In Slovakia, the Russia-friendly former head of government Robert Fico emerged as the winner of the parliamentary elections. The long-time Slovakian head of government has a good chance of forming the next government in Bratislava. His left-wing nationalist “Direction – Slovak Social Democracy” (Smer-SD) won the parliamentary election on Saturday. As the electoral commission announced on Sunday, according to the preliminary final result, the previous opposition party received 22.9 percent of the votes after counting 99.98 percent of the electoral districts.

The future foreign policy course of the EU and NATO country bordering Ukraine will depend on who leads the new government. So far, Slovakia has been one of the staunchest political and military supporters of the neighboring country attacked by Russia. But Fico and the small right-wing populist “Slovak National Party” SNS want to end the arms aid to Ukraine, which is unpopular among the population. Instead, Fico only wants to send humanitarian aid to the neighboring country.

Observers assume that Slovakia is now facing a foreign policy turnaround and is moving towards the line of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is at odds with the EU on many issues and is torpedoing the EU and NATO’s efforts to support Ukraine.

The 59-year-old former head of government declared during the election campaign that Slovakia would not deliver “a single shot of ammunition” to Ukraine under his leadership, and at the same time called for better relations with Russia. In terms of gross domestic product, Slovakia has so far been one of Ukraine’s largest European supporters; Among other things, Bratislava sent MiG fighter jets to Kiev.

“From now on, Slovakia will be closer to Hungary’s line than to that of the majority in Europe,” Slovak analyst Tomas Koziak told AFP. “Robert Fico is a new ally of Mr Orban.” Analyst Grigory Meseznikov said Fico was spreading “pro-Russian narratives.”

Fico was born on September 15, 1964 in the western Slovakian city of Topolčany and studied law in Bratislava. From the mid-1980s he worked as a research assistant at the Legal Institute of the Ministry of Justice of the then Slovak republic of Czechoslovakia. He became a member of the then ruling Communist Party, but later, after the “Velvet Revolution” and the end of the communist regime, viewed this membership as “history”.

After the political change, Fico rose in the institute and joined the post-communist Democratic Left (SDL), of which he became deputy chairman. In 1992 he was elected to the Slovak National Council.

In September 1999 he left the SDL and founded the Smer, which appealed to broad sections of voters and especially young people with its young chairman and the promise of a “third way”. The party’s program (from 2005: Smer-Socialna Demokracia/Smer-SD) was based on the tradition of European social democracy, but also had nationalist and populist elements. Among other things, the party advocated for justice and a strong constitutional state, but also for the reintroduction of the death penalty.

In the opposition, Fico tried to achieve early elections through criticism and motions of no confidence, which was successful after the government coalition broke up in June 2006. His Smer-SD was able to win over many voters due to dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policy. With populist statements about the number of children among the Slovakian Roma, Fico also aroused chauvinistic resentments.

In the elections on June 17, 2006, Smer, with Fico at the helm, won 29.1 percent of the vote and 50 of the 150 parliamentary seats. Fico became head of government and remained so until 2010. The government program envisaged, among other things, the gradual withdrawal of Slovak soldiers from Iraq, a restrictive budget policy in connection with the introduction of the euro and a freeze on privatization for strategically important companies.

However, domestic political turbulence with numerous corruption scandals overshadowed the government’s time. Slovakia’s entry into the Eurozone at the beginning of 2009 was seen as a successful step towards Western integration. In terms of foreign policy, however, Fico sought a certain degree of independence from the USA and maintained closer relations with Russia and countries such as China, Cuba and Venezuela.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections, the Smer-SD won the majority, but was unable to form a government due to a lack of coalition partners and went back into opposition. However, this situation did not last long: in 2012, Fico became prime minister again, this time for six years. His government once again did not pursue a clear demarcation policy towards Russia and only hesitantly followed the EU’s sanctions policy.

During the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe, Slovakia under Fico pursued a strict demarcation policy and, together with Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, positioned itself as clearly critical of the EU in the group of the so-called Visegrád states. Citing fears among the population, Fico represented a policy of toughness, which was directed in a populist manner primarily against Muslims and did not rule out fending off refugees at the EU’s external borders, including military measures. However, Fico’s xenophobic stance did not primarily help his own party, but rather strengthened the xenophobic parties on the right.

In 2018, Fico’s reign ended after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. During his research, the reporter came across suspected connections between the Italian mafia and government circles, including two high-ranking employees of Fico. The crime plunged the country into a serious political crisis and sparked mass protests against the government.

On March 15, 2018, Fico finally had to resign as head of government. Two Smer ministers had previously resigned. However, the ex-prime minister – with a total of ten years in office, the longest-reigning prime minister since the fall of power in 1989 – remained party leader and was also elected chairman of the Smer faction in the National Council.

Fico’s populist style included attacks not only against migrants or Roma, but also against journalists, whom he insulted as “slimy snakes” or “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes.” However, on the international stage he liked to present himself as a pro-European.

Economically, the country is in “excellent shape” under his leadership, the “Handelsblatt” noted in 2017. But it suffered “from corruption, organized crime and legal uncertainty.” There were also repeated allegations of corruption against Fico, but these never led to trials.

After the recent election, Robert Fico announced that he would support peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine if his Smer-SD formed a government. Slovakia has “bigger problems” than aid to Ukraine, he told journalists. If his party is given the task of forming a government, it will “do its best to organize peace talks as quickly as possible.”

However, Fico is pretty much alone in stopping military aid to Ukraine. It was considered likely on Sunday that Fico would invite the third-placed party “Voice – Social Democracy” (Hlas-SD) of his former deputy Peter Pellegrini to coalition talks. However, opinions differ on the question of aid to Ukraine. Pellegrini is just as positive about military aid as the bourgeois parties.

Compared to Fico, he still has the trump card up his sleeve that he could also form a coalition with the liberal party “Progressive Slovakia” (PS), which has recently entered parliament. Fico, on the other hand, has no other coalition option. So it will depend above all on Hlas-SD who will lead the next government.

In addition to the three strongest parties, four smaller parties made it into parliament in Bratislava. The right-wing populist and pro-Russian “Slovak National Party” SNS had already announced before the election that it wanted to enter into a joint government with Ficos Smer. The three other small parties, however, are staunch opponents of Fico. They could help a coalition between PS and Hlas-SD gain a majority against Fico.

Sources: News agencies DPA and AFP, entry “Robert Fico” from Munzinger Online/Munzinger Persons