The saying goes that no man steps in the same river twice. However, Robert Fico has managed to do so two times now. Following the recent Slovak election, he will take the seat of the prime minister for the fourth time. The river might be the same but the waters within it are often prone to tumultuous shifts.
The election went well for you. How do you feel about it?
In the election, the Slovak people have clearly shown the direction that our country should take in the next four years. It is a direction of common sense, economic growth, a return to the values of a social state, and the protection of national interests. SMER-Slovak Social Democracy has offered this to the voters, and it is a massive encouragement as well as an immense commitment for us to see the Slovak people take us up on the offer and to know that they wish for an end to economic decline, rising prices, chaos, arguments, and amateurism in the management of the country. We are prepared to lead this battle for Slovakia and we will do our utmost to win it for all Slovak people from the very first day the new government takes power. After three and a half years of right-wing government rule, we are the second poorest country in the EU, our public finances are in the worst state of all the member states, the Slovak national debt has risen like never before, inflation and prices are growing faster than in Western Europe. That is the state of our country as we take over. But we have learned from the past, we are experienced and prepared to take on this task, and we greatly appreciate the trust we have been given by the people.
To get Hlas into the government, you had to give the party more seats in the cabinet than Smer itself has. Was it not too high a price?
The interests of Slovakia and its people are the highest priority for SMER-SSD. The shape of the new government was the result of negotiations that will allow us to realize the will and expectations of the people, which they have expressed clearly in the election. Now is not the time to be looking out for party interests and speculating about who has more or fewer cabinet seats and why. The most important thing for Slovakia and its people right now is to soothe our society and renew its trust in the ability of the government to take care of public affairs in a professional manner. In recent years, people have been looking forward with fear, our ambition is to change that and allow them to look toward the future not with a feeling of existential dread but rather with hope and positive expectations.
There have been speculations of Peter Pellegrini possibly running for the position of the Slovak head of state. Would he be a better president than Zuzana Čaputová?
The snap parliamentary election in Slovakia happened just recently, and the politicians as well as the Slovak public are still focused primarily on their results and what they mean for the future of our country. That's why I believe that the question of our new president is off the table right now. And if you're asking me about Peter Pellegrini, he has experience as a prime minister, speaker of the Parliament, and minister. He has shown that he knows how to manage and represent our country at home and abroad. Slovakia had bad luck in presidents for the two latest election terms. Andrej Kiska as well as the current President Zuzana Čaputová had no prior experience that would allow them to adequately represent Slovakia, its national interests, and the needs of the people. I believe that Slovakia will choose a new president that will bring our country together rather than divide it, as we've been seeing in recent years.
Slovakia has been through a bona fide judicial tsunami in the last three years. Should the dozens of rulings made during this period in cases against prominent representatives of the justice system, public prosecution, police force, and the business world be overturned?
The abuse of police authority to criminalize political opposition and the appointment of a politician as the head of the Special Public Prosecutor's Office represents a dark time in Slovak history and is utterly unacceptable in any democratic country around the world. In recent years, Slovakia has experienced a true comeback of the 1950s, the darkest time in joint Czecho-Slovak history, when human rights and people's freedoms were additionally violated. The death of a former police chief in police custody which still hasn't been properly investigated, tampering with cooperating witnesses in political proceedings against the opposition, the arrest and prosecution of two secret service directors who raised the suspicion that governmental bodies were being abused in political competition – these are all just the tip of the iceberg that constitutes all that we've witnessed during the three and a half years of right-wing government rule. Our party SMER-SSD honors democracy and its values, which is why we will work hard to make sure our country is once again positioned within the confines of the rule of law and justice, where law enforcement is not being abused in political competition.
Slovakia is in dire financial straits and its economy has dropped to the bottom of European rankings. Why is that and what's the way out of this situation?
Slovakia is in dire need of a functioning, stable, and competent government, and the new coalition has formed just such a government. We will do our utmost as the newly elected coalition made up of the SMER-SD, HLAS-SD, and SNS parties to convince the people that Slovakia is once again on its way to stability and prosperity. Today, we are the second poorest country in the European Union, our public finances are in shambles, real wages are shrinking, national debt is at record levels, and the caretaker government appointed by President Zuzana Čaputová proposed measures devastating for the people that would pull Slovakia even further down into the spiral of stagnation and economic decline. It is the new government's priority to bolster Slovakia's economic growth and the living standards of its people, not weaken it as was proposed by the caretaker government appointed by the President. The consolidation of public finances must not happen at the cost of Slovak people's living standards; we will fight for solidarity between the rich and the poor.
One of the themes of your campaign was the motto "Not a single bullet to Ukraine". Slovakia can barely find anything else in its army stores (after it dispatched its entire air force to Ukraine, for instance) to send to Ukraine. Does your stance mean that you will leverage the government to block shipments of Slovak arms manufacturers to Ukraine?
SMER-SSD always has been and always will be a socially democratic party, a left-wing party that stands for peace. The predominant view in Europe today is supportive of arms supplies and the war in Ukraine, even in some left-wing parties. We were unequivocal in our condemnation of Russia's use of military force in Ukraine. We can further unanimously add that the causes of the war in Ukraine need to be investigated more deeply and that we should always strive to resolve conflicts peacefully, not stoke the fires of war frenzy. We need to be talking about peace, not just war. And the fact that SMER-SSD has a different opinion on this, which clearly received the support of the people in the election, is not to the liking of certain Western politicians and Brussels. It is clear to see that the conflict in Ukraine is at an impasse. We believe that a peaceful solution to the conflict rather than supplying arms is the only way to end the war in Ukraine, and our partners around Europe are bound to realize that with time.
You took a very hard stance on the issue of the migration crisis. Illegal migrants are coming into Slovakia primarily from Hungary. Do you want to, and are you capable of, closing the Hungarian border and forcing Budapest to take back the migrants who came to Slovakia from Hungary?
The security of the state and its people is an absolutely essential task and duty of every government and institution in any country. If people don't feel safe, the state and its representatives have failed. How can you work, spend free time with family, or live out your retirement if you don't feel safe? We can all see just how unstable the world around us has become in recent years. In 2015, Europe was in the midst of a migration crisis. Slovakia managed to avoid it thanks to active measures taken by the government at the time in cooperation with our partners and neighboring countries. We were prepared for the crisis and we dealt with it in a way as to avoid becoming a migration corridor for millions of people funneling into Europe that we knew nothing about. Our active approach and cooperation were appreciated by the Czech government at the time as well. Today, the situation is different; Slovakia has been flooded with thousands of illegal migrants. Towns and municipalities are declaring states of emergency, they have nowhere to house these people nor any way to take care of them. The state and President Čaputová's caretaker government are failing because they ignored this situation. Slovakia has turned into a corridor of illegal migration leading into Europe and even you in the Czech Republic are paying the price for these failures. The cooperation of our neighboring countries, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czechia within the region when dealing with the migration crisis is key. We have shown this together in 2015, and it will once again be one of the main goals of the new SMER-Slovak Social Democracy government and our partners.
You have always been a proponent of Slovakia being at the core of European Union integration efforts, even getting Slovakia to accept the Euro. Does that still apply? Which EU member states do you see as Slovakia's main allies?
Europe and the world are changing. European integration is absolutely a positive for Slovakia in terms of the economy and environmental standards. We are a small country in the middle of Europe with an open economy, which is why maintaining good relations with more than just our neighboring countries is important. Our party has shown in more than one government that we are capable of nurturing exceptional relations not just traditionally with the Czech Republic but also with other partners across Europe. Slovak-Hungarian relations are the best they have ever been partly thanks to our governments, in which we were able to bring together representatives of the Hungarian minority and a Slovak national party. The matter of abolishing the right of veto on important issues related to the interests of member states was discussed at the EU summit in October. Our stance is clear; the right of veto is crucial for the interests of smaller EU member states. I trust that Slovakia will find common ground on this issue with many of our partners and also, I believe, with the Czech Republic.
The author is a European editor for Deník
Robert Fico (born September 15, 1964, in Topoľčany) is a member of the Slovak National Council, chairman of the SMER-Slovak Social Democracy party, and prime minister-designate.
He graduated from the Comenius University Bratislava Faculty of Law, further taking courses abroad in the USA, Great Britain, Finland, Belgium, and France focused on human rights and criminal law. He has also studied at the Academy of European Law in Trier.
Fico worked at the Institute of Law of the Slovak Ministry of Justice and as legal counsel representing Slovakia in proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights. He worked as a university lecturer as well.
He was first elected an MP in 1992 (for the SDĽ). In December 1999, he established a new political party called SMER. In 2004, he unified the SDĽ, the Social Democracy Alternative, and the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, and on January 1, 2005, the SMER-Social Democracy party was born.
Fico was an MP between 1992 and 2006 and was elected again in 2018. He was the prime minister three times (2006–2010, 2012–2016, 2016–2018). Following the recent election, he will take the seat of prime minister for the fourth time.
He is married and has a son, Michael (29).
Even after the split of the common republic, it has always been a fact that Czechia and Slovakia have exceptional relations. What does Robert Fico see as the main objectives of Czecho-Slovak relations and in which areas would he like to elevate them to an even higher level than they are today? "The Czech Republic has traditionally been our closest partner in many aspects of the life of our countries and people," he says. "We will continue on in this historical, and I dare say even cordial, cooperation, and we believe that Prime Minister Fiala's government will have the same amount of interest in bolstering and bettering the cooperation between our two countries. Europe and the world are facing a plethora of challenges today, and even closer cooperation between Czechia and Slovakia can benefit all of us on both sides of the river Morava."
Robert Fico at a pre-election rally