Slovakia at crossroads as vote pits populists against liberals

Slovakia at crossroads as vote pits populists against liberals
Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Darren McCaffrey
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We head to Slovakia ahead of elections on Saturday, where a far-right party is polling third, and allegations of corruption have rocked the country to its core.


Final preparations for the last battle in Slovakia’s tight election campaign are underway. 

We went behind-the-scenes, as the country’s political leaders went head-to-head in a live debate on national television, and caught up with the incumbent prime minister Peter Pellegrini.

He is trailing in second place in the latest polls, and there is a recognition that the old divisions of the past no longer apply.

“It is not anymore a fight between ideologies or between programmes," says Pellegrini. "For example that social democrats are fighting with the right-wing or something like that. No. What could be the future of the Slovak Republic if there are parties with no experience really, not well-prepared people? It can be dangerous for the stability of Slovakia and it can be dangerous for the stability of the European Union.”

One of his challengers is from the far-right, and are branded neo-fascists, The People's Party – Our Slovakia, formerly known as Kotleba. They have risen to third place, polling around 10%. They want a return to Christian values, a tough line on migration, and an end to what they claim is preferential treatment for the Roma minority.

Pellegrini's party, SMER-SD, have struggled in opinion polls since the 2018 assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.

Today, the populist party leading the polls, Ordinary People, say his murder and the subsequent protests over corruption have seen voters flock to them. 

“The mafia was able to kill a person, and it was not a regular person, he was a reporter. So the corruption level is really, really high in Slovakia, people feel that we are at the end of the EU. And people want to live in a healthy country, you know, we are in the middle of Europe," explains Eduard Heger, MP from the opposition Ordinary People (Olano) party.

For the editor of Slovakia’s best-selling newspaper, Beata Bologova, this election matters more than most:

“We are at a crossroads: we are now deciding: do we want to be a mafia state or do we want to be a standard democracy, where the rule of law and democratic institutions are the goal or do we just take the track of Hungary?”

The television debate was the final chance for politicians here to win voters over, many clearly remain undecided. But whatever path they choose on Saturday this campaign has already fundamentally shifted this country’s politics for years to come.

Analysis: Euronews' political editor Darren McCaffrey

As I wander through the cobbled streets here in Bratislava it’s a familiar European scene and the politics in Slovakia is becoming very European too.

It’s a story we have heard before. The collapse of the centre, the rise of populists and extremism, and a population crying out for change.

But each country also has its own tale to tell - here it is corruption, a state within a state uncovered after the shocking murder of a journalist and his fiancee two years ago.

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