Late September early elections are coming in Slovakia. A few weeks before voters go to the polling stations former PM Robert Fico’s Smer party is currently ahead in the polls. When the campaign is just switching to a higher gear, Fico’s opponents are using a new campaign message to convince the undecideds. Comparing Fico to Viktor Orban. But how well does this comparison hold up?
The Hungarian Prime Minister has a reputation that many European politicians like to use as an example, be it good or bad. Some compare their political foes to him on baseless similarities; others praise him and dream about building up a similar system in their country. This phenomenon has visibly reached the ongoing campaign in Slovakia as well. Robert Fico is often mentioned as the potential Slovak Orban, but the comparison might just be a bit simplified if we cared about the actual details behind it.
How to train your dragon
When Robert Fico was leading the Slovak government he was well known for his vehement rhetoric, but in practise he actually never went that far. He used many rhetorical tools to attract voters, but in fact he has been a rather pragmatic politician. It is of course a whole other question, whether we should judge a politician’s work based on his communication or on his actual acts.
During the first Fico-government, he was in coalition with Vladimir Meciar (HZDS) and the radical Jan Slota (SNS), but eventually he managed to moderate them in a way that the more radical part of the governmental coalition became of no weight. Later on these politicians completely lost their influence.
A different V4 perspective
Interestingly, during his cabinet in power he kept a distance from the Warsaw-Budapest duo and rather stuck to Prague when it came to the V4 cooperation. Slovakia has even received refugees on a voluntary basis, which was (and probably still is) unacceptable for Poland and Hungary. Apart from the V4 cooperation, Slovakia also joined some other regional groups under Fico’s government (e.g. the Slavkov trilateral which some considers to be a competitor to the Visegrad group). On the European level, Fico’s Smer party has also a different position than Orban’s Fidesz. Smer managed to stay in the S&D group in the European Parliament, while Fidesz is long gone from the EPP. However, Fico is often criticized by some MEPs from S&D, it is rather unlikely that they would seriously consider getting rid of Smer should they win the elections in September.
Contradictory cases to benefit from
Some are surprised that Fico could eventually come back to Slovak politics and now he is one of the probable winners of the upcoming legislative elections. He is however probably the most known politician of the last decade in Slovakia, who could form a government for three times. The end of his so far last term was marked by the brutal assassination of investigative journalist Kuciak in 2018. Fico’s growing popularity has since proved him having made the right decision, when as a matter of fact he took the political responsibility and resigned.
His popularity has seemingly could not be significantly damaged by the numerous cases that were brought up against him. The OL’aNO party got into power with some serious anti-corruption promises, but they have apparently never managed to prove anything against Fico in 3 years. A phenomenon that slightly reminds us in a way of the investigations against former US President Donald Trump, when all the accusation can possibly even get some more popularity to a politician.
It is a somehow understandable way of campaigning to demonise one or the other contender. But it is also a sloppy and negligent way just to discredit someone with overlooking the real facts. An easy tool for eager politicians and also the mainstream clickbait oriented media outlets. But instead of “political labelling” it is definitely better to always look into the background of the certain narrative how, much they are supported by objective facts. Irrespectively of our personal political preferences.