Never mind the neo-fascists — democracy is the big winner in Slovakia’s latest election

The murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová spurred an enormous protest in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, in March 2018. (Photo credit: Slavomír Frešo/Wikimedia Commons)
The murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová spurred an enormous protest in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, in March 2018. (Photo credit: Slavomír Frešo/Wikimedia Commons)

The neo-fascists are down in Slovakia, as are the progressives, and the former ruling party. 

But the anti-corruption campaigners of the upstart OLANO party have ridden a wave of popularity to a resounding victory in February’s parliamentary elections. 

It all started with the murder of a journalist. 

The 2018 killing of Ján Kuciak, a 28-year-old reporter who was shaking things up with his dogged investigations into government corruption, has sparked a chain of seismic reactions that two years later has completely realigned Slovakian politics. 

Wait — where? 

Once part of the now-defunct Soviet Bloc nation of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia is newly democratic, and struggled throughout the 1990s with corruption and political violence. 

But the country cleaned up its act and eventually entered the European Union, becoming to many observers an exemplar of the benefits of EU-style democracy.

Then the unthinkable happened. 

Kuciak, a young journalist who reported for the Aktuality.sk news outlet, was assassinated in February 2018, along with his fiancee. 

Kuciak had been poking into documents that revealed a variety of corrupt practices within the national government. 

He was persistent, despite threats that he quit his investigations — and then he was dead.

Bratislava, the Slovakian capital city, erupted in protests, as tens of thousands marched for justice. 

At the heart of the scandal was a Slovakian political system that was widely perceived as rotten, with the left-leaning governing party, SMER-SD, at fault.

Shifting political winds

Progressives saw an opportunity, and Zuzana Čaputová, an environmental lawyer with the Progressive Slovakia party, was elected president in 2019. 

Though her post has little power, her victory was still highly significant. 

It was a signal that Slovakia was not about to slide toward the right or far right, as other European nations had been doing in response to public frustration over immigration, corruption and other issues.

Or so it seemed. 

Around the same time, the fascists also began to rise, as the Slovak public continued seeking alternatives to the status quo. 

Marian Kotleba, the leader of People’s Party Our Slovakia, was the answer offered by the extreme right. 

Preaching hate and xenophobia, the party seemed poised to make gains in this year’s parliamentary elections.

Driving the popular discontent was a series of shocking revelations about who exactly was behind the murder of the journalist. 

Bribing and bullying

That would be Marián Kočner — a flashy, middle-aged businessman who turned out to be a gangster in disguise. 

Kočner had ordered Kuciak’s assassination, files and witnesses attest, for poking too far into the kingpin’s illicit empire.

Kočner, whose trial is ongoing, put a face to the evil that Slovaks had long suspected was doing so much harm to their country. 

The accused gangster, along with his accomplices, promoted his own business interests by bribing, bullying and otherwise controlling judges and other members of the judicial branch, the police, and other public officials. 

He was adept at foiling various investigations into his crimes, but Kuciak’s persistent investigations were going too far.

Enter businessman-turned-politician Igor Matovic, whose “Together Against the Mafia” campaign swept the non-ideological, anti-corruption Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLANO) party into power in February 2020. 

Ideology seems to be the biggest loser in this latest Slovakian election, and hopes for rule of law the biggest winner. 

Matovic is now the new Slovakian prime minister, with his OLANO party garnering 25 percent of the vote. The former leftist leaders of SMER-SD came in at 18 percent. 

Meanwhile, Progressive Slovakia only got 7 percent, and the fascists around 8 percent. 

A variety of more traditional centrist and right-wing parties took the rest of the vote.

Sources: Organized Crime & Corruption Reporting Project, New York Times, Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera

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