- By Rob Cameron
- BBC News, Bratislava
Slovaks vote this weekend in early elections following the collapse of the previous centre-right authorities.
Leading most polls is the populist SMER celebration of Robert Fico, who has pledged a right away finish to Slovak army assist for Ukraine.
Fico was pressured to step down as prime minister following the homicide of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018.
“If SMER enters government, we will not send a single round of ammunition to Ukraine,” he lately advised supporters.
The menace has set alarm bells ringing in Western capitals, as they scour the veneer of NATO and EU unity for indicators of cracks. It’s an echo of the rhetoric coming from Slovakia’s neighbour and fellow NATO member Hungary, which says solely diplomacy can safe peace.
But for some, Fico’s menace is a pink herring.
Bratislava has been a loyal and steadfast ally, supplying Kyiv with surface-to-air missiles and helicopters, even donating its complete fleet of retired MiG-29 fighter jets.
However, there’s not a lot left to present.
“The cupboard’s bare,” one western official advised the BBC.
What stays are industrial contracts for heavy weapons, together with self-propelled howitzers ordered by Ukraine and its western companions.
The producers are principally majority state-owned defence firms, and a Fico authorities may – in concept – intervene.
But these contracts present jobs for Slovaks and income for the Slovak state. Fico, contemplated the official, can be unlikely to jeopardise them.
SMER didn’t to reply to requests for an interview. But celebration MP Lubos Blaha did communicate to the BBC this summer time, utilizing language that sounded prefer it had been scripted in Moscow, not Bratislava.
“We need to stop this war – at whatever price,” mentioned Mr Blaha.
“I can understand that Ukrainians wouldn’t be happy that they will lose for example Donbas, or Crimea. But still, we need to be realistic,” Mr Blaha mentioned, describing the battle as a “proxy war of the United States against Russia on Ukrainian land.”
Robert Fico, in the meantime, lately advised a rally the warfare had began in 2014 when “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists started murdering the Russian population of Donbas.”
Neck-and-neck with SMER is Progressive Slovakia, a liberal, pro-western celebration that guarantees to keep up army assist to Ukraine.
“The late [Czechoslovak-born US secretary of state] Madeleine Albright famously called us the black hole of Europe and kicked Slovakia out of the NATO accession track,” the celebration’s deputy chief Tomas Valasek, a former ambassador to NATO, advised me, referring to the murky, authoritarian 1990s beneath Vladimir Meciar.
“I suspect that’s very much what the future holds if ex-prime minister Fico is re-elected,” he mentioned, including that the SMER chief had taken a leaf out of the Viktor Orban playbook.
We had been talking throughout the border in the Czech metropolis of Brno. Valasek was there to drum up assist amongst Slovak college college students, tens of 1000’s of whom will go house to vote this weekend – a few of them on two particular trains laid on totally free by Slovak NGOs.
Each yr some 17% of Slovak highschool graduates go away their nation to review at universities overseas. The OECD common is 2%. They go away, he mentioned, due to disillusionment with poor greater schooling and healthcare, a scarcity of tolerance – significantly exterior of the capital – and a normal sense of discontent.
Over half by no means come again.
Progressive Slovakia gives a imaginative and prescient of an open, tolerant, cosmopolitan society. SMER dismisses that imaginative and prescient as “liberal fascism”, campaigning on stability, order and social safety as an alternative.
“Over the past weeks, several foreign diplomats ask me – aren’t you crying wolf too early?” mentioned Beata Balogova, editor-in-chief of the each day newspaper SME.
Balogova was pushing again towards the optimistic notion that after in workplace Fico the populist will – as he has carried out in the previous – give technique to Fico the pragmatist, particularly beneath the heavy calls for of Slovak coalition constructing.
“It’s a very wrong assumption,” she advised me.
“Right now Robert Fico doesn’t have a better version of himself. Right now, he has to keep feeding his electorate. For this electorate you have to defeat someone every day. Because once you told them that there is a threat of migration, there is a threat of the LGBT community, and the liberals – you have to keep fighting against them.”
Neither SMER nor Progressive Slovakia are prone to win way more than 20%, and polls recommend there might be as many as 10 events in the brand new parliament. Forming a coalition might be messy.
Back in Bratislava, I boarded a pleasure cruise on the Danube. Our diesel craft chugged gamely upstream in direction of Vienna and the west, earlier than making a gradual, 180-degree flip eastwards. Downstream lay Budapest, house to Mr Fico’s obvious political mentor.
“Slovakia has been drifting for quite some time,” mentioned my riverboat companion Alena Kudzko, an analyst for the Bratislava-based thinktank Globsec.
“What unites Slovaks is that they think their country should be a bridge between east and west,” she mentioned.
“It sounds like a nice idea, but it’s not really feasible in reality. When a major country is waging war on your borders, it’s difficult to be a bridge.”
In March, Kudzko and her colleagues revealed a survey exhibiting solely 40% of Slovaks believed Russia was accountable for the warfare in Ukraine. Half noticed the United States as a safety menace. SMER’s rhetoric seems to be falling on fertile floor.
Not for nothing are some anxious Robert Fico would pull Slovakia again in direction of Moscow’s orbit.