It is depressing but might not be as dark as it seems.

The Slovakian situation

For quite a few of my Slovakian friends the outcome of Saturday’s elections came as a shock.

While most polls predicted the victory of Robert Fico, the old strongman deposed as a result of the “gentle revolution” of 2018 following the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée. But there were some exceptions favoring the liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) party; even on election night exit polls suggested that the liberals would win. This did not happen, as Fico’s right-wing pro-Putin nationalist party, the SMER-Social Democracy Party, garnered 22,89% of the votes, with the PS ending up in second place, with 18% of the vote, and Hlas (‘Voice’), a somewhat more decent group of SMER dissidents, in third place with 14.7%.

Yes, this is worse than what my friends expected or hoped for, and made 2018 look like a revolution wasted. But still there is a not-so-dark side to all this, although presently it would not be much comfort for my friends. Has Fico really won? It is open to question.

1) SMER’s results are worse than in 2016 (28%), the last time they won an election, and much worse than in 2012 (44%). They are clearly a force on the decline.

2) Fico achieved even this small relative majority by courting the voters of the outright fascist party Republika as well as the Identitarian and utterly non-serious Sme rodina (‘We Are Family’), which was the second largest party in the governing coalition from 2020, adding to the farcical nature of Slovakian politics. As a result of Fico’s manoeuvring, both Republika and Sme rodina failed to reach the parliamentary threshold in the current election.

France 24: Populist, pro-Russia Fico’s party wins …

3) There has been not a single party representing the interests of the Hungarian minority in the Parliament since 2020, and this has not changed, which is bad news. That community is politically well articulated, but the five percent threshold requires a kind of ideological unity (the latest census in 2021 showed that 7.7% of Slovakia’s inhabitants were ethnic Hungarians). There was an attempt to form an unified Hungarian party called Alliance, but it came almost completely under the sway of Orbán’s power center in Budapest, with MFA Szijjártó openly campaigning for them even at the very last moment. Which meant a) the simplification of the party’s ideology to undistinguished ethnic nationalism b) pushing Fico’s campaign themes such as illegal immigration, “gender ideology” as a target, and “peace” (Ukrainian capitulation) in the Russo-Ukrainian war, rather than issues of specific regional Hungarian interest like language rights or the development of motorway systems. As a result, Alliance failed to get into Parliament, achieving only 4.4%, giving another piece of evidence for the futility of Orbán’s ‘national policies’ (nemzetpolitika). With Fico’s anti-Hungarian record, Alliance would not have had much chance to further the Hungarian cause anyway.

4) Nothing is settled yet; in all probability there will be a long and tortuous bargaining process. It is not even sure that Fico will form the new government. Hlas has said they are “open to negotiations” with all the parliamentary parties. But even if Fico becomes Prime Minister, he must form a coalition with the relatively strong Hlas and the old-style radical nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS). Which is a kind of constraint in itself, checking autocratic moves, making the concentration of power more difficult.

5) Slovakia is a democracy with sound institutional foundations, and you cannot turn such a democracy into an autocracy overnight. Unlike in Hungary, the electoral system is proportional, so it is next to impossible for one party to reach a qualified majority in Parliament (even if it is only three-fifths in Slovakia as opposed to Hungary’s two-thirds) that would allow them to meddle with the constitutional system at will. Checks and balances are not completely abolished; the President, elected directly, still has some real power and moral authority to intervene in political processes. The government apparatus still has enough nonpartisan professionals whose ideal is good governance rather than serving concentrated central power (caretaker Prime Minister Lajos Ódor being a prime example). The media, including the public media, is autonomous and proud. Although mafia influences (both literally and in a structural sense) are strong in the economy, it is still a free market. The urban middle classes are not as complacent as in Hungary; they are self-confident, willing to take risks.

János Széky

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