Slovakia is the latest country to experience a wave of anti-Western sentiment
Ukraine faces decisive months ahead as key allies gear up for crunch elections. While early presidential campaigning in the US and a looming general election in Poland will grab the international headlines, a snap election in Slovakia on 30 September may prove every bit as consequential.
With Robert Fico — Slovakia’s former prime minister and one of the West’s most outspoken critics of the Ukrainian war effort — poised to win the vote, a change of government in Bratislava could have a profound effect on EU policymaking. Fico has promised that if his party makes it into government “we will not send a single bullet to Ukraine,” proudly proclaiming that “I allow myself to have a different opinion to that of the United States” on the war.
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Fico has also claimed on the campaign trail that “war always comes from the West and peace from the East,” and that “what is happening today is unnecessary killing, it is the emptying of warehouses to force countries to buy more American weapons.” Such statements have resulted in him being blacklisted by Kyiv as a spreader of Russian propaganda.
Yet the former prime minister spearheads a new brand of Left-wing, anti-American populism that has become a powerful force in Central Europe since the war began. Perceptions that “the Americans occupy us” — as one MP in Fico’s Smer party evocatively put it — are shared with a similar groundswell of anti-Western opinion in the neighbouring Czech Republic.
Yet Smer has been handed a chance to gain power thanks to the chaos which has engulfed Slovakia’s pro-EU, pro-Western forces. Personal grievances coupled with serious policy errors tore apart a four-party coalition formed after elections in 2020, leaving Fico to capitalise on heightened mistrust in establishment politics. Smer is expected to become the nation’s largest party after this month’s election, with an anticipated 20% of the vote.
Whatever the specific makeup of the new government, if Smer is the largest party it will likely pursue a foreign policy similar to that of Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary. A halt to until-now generous Slovak arms shipments to Ukraine is Fico’s central electoral pledge, while the arrival on the scene of another Orbán-style government prepared to obstruct EU aid efforts for Ukraine would create a serious headache. That is particularly the case as Brussels struggles to win support for both short and long-term war funding commitments.
Victory for Fico would also amplify Orbán’s scepticism about the overall Western narrative on Ukraine — a scepticism which the Hungarian Prime Minister recently conveyed to Western conservatives during an interview with Tucker Carlson. Orbán portrayed Ukraine’s attempts to win back the territories taken by Russia as ultimately hopeless and claimed that Donald Trump’s promise to end the war quickly makes him “the man who can save the Western world”.
Like Trump in America and Orbán in Europe, Fico is hated with a passion by establishment forces. But in Slovakia, the pro-Western establishment itself has become so mistrusted that power may soon pass to a man intent on shattering what’s left of European unity on Ukraine.