Former Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has been through ups and downs, sweet victories as well as bitter defeats during his career in politics. He has never given up on victory, however, and he plans to keep fighting to achieve it. He does not shy away from using strong and unambiguous language when discussing politics.
The Slovak political scene is quite lively, so much so that it is sometimes hard to tell how things will look a month from now. How do you feel about what is going on in Slovakia? How do you see things going in the future?
To be honest, we are doing way worse now, after a year and a half of the current right-leaning government's rule than anyone could have possibly imagined prior to the Parliamentary election. And I do not mean just the impact of the Corona crisis. This government was very late to understand that running a country is hard work, much harder than opposition politics, which is all about criticizing. That is why they went all-in on one thing – criminalizing the opposition. Let me give you an example. The master puppeteer, Veronika Remišová, is the current minister of informatization. If you were to go through her appearances on social media and in all kinds of media debates, you would be hard-pressed to find anything that relates to the work of the Ministry. Her favorite topics are how someone was detained, and how they are the ones cleaning up society. Nowadays, when people who were unlawfully detained are being released from custody, she keeps silent. That is a snapshot of Slovakian politics for you. We are openly saying this – Slovakia is in dire need of a snap election referendum (blocked by President Čaputová for some amount of time), a subsequent new election and a new government.
Are there things that Slovakia should learn from Czechia and vice versa?
We are nations that have been close throughout history, so making comparisons comes naturally, but I believe that – outside of football and ice hockey matches perhaps – we wish the best for one another. I feel that political discourse in Czech politics, not just that of politicians, but also the people, has more substance. They care more about measurable success, such as the state of the national budget, that is where I think Czechia is ahead of us. Slovakia has given Czechia its current prime minister, which is no mean feat either... [smiles]
The Covid pandemic has definitely influenced political stability over the past two years. How has Slovakia handled it, do you think?
I criticized the Slovakian Government at the beginning of this interview, and I made sure to emphasize that it was not just about the way the Corona crisis was handled. The Slovakian Government has failed in three main aspects. During late 2020 and early 2021, it implemented mandatory mass testing, which in itself exacerbated the transmission of the disease when people were waiting in long lines to get tested in bad weather. The second point of failure was – and this was openly admitted by the former minister of healthcare, Krajči – that they did not implement a proper lockdown during Christmas because they were afraid of the public reacting badly. This caused an immense growth of deaths, where over 12 000 people died during the second wave. The third aspect they failed so miserably in was how little they prepared for the third wave, where over 1200 nurses and hundreds of doctors have left our healthcare system throughout 2021. Currently, we have hundreds of ventilators rotting away with no one to put them to work. What is even more alarming is the fact that the current situation is even worse than it was during the second wave. So the Government did not only not prepare for the third wave, they left the healthcare system to its own devices, and slept while neighboring countries were increasing the wages of healthcare workers. And please let us not forget the immense price hikes. A badly handled pandemic and price hikes ignored by the government make for a deadly cocktail. If we do not want our society to implode by spring next year, we better do everything in our power to bring about a snap election.
The next Slovakian Parliamentary election was scheduled for 2024. There were several times when it looked like a snap election was coming. Do you think that the current Chamber and government can hold, or is the snap election still looming?
Like I said, this government leaving as soon as possible is in Slovakia's best interest. Even so, this government's fallacies and missteps will take years to undo. I believe that this new petition to hold a referendum on shortening this government's election term and the subsequent referendum will result in a change of administration during the next year, the year 2022.
The anniversary of November 17 was last month, which is a date to be remembered in both Czechia and Slovakia. What does this date, and the subsequent development, mean to you?
November 17 is quite a controversial date in Slovakia. Primarily because people who came out to protest believed that the new political order will be more just and that the changes made will mean a better life in their country. That is where many were let down by how things developed. It has to be said that the Revolution is more than three decades past and young people who have no experience with the previous regime do not even worry about these issues, which is understandable, of course. It is a tragedy, however, that in 2021, we have a Slovakian Government that tries to smear and criminalize the opposition, and does its best to undermine the rule of law and the tenets of democracy.
Incidentally, your party, Smer – SD, held an assembly on November 17. Was there anything substantial that came of it?
The assembly date, November 17, when Slovakia remembers Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day, was not incidental, seeing as Slovakia is currently facing the destruction of the rule of law and democracy, and mass infringement on human rights. The SMER – SD assembly was a clear sign to the public that the party is ready to fight for its fifth election victory.
Are there friends to be made in politics, or is it more a place where friends become foes overnight?
I have met many amazing people in politics, I am happy to be able to work with them. Unfortunately, in these hectic times, one realizes such people's true value only when they leave for good. Paľo Paška or Ľubo Petrák, as well as others, are sorely missed and they have left gaping holes in our lives.
What do you do to unwind when you get tired?
My colleagues make fun of me and call me a gladiator, but I cannot imagine a day without at least an hour of exercise. My favorites are running and swimming, those are activities during which I can just turn off my brain and recharge very quickly. I make daily records of all of my exercise, some younger people might be put to shame if they read them. [laughs]
Robert Fico (born September 15, 1964, in Topoľčany) is a former Slovakian prime minister and founding member of the SMER – Social Democracy party.
In 1986, he graduated from the Faculty of Law at Komenský University Bratislava. He went on to work at the Institute of Law of the Slovakian Ministry of Justice until 1995. Between the years 1994 and 2000, he was a representative of the Slovak Republic during proceedings held by the European Commission of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
In 1992, he was elected as an MP for the Strana Demokratické Levice (Democratic Left Party). He left the SDL in 1999 and founded a new political party called SMER. After a merger of three leftist parties, it became SMER – Social Democracy.
He was the Slovak Prime Minister from April 2012 to March 2018. In 2014, he ran for president but was beaten by Andrej Kiska in the second round.
He has a wife, Svetlana, and son, Michal.