Attack against Prime Minister R. Fico alters political divisions in Slovakia

Attack against Prime Minister R. Fico alters political divisions in Slovakia

On Wednesday, May 15, minutes after Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico left a meeting to mingle with his supporters in the town of Handlova, he was taken to hospital with gunshot wounds.

The attempted murder of a 71-year-old pensioner and poet has shocked the country. It has also quickly put the incendiary politics so widespread in Europe into the spotlight. since the coronavirus pandemic and accelerated by Russia's war against Ukraine.

Fico, 59, a friend of Russia, returned to power last year with promises such as increasing state aid and stopping arms shipments to Ukraine.. Like his Hungarian nationalist ally Viktor Orban, he sought to exploit divisions around LGBT rights, gender issues and immigrants, and present the European Union and NGOs as enemies of the State.

That divide and rule strategy has left Slovakia more polarized than ever 20 years after its accession to the European Unionand dealing with the first assassination attempt on a European leader since before then.

On Wednesday, as the Prime Minister was taken to the operating room, his allies blamed the opposition and the “liberal” media for having blood on their hands. Andrej Danko, leader of the Slovak National Party that governs in coalition with Fico, vowed to “start a political war.”

Trying to contain emotions, President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico, urged politicians to take into account the gravity of the moment and called on parties to temporarily suspend their campaigns for the EU elections scheduled for next month.

“Suspend your election campaign at least until the situation calms down and we know more about the investigation of this heinous act,” Pellegrini said at a joint briefing in Bratislava with outgoing president Zuzana Caputova on Thursday.

For her part, Caputova, whom Fico has branded an “American agent”, stated that the assassination attempt was an attack on Slovak democracy. and urged the nation to overcome political divisions.

Fico was shot several times on his way to meet people in Handlova after his cabinet held a meeting in the city's cultural center. He was taken to a local facility for initial treatment and then to a hospital in the nearby town of Banska Bystrica. The prime minister was in intensive care after undergoing a five-hour surgery to treat “multiple” gunshot wounds.

“His condition has been stabilized for now,” Defense Minister Robert Kalinak told broadcasters on Thursday. “Unfortunately, his condition remains very serious, given the complexity of the injuries, but we all want to firmly believe that we will control the situation.”

It was the first such incident in Europe since Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was shot dead in 2003 in Belgrade. It also had echoes of the assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, shot in Stockholm in 1986.

The attack on Fico was a “scar that cannot be overcome, which will haunt us for many years,” said Kalinak, one of the Prime Minister's closest friends and allies for decades, on Wednesday.