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“Some people say that fascism is creeping here in Slovakia. It’s not creeping here, it’s present here.”
So said Robert Fico, prime minister of Slovakia. He was speaking at the 72nd anniversary of the Nazi immolation of pair of central Slovak villages — Klak and Ostry Grun — in which 148 citizens were massacred by fire.
In 2013, that region elected Marián Kotleba of the extreme far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) their regional governor. Last March, the party became the fifth-most popular in the country, and gained 14 seats in the Slovak parliament by decrying both the Roma minority and immigrants, appealing to those who felt left behind by an economy that has nearly doubled since Slovakia joined the European Union in 2004.
“Don’t take it as a reproach,” Fico said, before offering the reproach, “I don’t get it how the man and the party openly avowing fascism could have gained such support in the general elections in the villages where murders and atrocities committed by fascism were so evident.” He then called on the Slovak people to beat back fascism in regional elections this autumn.
A powerful anniversary speech, surely. But was it borne out of principle or politics?
Fico is the leader of the center-left Direction-Social Democracy party (Smer-SD). Fico’s party is the largest in parliament; still, it lost seats in the last parliamentary election, while the second, third, fourth, and fifth largest parties all made gains. Fico’s speech could have been as much about trying to stop the bleeding ahead of regional elections, as about really fighting fascism.
Fico, prime minister since 2012 (and for a term that ended in 2010), has “never openly criticized these fascists he talks about now,” said Stanislav Matejka of GLOBSEC, a Bratislava-based think tank, who believes Fico is indeed just gearing up for regional elections. “This is the first time, and considering that SMER controls the Ministry of Interior and the Police, today’s statement sounds absurd a bit, to say the least … He is in no position to lament, he is in position of power.”
What’s more, Fico may have even contributed to an environment that fostered far-right sympathies. Last May, he gave an interview in which he said, “Islam has no place in Slovakia … The problem is not migrants coming in, rather in them changing the face of the country.”
Slovakia has repeatedly refused to take in refugees, which, Matejka argued, may have served to further fascism by undermining people’s trust in their institutions. “He was unable to build up the trust of people in state institutions, and, instead of reassuring the public during the peak of migration crisis that our police and other state institution will keep us safe from those among migrants who are ill-willed, he instead went other way and said he will not allow a community of Muslims in Slovakia to be created,” he explained. Indeed, as EU president in the second half of 2016, Slovakia presented a plan that to focus efforts on deportations instead of taking people in. Last November, Fico called journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes.” Last December, Slovakia approved a law that effectively prohibited Islam from being a state religion, which seems unnecessary: There are roughly 2,000 Muslims in Slovakia, out of a population of over 5 million.
Perhaps, though, Fico really is changing his tune ahead of the elections, worried now about the growing influence of anti-European parties from Britain to France to Italy and Austria. Earlier in January, he spoke out against referendum “adventures” in the European Union, which he said posed a threat to the union and its currency. And on Sunday, he urged Slovakia “to unite and stand together against this big dam” of fascism.
Photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images