Nazi and far-right ultra nationalist and racist parties have taken almost a fifth of the seats in Slovakia’s parliament after elections on Saturday 5 March.
The fascist and far right gains come amid a general shift rightwards in the election that saw the vote of the Smer-Social Democracy party of prime minister Robert Fico plummet from 44.4% at the 2012 election to just 28.3%.
The People’s Party – Our Slovakia (L’SNS) saw its vote rocket from just 1.6% four years ago to 8%, giving the nazi organisation 14 MPs in Slovakia’s 150-seat national assembly. It is linked with the Slovak Brotherhood, a paramilitary group that echoes the wartime fascist militia, the Hlinka Guard.
Longstanding nazi Marian Kotleba – pictured above in his paramilitary gear – set up the L’SNS in 2010 after its predecessor, the Slovak Togetherness-National Party was banned by the state in 2008 for its violent and racist activities.
He is a staunch and open admirer of Jozef Tiso, leader of the wartime Slovak State, a puppet government operating under Hitler’s Nazis.
These elections mark a national breakthrough for Kotleba, who won control of Banska Bystrica, one of Slovakia’s eight administrative government regions, in 2013.
Kotleba’s party has built its base by targeting Slovakia’s Hungarian minority and, especially, its Roma minority. Banska Bystrica is home to one of the largest Roma communities in Slovakia, with about 20% of the country’s Roma population living in the region. Civil rights groups reported last year that attacks on Roma people had gone up 150% since Kotleba became regional governor.
Now for the first time since the Second World War, the fascist party has seats in parliament.
Another 15 MPs from the Slovak National Party (SNS) will also join the new parliament, after gaining 8.6% of the vote – up from 4.5% last time. This ugly outfit is part of the same European Parliamentary group as the racist Danish People’s Party, but has a history of even more extreme racism and virulent nationalism.
SNS leader Andrej Danko has tried to tone down the party’s statements in public, but former leader Ján Slota was more open about his party’s views. Slovakia’s substantial Hungarian minority were “the cancer of the Slovak nation”, who should be “removed”, while he has called for Roma people to be “eliminated” or “destroyed”. Slota has also praised Tiso as “one of the greatest sons of the Slovak nation”.
The SNS’s attempts to clean up after Slota have not been too successful. Its election candidate – and football hooligan – Martin Patoprstý was suspended after photos emerged of him and his mates apparently giving nazi “sieg heil” salutes in the bath (see above).
The election results have thrown Slovakia into uncertainty as Fico’s low vote will force him to seek coalition allies. Behind Fico’s Smer, two centre-right parties saw their votes go up on the 2012 standings, taking 21% between them. The remainder of the parliamentary seats went to the strange “We are Family” party hurriedly set up by rightwing businessman Boris Kollár, which won 6.6% of the vote.
It is possible that either Kotleba’s hardcore nazis or – more likely – the SNS could form part of a coalition government. And whatever government is formed, the fascist and far right MPs will form a significant bloc with some power.
In these elections, Fico – the supposed centre left candidate – focused his own campaign on attacking immigrants and Muslims, although Slovakia is not on the main route for refugees entering Europe and sees little immigration.
He has promoted economic measures such as increases to the minimum wage and free transport for pensioners, but it is hard to see Fico as a traditional social democrat: his party is a descendant of the Stalinist Communist Party that ruled the former Czechoslovakia, and he relies heavily on nationalist and racist rhetoric.
His Smer party was suspended from the European Parliament’s PES social democratic bloc in 2006 when he invited the far right SNS, then led by Ján Slota, to join him in a coalition government.
In his election campaign this time, Fico railed against the EU’s (disgracefully very limited) attempts to tackle the refugee crisis. “I will never allow a single Muslim immigrant under a quota system,” he told an election rally. He has also declared: “Multiculturalism is a fiction.”
This helped stoke an ever more racist climate that benefited the fascists and the far right, who also fed off the widespread discontent with Fico’s government. Unemployment is at around 10% and voters are also angry at public corruption, poor healthcare and a neglected education system. Earlier this year, teachers staged strikes against poverty pay and school funding.
An exit poll for Radio Expres suggested that a large chunk of Kotleba’s vote came from young people – almost 23% of first-time voters cast their ballot for Kotleba’s party, it found.
Racism in Slovakia is widespread and very severe – both the fascists and populist racist politicians can tap into this at election time. Roma people are persecuted and, in many areas, live in ghetto districts behind a system of walls and fences. Amnesty International has repeatedly highlighted the segregated “education” provided by the authorities to Roma children in schools made out of shipping containers.
Academics and activists have also pointed to the lack of critical reflection on Slovakia’s wartime history. The Slovak State and its Hlinka Guard militia rounded up Jewish people for deportation and murder. Around 75,000 Slovak Jews, 83% of the pre-war total, were killed in Nazi death camps.
Lurch to the right
The lurch to the right in Slovakia comes after last year’s installation of a far right government in Poland and the increasingly authoritarian moves of Hungary’s Fidesz government, also on the far right and with the substantial nazi Jobbik party pushing it in an ever more extreme direction.
Slovakia is a small country with a population of just 5.5 million, but it is set to become more prominent internationally as it takes over the EU Presidency in July.
The sharp turn to the right, the election of 14 hardcore nazi MPs and 15 more from the far right racist SNS – all in a country where a substantial minority ethnic group is being driven behind ghetto walls – cannot be ignored.