Slovak elections: sharp turn in politics underlines crisis

In the recent Slovakian parliamentary elections, Direction – Social Democracy (SMER–SD) emerged as the biggest party on a platform of economic concessions to workers, and withdrawal of support for the Ukraine War, to the horror of the European establishment, who lambasted the party as ‘pro-Russian’. We have no illusions in this party, but the fact is that SMER and its leader Róbert Fico captured support from the poorest regions of the country by channelling an anti-establishment mood.

SMER has ruled Slovakia with only a 20-month interruption for 12 years, with Fico serving as prime minister for 10 of these. In office, the party was mired in corruption allegations, culminating in 2018 with the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak (who had been probing tax fraud) and his fiancé, which forced Fico and the minister of interior to resign.

In these latest elections, SMER-SD and Fico staged a comeback by pitching themselves to the left, pledging financial bonuses for workers, pensioners and families. They also pledged to fight inflation and preserve living standards, and poured scorn on liberal economic policies and multinational companies. Ironically, many of these policies were precisely those championed in previous Fico administrations.

You get a sense of Fico’s real political character by the fact that Hungary’s viciously right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán warmly congratulated him on his victory, tweeting: “Guess who’s back! Congratulations to Robert Fico on his undisputable victory in the Slovak parliamentary elections. Always good to work together with a patriot.”

Nevertheless, his promises struck a chord with voters being punished by high inflation, which peaked at over 16 percent earlier this year. Moreover, SMER-SD combined these pledges with opposition to the war in Ukraine, calling for an end to military aid for Kyiv and sanctions on Russia. Fico (correctly) describes the conflict as a proxy war between the US and Russia, and says that Slovakia has more “pressing problems” to deal with.

SMER profits from anti-establishment mood

The election result created uproar in the European establishment. French MEP Valérie Hayer spoke of a “dark day for Ukraine and Western unity”. EU Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová complained of the election result being manipulated by Russian misinformation, pointing to a fake video produced by AI showing Progressive Slovakia (Renew) leader Michal Šimečka“announcing a rise in beer prices”. 

“We have seen both a high level of flooding of the Slovak information space from the far right, but also from pro-Kremlin sources,” Jourová said on Czech Television. Coming off the back of Poland (another of Kyiv’s most vociferous backers) suggesting it would suspend military aid amidst a spat over Ukrainian grain imports decimating its domestic market, this election result in Slovakia has raised alarm as further evidence of the ‘unshakable European alliance’ behind Ukraine beginning to visibly crumble.

EH Ukraine Image President of Ukraine Wikimedia CommonsUp until now, Slovakia has been a major supplier of arms to Ukraine / Image: President of Ukraine, Wikimedia Commons

Fico is a talented politician, and a consummate opportunist, whose attitude to Russia has not been consistent over the years: at various times in the past, he has leaned closer to the EU. But putting to one side the typical excuse about ‘Russian manipulation’ of the election, that fact is he did not need the assistance of AI to win support for an anti-war position. 

A study by the Bratislava-based think tank Globsec from this year found that 69 percent of respondents agreed that “by providing military equipment to Ukraine, Slovakia was provoking Russia and bringing itself closer to war.” The same poll found that Slovaks' support for NATO membership has also shrunk to 58 percent this year from 72 percent in 2022. Another poll (albeit controversially) in 2022 found a majority of Slovaks would favour a Russian victory over a Ukrainian one.

Up until now, Slovakia has been a major supplier of arms to Ukraine, including its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets. It has in fact been one of Kyiv’s top backers internationally in terms of aid given as a percentage of GDP. All aid has now been suspended amidst coalition negotiations. Ján Skyba, former SMER mayor for Choňkovce, articulated the public mood in an interviewed for the Financial Times:

“There is deep resentment among our citizens about the state’s generosity towards Ukraine compared to the neglect shown by successive governments in Bratislava towards the inhabitants of Slovakia’s poorer eastern areas.” 

In the context of ongoing economic hardship, Fico has been able to tap into justifiable frustration of the Slovak people at supporting the cost of NATO’s war effort against Russia, while they themselves struggle to key their heads above water. It should be noted that inflation in Slovakia (around 8.9 percent) is still the highest in the Eurozone. 

Much has been made of Fico and SMER’s reactionary stance on LGBT people, Roma people, migrants and so forth; as well as their history of corruption. The fact is that these defects are common to all Slovak parties: all are completely corrupt, and almost all of them peddle racism. The favoured party of the bourgeois majority was PS (Progressive Slovakia), which stands for LGBT rights and drug decriminalisation, also stands for massive austerity (or as they put it, a "healthy state budget"). They ended up second, despite an expensive campaign behind them, dwarfing any unofficial ‘Russian disinformation’ campaign for SMER. 

PS emerged as the strongest party in Bratislava, but the poorer regions decimated by capitalist crisis went to SMER. PS declared that it will do everything to prevent Fico's return to rule, even floating the idea of trying to form a coalition including a motley crew of right-wing and free-market liberal parties. This will do its reputation no favours amongst working-class and poorer voters. 

Chaos of Slovak politics

The past few years have seen Slovak politics racked with turmoil. In 2020, a right-wing coalition government came to power, led by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities party (OĽaNO), who ran on an anti-corruption platform, ousting the previous coalition government, led by SMER-SD.

But this unstable coalition of reactionary parties could not last. Almost exactly a year later in 2021, OĽaNO Prime Minister, Igor Matovič, was in turn forced to retreat to the position of Minister of Finance, amidst accusations of mismanaging the COVID-19 pandemic. 

EH Image FinnishGovernment Wikimedia CommonsThe OĽaNO government limped along under Eduard Heger until December 2022 / Image: FinnishGovernment, Wikimedia Commons

The OĽaNO government limped along under Eduard Heger until December 2022, when it was brought down in a no-confidence vote, declaring early elections on 30 September 2023. The elections were deliberately pushed to the latest date possible to give time for the preferred parties of Slovak capitalism to fortify themselves. President Zuzana Čaputová, noted ‘progressive’ who has served as a pillar of stability throughout this carnival of chaos, unilaterally appointed a “government of experts” to rule in the meantime, before declaring her own intention not to run in 2024, in a big blow to the establishment. 

Negotiations for a coalition are still ongoing, the precarity of which reflects the crisis of Slovak capitalism, in which no political grouping is able to decisively take charge.

SMER is not the favoured instrument of the Slovak bourgeoisie. It was thrown out more than once already, and its economic pledges, combined with its provocative rhetoric, portends instability the capitalists do not want. This is why a massive campaign was conducted by the ‘official’ media and political establishment (involving Czech and European politicians and mouthpieces) to ensure their fall. One NGO even organised two free ‘election trains’ to deliver anti-SMER voters to the polls! 

SMER’s loss in 2020 led to a split in the party, which resulted in the creation of Hlas – SD (Voice – Social Democracy), with Peter Pellegrini as leader. This party ended up third, and without it, a majority coalition is impossible in any scenario, making it the kingmaker. As a more ‘moderate’ voice, a section of the ruling class hopes to lean on Pellegrini in order to tame Fico, if his leadership cannot be avoided. 

KDH (Christian Democratic Movement) is also needed for a majority, meaning the only alternative afforded to the majority section of the bourgeoisie is another unstable coalition of social democrats, liberals, "progressives", and Christian democrats. But this threatens a Bulgarian scenario of political deadlock, leading to a new election, which no one wants to risk. This mean’s Fico's return is almost guaranteed.

It is notable that Demokrati (Democrats), a splinter from OĽaNO, led by Heger, represented an attempt to create a centre-right, conservative, pro-west, reliable party of big business that will ‘professionally’ carry out cuts. It failed spectacularly, failing to reach even the 3 percent mark, above which the parties receive a multi-million donation from the state, depending on number of votes. Heger is now begging for support on social media to help with the hundreds of thousands Euros his party racked up in campaign costs.

Austerity and class struggle on the way

Despite its promises, SMER will inevitably betray the disenchanted Slovak workers yet again, as capitalism demands sacrifices. If we exclude arms production and financial speculation, Slovak capitalism is in a deep recession and has been since at least 2020. By contrast, Slovak arms factories have upped their profits by 900 percent, which also underscores public resentment towards involvement in Ukraine.

The National Bank lowered its predictions for the future, stating that inflation will return to a 3 percent "normality" only in 2025. With national debt skyrocketing, the head of the central bank is calling for strict austerity. The temporary government of experts proposed 100 policies, together cutting €10 billion from the budget, and expects the new government (regardless of its composition) to choose between such attacks as cancelling free train tickets for students, cutting  pensions, hiking taxes on petrol and automobiles, upping consumer tax, and so on. In other words, the workers are expected to pay for the capitalists' crisis.

SMER and Hlas' promises of a welfare state will go right out the window when private owners' profits are threatened, because it is they whom all political parties represent and protect. Moreover, SMER’s mandate isn't very strong. This was its third-weakest election result after its first participation in 2002. It will have a slim majority, with a strong and confident coalition partner in Hlas serving as a lever for the establishment ‘mainstream’. The position of the third likely, and necessary coalition partner, the reactionary ultranationalist SNS (Slovak National party) is fragile. They got elected only thanks to the support of a few independents, in a deal that is already cracking.

RF Image EU2016 SK Wikimedia CommonsSlovak capitalism is weak and fragmented, with political power divided between corrupt oligarchs / Image: EU2016 SK, Wikimedia Commons

On top of that, the working class is beginning to move. Slovakia is the biggest car producer per head in the world, and workers in the automotive industry have started to fight for higher wages. Meanwhile doctors have threatened collective action over the lack of funding in the Slovak health sector, in which failing to bribe officials makes one far less likely to survive a hospital stay. The pressure of the working class will be brought to bear on whatever government is eventually cobbled together: a big revival of the class struggle is on the cards.

Slovak capitalism is weak and fragmented, with political power divided between corrupt oligarchs. In a certain sense, the result of these elections reflects a desire for answers from Slovak workers and youth. They are sick of poverty and humiliation, are rightly sceptical of sending billions to bolster NATO’s war effort, and increasingly despise the bosses’ club in Brussels. These are all healthy class instincts, and the desperate need for a revolutionary alternative to channel them is crystal clear. 

The old Stalinist KSS (Communist Party of Slovakia), created in the middle of anti-fascist struggle, around the glorious Slovak national uprising against the Nazis in 1944, is a bureaucratic shell. Its leader professes to protect “Christian traditional values”, and “our statehood”, in a shameless display of chauvinist opportunism.

The Czechoslovak group of the IMT organises itself in Slovakia, patiently gathering the forces of genuine communism. If you are a real Slovak communist, who shares our objective of a world free from exploitation, oppression, war and misery, we welcome you to join us in the fight to revive the revolutionary traditions of this country.

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