The political reasons for the attack on Robert Fico

«Robo, come here». A few moments and then Robert Fico collapses to the ground, hit by at least three bullets in the abdomen, chest and arm. The Prime Minister of Slovakia today was the victim of a real assassination attempt, which occurred after a government meeting, in front of a cultural center in the city of Handlova, while he was waving to the crowd. The perpetrator of the gesture, who was hiding among the people gathered in front of the building where the Slovak leader was speaking, was stopped by some passers-by and then arrested by the security forces.

Transferred to a hospital in Bratislava by helicopter, Fico risks his life. But it is indeed all of Europe that is at risk. Because the gesture – even if it were the work of a madman – is “an attack against the very idea of ​​democracy”, as underlined by the Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and as reiterated by the Slovak President Zuzana Caputova.

As if to say that the whole of Europe is under attack. And, if you hadn't understood it, it has been since at least February 24, 2022, when Vladimir Putin's Russia brought war to the heart of the Old Continent. Since then, not only have continental politics and economics had significant repercussions, but also the very concept of security has changed.

Not only in Ukraine. They also know something about it in Georgia, where Parliament has just definitively approved the controversial bill on foreign influence, inspired by a law adopted by the Putin regime in Russia in 2012, which has since turned into an effective tool of repression of dissent and limitation of democratic freedoms, as the Georgians are already experiencing, who have given rise to demonstrations of dissent which were promptly crushed by the police forces.

Belarus, Moldova and the Baltic countries also know something about it. And soon the consequences of the destabilization organized or in any case stimulated by the Kremlin could involve numerous other countries. Just like Slovakia. Because that's what it's all about: Moscow aims to create chaos in Europe and, apparently, it is succeeding.

He had shouted it from his columns Financial Times of London who, citing sources from various European intelligence agencies, warned: «Russia has already begun to prepare more actively in secret bomb attacks and arson attacks to damage infrastructure on European territory, directly and indirectly, apparently without worrying about causing victims civilians.” In short, the secret services had long warned their respective governments about the new Russian threats, discovered on the basis of information and investigations still in progress.

It is not possible to say that the attack on Robert Fico could be linked to this work of destabilization. Also because it is worth remembering here that Fico is the least pro-European among the Slovak prime ministers of recent years and his Smer party is known, among other things, for its pro-Russian positions, similar to Viktor Orban's Hungary.

Fico pledged to immediately end Slovakia's military support for Ukraine and promised to block Ukraine's NATO ambitions, calling into question Slovakia's staunch support for Ukraine. Before the last elections, Robert Fico had not even tried to hide his sympathies for the Kremlin and had actually accused “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” of having provoked Vladimir Putin's invasion, repeating the same narrative that the Russian president had used to justify his invasion.

To better understand the political context in which Robert Fico is immersed, we can cite Alberto Simoni's book, not surprisingly entitled Rebels of Europe: «In 2006 the victory of Smer brought Fico to power: he created a government with the far-right formation led by Jan Slota. Violence broke out between the Hungarians and Slovaks of Komarno and there were several episodes of racism; so much so that in 2009 in a resort in Bled, Slovenia, the Hungarian and Slovak foreign ministers met and talked about “identifying a diplomatic solution” to the crisis. A rather strong phrase to say that there was a big problem of coexistence, but perfectly aligned with what was happening. A few weeks earlier a bomb had been found in front of the Slovak cultural institute in Budapest while a Molotov cocktail had exploded outside the embassy. The exchange of laws between Fico and Orbán on dual citizenship was then the culmination of a tension which, according to political scientist Filip Sebok, has eased since 2012 because the “fear of the Hungarian, the Slovaks have replaced that of the migrant ”. And on this the closeness of positions with Budapest was immediate.”

So far the precedents. Furthermore, Fico had already been prime minister from 2006 to 2010, then from 2012 to 2018, and finally returned as prime minister on 25 October 2023. He was forced to resign in March 2018 after weeks of mass protests over the murder of the journalist detective Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak had denounced the corruption of the country's elite, including people directly linked to Fico and his Smer party.

Tempering his illiberal impulses and Russian influence – the Smer is a social democratic formation he himself founded in 1999, where left-wing nationalism and socialist conservatism converge – was the election in 2019 of a convinced pro-European as President of the Republic like Zuzana Caputova, a clear signal of where the Slovaks wanted to take the country.

From that moment on, something changed in Slovakia, and the clash between the two souls – the pro-Russian one and the pro-European one – became more accentuated. Fico and his party have not only been involved in several scandals and repeatedly accused of corruption; but they completed the reform of the Penal Code, which shortened the statute of limitations for the most serious crimes – from 20 to 5 years – and abolished the office of the special prosecutor who dealt with crimes such as those relating to organized crime and to high-level corruption.

The solitary battle of Zuzana Caputova has so far acted as a barrier to the drifts of centralization of power, who up until now has kept Slovakia's bar straight, preventing the country from derailing. But in June President Caputova will be replaced by the candidate supported by Fico's pro-Russian government, Peter Pellegrini, who emerged victorious in last April's presidential runoff. Therefore, the moment is very delicate.

Pellegrini maintains that with his presidency “the future direction of Slovakia's foreign policy will not be changed” and assured: “I guarantee that we will continue to be a strong member of the EU” and of NATO. Nonetheless, Slovakia – which sent its representatives to Moscow for the fifth inauguration ceremony of President Vladimir Putin (only Hungary and France did the same) – is certainly an important piece of the chessboard on which Putin is counting to beat his antagonists in Europe one after another.

The political soul of today's Slovakia is therefore divided between a pro-European and pro-Ukraine component (of which Pellegrini could also have been prime minister in the past) with progressives, Christian Democrats and liberals; and an alliance with the two pro-Russian forces, Smer's social democrats and the extreme right of the Slovak National Party who ultimately prevailed, bringing Pellegrini to the presidency of the Republic. A role, that of the president, which as in Italy has limited effective powers over the presidency of the council, but which becomes crucial in cases of liberticidal laws and risks for the rule of law: in addition to ratifying international treaties, in fact, the president appoints the judges of the most important courts, can veto laws approved by Parliament and can grant amnesty.

Could the attack on Fico be part of a power struggle between the president and the prime minister? Could the attack be a warning to President Pellgrini? Maybe this is just political fiction. Certainly, it is worth hoping that it really was the act of a madman. And that Robert Fico will soon be able to directly answer the many unanswered questions about the real position of the Slovak government in relation to the international context.