Robert Fico after election night
A new government has been inaugurated in Bratislava on Wednesday, led by one of the great political survivors in the region, Robert Fico. It remains to be seen what this would mean for the Slovak-Hungarian cooperation but most commentators agree that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had just gained an important ally in his struggle against Brussels’ political expansionism, and the myopic Western approach to the war in Ukraine.
Although Fico calls himself left-wing, which he well might be in terms of his economic outlook, in politics he has adopted all the crucial topics of a national-conservative world-view, such as opposing mass migration, emphasizing national sovereignty, putting checks on gender-ideology, as well as on Euro-expansionism. Signs are that the EP fraction of European socialist (PES) had understood this well, and had proceeded to suspend his party, SMER-SD’s membership, along with his coalition partner Peter Pellegrini’s HLAS-SD. The reason? Apparently, Mr. Fico is a pro-Russian, anti-Ukraine politician, something that goes against European values.
The new Slovak government coalition (L-R): Peter Pellegrini (HLAS-SD), Robert Fico (SMER-SD), and Andrej Danko (SNS). Photo: Facebook Robert Fico
It would be difficult to wind back the process in order to understand how being pro-Ukraine and anti-Russian have become “values” in the EU, instead of being merely opinions, or policy options. Yet such an analysis would distract from the fact that the new Slovak leader is none of the above.
In fact, Slovakia has no traditions of being pro- or anti-Ukraine/Russia, both these concepts are fairly recent imports from overseas.
Instead, Robert Fico, while in opposition, only raised his voice against the utter devastation of Slovakia’s armed forces by the previous interim government, and chief among them, defense minister Jaroslav Nad. Slovakia had sent the bulk of its weapons arsenal to Ukraine, including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, air defense missile, fighter jets, and even jet fuel, leaving the country at the mercy of temporary NATO units and air patrols performed by the Hungarian or Polish Air Force.
The relationship between Fico and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán is not one of absolute harmony as some newspaper headlines might suggest. Some of Fico’s past opinions and policies concerning the Hungarian minority have caused serious tensions with the Hungarian government, but as the European migrant crisis had deepened, so did the relations between the neighbors.
Fico seemed to have accepted the fact that instead of local identity politics, cooperation is needed within the Visegrad 4 alliance against the existential threat of mass migration.
However, as members of the V4 alliance have gotten used to in the past few years, it is one step back in terms of Europhile versus national-sovereigntist member governments, one step forward. Poland will most likely be led by former Eurocrat Donald Tusk, which does not bode well for the common V4 front against migration quotas and Brussels’ interference in regional politics. Fico’s victory, however, could amplify the Hungarian government’s long-standing position on the importance of peace negotiations instead of weapons shipment in Ukraine, something not even the Polish Morawiecki government was willing to add its voice to. The fourth member of the V4, Czechia, will in the next two years continue to be led by a government that will try to avoid any conflict with Brussels and the White House even at the expense of relations to regional allies, including the V4 member-states.
Leader of the Polish Civic Coalition Donald Tusk (L) with EC President Ursula von Der Leyen. Photo: Facebook Donald Tusk
As the Commission President, Ursula von Der Leyen’s, no doubt uneasy congratulations to Fico clearly demonstrate, the EU’s expectations of an alignment regarding policies towards Ukraine and economic matters will determine the future course of EU-Slovak relations. “Congratulations, Robert Fico, on your new appointment as Prime Minister of Slovakia. We need a strong Slovakia, in particular to support Ukraine, build a competitive EU economy with a strong industrial base, and strengthen European security,” read the message from the Commission President. This is a clear memo from Brussels: national governments must align their policies with the course Brussels has set.
Hence, the difference between the V4 region before and after the elections in Poland and Slovakia is not the emergence of pro-Russian governments as the left-wing media misleadingly suggested. It is rather in the emergence of two governments, Hungary and Slovakia, that dare to think that the EU is for its Member States and not the other way around.
Featured Photo: Facebook Robert Fico