May 25th, 2024

Robert Fico, Slovakia’s populist prime minister, who returned to power on a pro-Russian platform

By Justin Spike, The Associated Press on May 15, 2024.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives for a cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May, 15, 2024. Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured after the away-from-home government meeting in Handlova, according to information confirmed by Parliamentary Vice-Chair Lubos Blaha, who suspended the House session. (Radovan Stoklasa/TASR via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is in life-threatening condition after being wounded in a shooting after a political event Wednesday afternoon, an episode of violence that punctuated his long career spanning decades in politics.

Fico, 59, returned to power in Slovakia last year. Having previously served twice as prime minister, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018, his third term made him the longest-serving head of government in Slovakia’s history.

He and his party Smer (Direction) have most often been described as left-populist, though he has also been compared to right-wing politicians like the nationalist prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán.

After five years in opposition, Fico’s party won parliamentary elections last year on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform. He 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 United States provoked Moscow into war.

After his election victory, the new government immediately halted arms deliveries to Ukraine. Thousands repeatedly took to the streets across Slovakia to rally against Fico’s pro-Russian and other policies, including plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-graft prosecutor and to take control of the public media.

Fico’s return to power caused concern among his critics that he and his party – which had long been tainted by scandal – would lead Slovakia away from its pro-Western course. He vowed to pursue a “sovereign” foreign policy, promised a tough stance against migration and non-governmental organizations, and campaigned against LGBTQ+ rights.

He earned a reputation for his tirades against journalists, and faced criminal charges in 2022 for allegedly creating a criminal group and misuse of power. In 2018, he and his government stepped down amid controversy after Slovakian investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered along with his fiancée. Kuciak had been reporting on tax-related crimes implicating high-level Slovak politicians.

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