ADVERTISEMENT

Who is Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico?

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during a press conference with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Copyright AP Photo/Denes Erdos
Copyright AP Photo/Denes Erdos
By Euronews with AP
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

The populist leader is said to no longer be in a life-threatening condition after an assassination attempt on Wednesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times after a political event on Wednesday afternoon, an episode of violence that adds a shocking new turn to a meandering, decades-long political career.

With a 71-year-old in custody for the assassination attempt, which authorities say had a political motive of some kind, the prime minister underwent hours-long surgery and was in critical condition throughout the evening.

Deputy PM Tomas Taraba later told the BBC he believed Fico would survive the attack, saying "he's not in a life threatening situation at this moment."

Fico, 59, was born in 1964 in what was then socialist Czechoslovakia. A member of the Communist Party before the disintegration of the eastern bloc, he took a law degree and was first elected to parliament in 1992 right before the Czech-Slovak split as a member of the Party of the Democratic Left, a party he joined after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

For several years in the 1990s he served as a governmental agent representing the Slovak Republic before the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights. In 1999, he became chairman of the left-wing nationalist Smer (Direction) party, where he has been a leading figure ever since.

Having previously served twice as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, Fico returned to power last year for a record-breaking third term — despite a plethora of controversies and scandals in recent years.

Fico has earned a reputation for his tirades against journalists, and faced criminal charges in 2022 for allegedly creating a criminal group and abuse of power.

In 2018, he and his government stepped down after the murder of Slovakian investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. Kuciak had been reporting on tax-related crimes and connections to the Italian mafia 'Ndrangheta implicating high-level Slovak politicians, including Fico's assistant.

Nonetheless, after five years in opposition, Fico's party came out on top in parliamentary elections last year on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform. It then entered power in a coalition that includes the ultranationalist Slovak National Party, some of whose ministers have taken the lead on highly controversial policies.

His third term makes him the longest-serving head of government in the history of Slovakia, a member of both the EU and NATO.

From west to east

During the election campaign, Fico vowed to bring an end to Slovakia providing Ukraine with military support as it battled Russia's full-scale invasion, and has argued that NATO and the US provoked Moscow into war.

Fico and Smer have most often been described as left-populist, but he himself has also been compared to right-wing politicians like the nationalist prime minister of neighbouring Hungary, Viktor Orbán.

Fico's return to power has left his critics alarmed that he and his party — which had long been tainted by scandal — would turn Slovakia away from the generally pro-Western course it has followed over the last two-plus decades.

Hlas-Social Democracy party chairman Peter Pellegrini, Robert Fico and Slovak National Party chairman Andrej Danko shake hands on a coalition government deal, October 2023.
Hlas-Social Democracy party chairman Peter Pellegrini, Robert Fico and Slovak National Party chairman Andrej Danko shake hands on a coalition government deal, October 2023.Vaclav Salek/AP

Sure enough, after his election victory, the new government immediately halted arms deliveries to the embattled country just as an apparent stalemate looked set to break to Russia's advantage. 

But while international attention has been primarily focused on his promised "sovereign" foreign policy and its implications for Ukraine and the EU, domestic concerns are much broader.

The home front

Fico has taken a tough stance against migration and non-governmental organisations, as well as campaigning against LGBTQ+ rights.

Along with protests against the turn toward Russia, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets across Slovakia to rally against the Fico government's radical policies, among them plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor.

One major flashpoint came in April when Fico's government approved an overhaul of the country's state TV and radio, RVTS, reconstructing and rebranding the broadcaster as SVTR.

ADVERTISEMENT

The new entity's director will be chosen by a nine-member council, whose members will in turn be nominated by the culture ministry and parliament — effectively bringing the country's primary media outlet under political control as an officially-designated "state institution".

Demonstrator hold a banner reading "Hands off rtvs (Slovakian public radio and tv) " as they take part in a protest organised by the Slovakian opposition in Bratislava.
Demonstrator hold a banner reading "Hands off rtvs (Slovakian public radio and tv) " as they take part in a protest organised by the Slovakian opposition in Bratislava.Pavol Zachar/Tlacova agentura SR

The plan was advanced by Fico's culture minister, Slovak National Party member Martina Šimkovičová. The prime minister himself has complained that the state outlets censor "non-mainstream" views — widely taken to mean his own anti-European views — and has declared several independent outlets his "enemies".

The plan was condemned by international NGO Reporters Without Borders, who said it goes against a report on the rule of law in Slovakia adopted by the European Commission in 2023.

Assuming it proceeds through parliament unimpeded, the restructuring is expected to be approved in June. It resembles moves made by the Orbán government in Hungary and the former government of Poland, where the transformation of public media into a mouthpiece for the Law and Justice Party is now being reversed by the government of Donald Tusk, which was elected last autumn.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Slovakia’s disinformation history serves as a cautionary tale for the EU

Fico's security detail failed — second bullet should have hit bodyguard, expert explains

Slovakia's PM Robert Fico remains in serious condition after further surgery