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Assassination attempt on Robert Fico – Questions and answers

Robert Fico, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic

An attack on Robert Fico has left Slovakia, an EU and NATO member state, in a state of shock. For a long time there was uncertainty as to whether the 59-year-old would survive. What is known so far, what does the head of government stand for and why is he so controversial?

Shortly before midnight, the Slovakian Environment Minister Tomáš Taraba gave the all-clear. Robert Fico is said to be out of danger after the attack. He was flown by helicopter to the nearest larger hospital in Banská Bystrica yesterday afternoon in Handlova in central Slovakia. He should actually have been transported on to Bratislava. But that was too risky, they say.

How is Fico’s health?

Fico is 59 years old. He has had heart surgery in the past and, according to media reports, received a triple bypass. His condition after the attack was extremely serious, the government said. He had several gunshot wounds, including in the stomach, and had to be operated on for more than three hours. Fico was shot five times. The Interior Minister confirmed this.

What is known about the suspected assassin?

Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj-Eštok assumes a political background and a lone perpetrator. He also confirmed the identity of the suspected attacker. Yesterday the media quickly named the name of a 71-year-old Slovakian. He is said to legally own a gun and used to work for a private security service. He is also a member of the Slovak Writers’ Association, writes poetry and has in the past been critical of migration, extremism and violence.

After the man was arrested by police, he reportedly said he was dissatisfied with government policy and the planned abolition of public broadcasting. This is what the Slovak media reports.

What are the consequences of the attack so far?

The Interior Minister wants to better protect individual politicians, including individual media professionals. It must also be decided who will represent Robert Fico as head of government after this assassination attempt. This must be one of his four deputies, one of whom also belongs to Fico’s left-wing nationalist Smer party. That is, it boils down to current Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák, a long-time close confidante of Fico.

The opposition actually wanted to protest against his government again yesterday, specifically against the much criticized reform of the public media. The campaign was canceled after the attack. Events relating to the European elections will also no longer take place until further notice. The current parliamentary session with the debate on the establishment of a new state-controlled media company has been interrupted at least until next week.

What is the mood like after this attack in Slovakia?

Shortly after the incident, President Zuzana Čaputová spoke out. She has been frequently insulted and vilified by Fico in recent years. She also received death threats and therefore did not run again in the presidential election a few weeks ago.

Now she has condemned the act and called on the whole of Slovakia to overcome the division. The Interior Minister from Fico’s government made similar statements. He sees both sides as having a duty. However, some strong accusations can be heard from his political camp towards liberal, pro-European politicians and towards critical media.

Why is Robert Fico so controversial?

The left-wing national populist Fico was Slovakia’s head of government from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018. In 2018 he was forced to resign after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé. Kuciak had researched connections between the Italian mafia and Fico’s ruling party. The bloody act and the posthumous publication of an article by Kuciak sparked mass demonstrations against the Slovakian government.

Fico is the founder and head of the left-wing party Smer-SSD, which has recently become increasingly nationalistic, and has been one of the most popular politicians in Slovakia for almost 30 years. But at the same time he polarizes like no other. Opponents call him “pro-Russian” and accuse him of wanting to lead Slovakia on a similar course to Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Most recently, Fico caused mass protests in the country with controversial changes. His government decided on a much-criticized reform of public broadcasting, which, in the opinion of journalists’ associations and opposition representatives, undermines freedom of the press.

Is Fico “pro-Russian”?

In fact, unlike Hungary, Slovakia has supported all EU sanctions against Russia since Fico’s return and has also agreed to all EU aid to Ukraine – including the use of frozen Russian funds for Ukraine and support for Ukraine’s accession to the EU, but not to the EU NATO. Contrary to media reports to the contrary, Fico does not fundamentally reject the sanctions against Russia.

However, he criticizes the fact that some of them are doing more harm to Slovakia, which is dependent on Russian gas, oil and uranium, than to Russia itself. Instead, he is calling for sanctions that would hit Russia more severely. However, when Fico became head of government in October 2023, he stopped military aid to Kiev and questioned Ukraine’s sovereignty.

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