The highest inflation rate in the Eurozone at ten percent, fears for the existence of pensioners and residents of disadvantaged regions, a financially exhausted health system and the issue of migration – the list of concerns of Slovakians shortly before the parliamentary elections is long.

But external observers are almost exclusively interested in one question: Is the EU and NATO country stopping its military aid to Ukraine, which is attacked by Russia, or is it even shifting towards a pro-Moscow stance?

At the center of this concern is the former long-term head of government Robert Fico, who leads all polls with his party “Towards – Slovak Social Democracy” (Smer-SSD) and who is labeled “pro-Russian” by his opponents.

Constant disputes angered many citizens

Since 2020, a conservative-populist-liberal four-party coalition under the then election winner Igor Matovic and his successor Eduard Heger has been in power in the country. This has discredited itself for many citizens through ongoing internal disputes and plunged the country into chaos during the corona pandemic, which President Zuzana Caputova also criticized. In May, she replaced the remaining coalition with a cabinet of officials under Ludovit Odor. The coalition parties, which have now splintered due to splits, now all fear that they will be thrown out of parliament in the upcoming election.

According to their own statements, voters who want to prevent a Fico comeback are now considering the liberal party “Progresivne Slovensko” (Progressive Slovakia – PS), which is not even represented in parliament, as an alternative. It is considered unsullied by scandals and promotes itself with the slogan: “Enough of the past! Let’s choose the future!”

Recently, the PS succeeded in stealing more and more potential voters from the other bourgeois parties. However, a triumph for the PS in the election could turn into a Pyrrhic victory – because if the other parties fail at the five percent hurdle, the PS would no longer have anyone with whom it could form a coalition. Then Fico would be the winner.

Why is Fico on the rise again?

The increasingly nationalistic Smer boss Fico, who led the government with a short interruption from 2006 to 2018, recently seemed to have been politically written off. After the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in February 2018, suspicion arose that Fico’s government could be behind the crime. That turned out to be wrong, but the opponents who won in 2020 permanently attached the insult “Mafia” to him. In the course of the investigation, corruption networks were uncovered in which judges, prosecutors and top police and state administration officials appointed by the Smer government were involved. However, Fico is on the rise again today because of the unpopularity of his successors.

As for Fico’s possible pro-Russian course in the event of an election victory, independent political scientists such as Radoslav Stefancik from the Bratislava University of Economics weaken such views: “Fico will need coalition partners. And they will not agree with him on everything.” In fact, apart from Fico, only two small right-wing parties no longer want to supply weapons to Ukraine.

Fico himself distances himself from the right-wing extremists: Anyone who questions Slovakia’s NATO membership cannot be considered as a coalition partner. He also wants to continue to help Ukraine against Russia, just not with weapons. Otherwise, he argues, Slovakia risks becoming a Russian target. He does not see himself as “pro-Russian”, but “pro-Slovak”, as he always emphasizes.