Balogová, editor-in-chief of Sme, the country’s main daily newspaper. “If he wins the elections, he will not go back, like the good pro-European he tried to be. Like Orbán, he will need enemies and victories,” she warns.
“Fico was abandoned by everyone, he had to fight for his future, his freedom and, no doubt he also thinks, for his life. And he managed to come back,” notes bitterly Arpad Soltész, a Slovak journalist and writer of Hungarian origin who, in a dark novel translated into French, described the political-mafia swamp in which Slovakia was immersed under Fico. “If he regains power, he will do everything possible to never lose it again, I guarantee you that. He doesn't have to invent anything, it's already in place in Russia and Hungary. He just needs to do more quickly what Orban did with the media, the NGOs. As for justice, our judges will be only too happy to return to their old shenanigans.”
The concern is great, but the outcome remains uncertain. Facing the experienced Fico stands a young liberal party, Progressive Slovakia, composed mainly of people from civil society who are trying to make the elections a referendum on Slovak membership in the Western camp.
Neck and neck with SMER in the polls, he could take advantage of a last-minute “anything but Fico” to win. But gathering a solid parliamentary majority would be very difficult, while Mr. Fico does not rule out governing with the support of the neofascists of Republika and the nationalist SNS party.
Various international surveys indicate that the Slovak population is the best disposed towards Moscow, that more Slovaks would hope for a victory for Russia than for Ukraine and that half of the population judges that the States -United States are the real warmongers in Ukraine.
Robert Fico himself echoes Kremlin propaganda, stating for example that “Nazis and Ukrainian fascists” are behind the war in Donbass. “War always begins in the West. And freedom and peace always come from the East,” he said during the campaign. In the streets, the elders especially, whether pro or anti-Putin, easily claim their cultural proximity to “the Russian brothers.”
“These elections are in fact a referendum on who we are, on whether we belong to the East or the West. And I really fear that the Slovaks, in their mentalities, belong more to the East…” analyzes journalist Arpad Soltész.
It is not at all certain that Saturday's elections will provide a clear answer to this torn Slovakia. But one thing is certain for the journalist-writer, if Fico finds himself in a position to regain power, for his safety, he will leave at short notice this country where verbal attacks have become his daily life.