Parliamentary elections were held last weekend in Slovakia. The 5.5 million inhabitants of this small country decided in which direction they wanted to go and which policies they agreed most with. And they did so massively. In this election, turnout exceeded 60%, making it the second most important election turnout since 1991. Current Prime Minister Fico competed for a third term. That way he could follow the path set out by Viktor Orban in Hungary, who received his third term. And the answer was compelling. There was a substantial increase, in percentage as well as in number of seats, in the presence of extreme right-wing, nationalistic and xenophobic political forces. Slovakia thus joins other countries where the anti-immigration discourse is gaining popularity and where extremist and populist movements managed to enter institutions with a more than symbolic representation. France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Greece are some of the most compelling examples.
In the case of Slovakia, the results of the elections had several consequences, which will complicate governability. First, it made the government party lose its absolute majority that it had since 2012, thus creating the need for coalitions with, at least, two other political forces. This is complicated given that all political forces, except for the Slovak People’s Party, rejected a coalition with the current Primer Minister. There are 150 seats in the Slovakian parliament and the social-democratic party Smer-SD only obtained 49. The addition of the 15 seats would therefor not be sufficient to reach the government. Fico and the rest of the political forces have also reiterated that they refused any pact with Marian Kotleba, leader of the far right People’s Party Our Slovakia. Marian Kotleba is already under investigation for instigating racial hatred against the Roma community and for being a strong admirer of Josef Tiso, president of the fascist state and close to the third Reich.
Secondly, an atomisation of the number of groups present in the legislative body that were able to cross the threshold of 5% took place. Next to the social-democratic (Smed-SD, 49), liberal (Freedom and Solidarity, 21) and conservative (OL’ANO-NOVA, 19) parties, and the party of the Hungarian community (Ziev, 11) other parties joined that were either recently created or absent from the political landscape during the last legislature. That’s how the Slovak National Party, that had been a member of the government coalition between 2006 and 2010, came back, with a program based on the momentum of strategic industries and the fight against multiculturalism – and with 15 seats. The aforementioned People’s Party Our Slovakia also appeared (14), in a way that reminiscent of the 1930’s in Central Europe. Incidentally, it didn’t appear in any of the pre-electoral polls. Finally, these parties are joined by the eurosceptical and anti-immigration party We Are Family (11) and the centrist party Network (10), both created mid-2015.
So, it seems Slovakia could be forced to hold new elections, with an aggravating factor: this July, Bratislava will assume the six month term presidency of the EU. In this context, speculations spread about the possible creation of a Temporary Cabinet of Experts that will be in charge until December or, even, the formation of a government of national unity promoted by the liberal Kiska, as there wouldn’t be enough time to hold new elections.
Thirdly, one central aspect of these elections is that they highlighted the prominence of anti-immigration views in the country. There is, to varying extents, a certain unanimity all across the political landscape as far as the subject of migration is concerned. This is only a reflection of Slovakian public opinion. 89 % of the Slovakian population opposed refugee resettlement. The refugee crisis did indeed, as it did in other European countries, favor the reactivation of a xenophobic and populist political rhetoric, that resonated among a population plunged in a deep identity crisis that lead to an identity-based isolationism that reminds us, to some extent, of Europe between the wars.
In the Slovakian case, Prime Minister Fico started using such rhetoric during the summer of 2015, when his popularity ratings were plummeting. His main objective was to improve his electoral prospects. Following the same path, Slovakia appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union against the mandatory resettlement quotas for refugees from Greece and Italy. But his most recurrent theme was the speech against the Muslim community, with which he tried to obtain the support of an ultra-catholic majority, using declarations such as: “ the natural integration of persons with a different lifestyle, a different way of thinking, a different cultural heritage and, most of all, a different religion is impossible ”.
If we look at the results of the election, Fico didn’t achieve his goals. By using a nationalistic rhetoric against migrants, Smer-SD reinforced the political stance of the extreme right wing in Slovakia. The most ethnocentric nationalism appears once again, after Vladimir Meciar’s governments (he took up positions of power from 1991 to 1998). Back then, during the nation-state construction process, the ethnic-nationalistic discourse focused on Gypsies and Hungarians. Now, this discourse is aimed against the Muslim community, be they inhabitants of Slovakia or refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict, and mainly serves electoral purposes or to distract.
But are those fears, of a Muslim “invasion” of the country or of an uncontrollable flood of immigrants, well-founded ?Judging by the facts, they don’t seem to be. In 2015, Slovakia received less than 350 asylum applications, of which it only granted 8. In case of a resettlement implementation it would have to take on 2600 refugees and resettle 902. So this doesn’t seem to be the reason for the severity of the Slovakian political rhetoric over the last months. In the end, imaginary refugees gave real Nazis their seats.
As we said before, Fico used this type of rhetoric to improve his electoral prospects. And to distract the population from other important questions, like the frail public health system, the deterioration of education, the increase of territorial disparities or the corruption linked to the privatizations carried out by the government. In the meantime, populist measures were taken: free public transportation for retirees, an increase of the minimum wage and tax reductions applied to food products.
This also reinforces the common stance of the alliance Slovakia forms with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the discussions about the Schengen area in the European Council. They are in favor of expelling Greece and criticize the sanctions against Russia and the management of the refugee crisis – although it seems that in that aspect, Orban’s, Zeman’s and Fico’s claims have already won.