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Slovakian elections: a starting gun

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Alexandra Luca

Slovakian politician Robert Fico provided a prelude to a wave of 2024 European elections when he emerged victorious in Parliamentary elections on the 30th of September. Fico's nationalist, euro-sceptic, Russia-backing party was projected to come second to the pro-Western Progressive Slovakia party, instead winning with a difference of more than 5%. 

SMER-SSD, the winning party, capitalised on the dire state of the European economy and lack of social cohesion following massive dissatisfaction with the handling of COVID-19 and support for Ukraine. Slovakia has become a breeding ground for dissenting voices, having the highest inflation rate in the Eurozone, raising concerns about illegal immigration and manufacturing frustration with Ukraine's seemingly static front line.

In a May 2023 survey by Globesec, 33% of Slovakians - the highest percentage in Central and Eastern Europe - said they favoured leaving NATO. The country also faces record-low trust rates in institutions, at 18% for the government and 37% for the president.  

In this sense, Fico is leading Slovakia to follow in the footsteps of their neighbour, Hungary, in becoming an opposing voice in the European Union. As the Western narrative around the war in Ukraine shifts towards preparing Europe for a long-term face-off, the danger of breaking rank is becoming increasingly imminent. Fico, who promised "not to send a single cartridge" to Ukraine, illustrates the populist boiling point discourse favouring Russian aggression.

Fico's victory is but a warning shot, or the kick-off, to what will surely be a tumultuous election year across the globe, especially in Europe. The political climate festered by COVID-19 and exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has made it so that the label "populist" doesn't speak that loudly anymore. It used to be that you would say "the populist party" of a given country, and one would know what you mean. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump have been dubbed populists, but audiences react decidedly against the latter instead of the former. 

Rising disparities in class have led to both sides accusing each other of being "out of touch" as progressive parties struggle to maintain their target electorate and keep votes from spilling into authoritarian populist hands. Slovakia is nothing short of a symptom of this, a country where Fico and his mafia gained reelection even after being accused of brutally murdering a journalist investigating the incumbent (the story is tragically recounted in the film The Killing of a Journalist).

2024 will be like reaching the peak of a roller coaster about to plummet - with dread, anticipation, and a desire to escape. Poland's abortion banning, media stifling, LGBT erasing PiS party that has ruled for eight years is projected to win the upcoming October elections, to the dismay of some half a million opposition members who took to the streets in protest. 

EU Parliament elections will set the tone in June, with trends reflected in internal elections in the past year in the EU. In Romania, NATO's remaining rational actor in the line of defence following Poland's snubbing of Ukraine, elections are looming in 2024. A right-wing nationalist party primarily based on COVID-19 conspiracies and Russian propaganda is projected to come third in Parliament at 18%. This would be a massive surge, as the party only entered Parliament in the last election cycle with 9%. Italy's regime under Meloni has become synonymous with tight immigration laws, tight action on surrogacy and attacks on the LGBT community.

Perhaps most hotly anticipated are the Presidential elections in the USA, which put the future of Ukraine and Europe at stake. Depending on the Republican nomination, we can expect a sequel to Donald Trump's attention-seeking antics in halting aid to Ukraine and trailblazing conservative policies at home. The playing field is hopelessly divided that not one alternative has gained as much popular support as Trump, not to mention Joe Biden's advanced age leaves many Democratic voters concerned with the future of his office.

Cyber-overlords are working overtime to spread misinformation and propaganda in order to sway results in their interest, but this is nothing new. For instance, inquiries into Russia's interference in American and European elections is a tale as old as modern politics. 

People are increasingly tired of reasoning, distrusting government institutions and prone to polarisation. Plummeting trust in the news media has opened a vacuum in online information filled with the so-called "citizen journalists" at best and the propaganda-spreading trolls at worst. 

However, we need not take Fico's victory at face value; we should look to identify the wave it initiates and do our best to inform people and discuss its consequences. Slovakia has set the tone for the future of Europe. Looking back, in the years to come, this moment will make a lot more sense as the sentiment spreads. 

Image: Carnegie Europe

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