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Robert Fico

Explainer: Who is Robert Fico, the Slovakian prime minister who was shot today?

Robert Fico has been criticised by EU officials since he returned to power last year.

ROBERT FICO, THE Prime Minister of Slovakia has been rushed to hospital after he was shot multiple times this afternoon.

Fico was shot in the town of Handlova, some 150 kilometres north east of the capital Bratislava. He was rushed to hospital in a life-threatening condition. The Slovakian government has called the shooting an “assassination attempt”.

Fico is a longstanding Slovakian politician and has served four terms in power, first leading the country from 2006 to 2010 as head of his Direction – Social Democracy (SMER) party.

He is highly popular with a large swathe of the country’s electorate, and a controversial and polarising figure for others. He was most recently elected to power in September last year as head of a three-party coalition on a pro-Russia platform. 

Since his election, the “leftist populist”, as he has been described by Politico, has drawn the ire of EU officials for what is seen as his pro-Russia stance, as well as for planned changes to the national broadcaster and the activities of NGOs in Slovakia. 

Political career

Slovakia – officially the Slovak Republic – is one of the countries along with Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) that made up Czechoslovakia, before it split at the end of 1992. The country was under Communist rule until 1989, when peaceful protests deposed the government.

Slovakia has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and adopted the Euro in 2009.

Fico entered politics in the late-1980s, and was first elected to parliament in 1992 as a member of the Party of the Democratic Left, that formed out of the old Communist Party.

He eventually left this party and formed SMER in 1998. Fico first led Slovakia as head of a coalition government from 2006 to 2010. Following this he was head of the opposition until 2012, when his party won an outright majority.

Despite his personal popularity, Fico lost a bid to become president in 2014, but SMER returned to power in 2016 with Fico leading the country for the third time.

He resigned in 2018, however, following the murder of Slovakian investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fianceé, an event the plunged the country into turmoil and sparked widespread popular protests.

Kuciak had been investigating tax fraud among Slovak businessmen with connections to high-profile politicians.

2023 return to power

Fico returned to power yet again last year, when Smer secured the highest number of seats.

His election was a blow to the EU’s pro-Ukraine diplomacy, with Slovakia freezing military aid to the war-torn country following the vote.

“People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine,” Fico said while on the campaign trail.

He formed another three-party coalition which included the pro-Russia party SNS and since then Fico has garnered worldwide attention after a series of inflammatory comments about Ukraine, calling for Kyiv to cede territory to Moscow to end the war – something Ukraine has repeatedly ruled out.

Fico also stopped sending weapons to Ukraine, pledging not to provide Kyiv with “a single bullet” during the electoral campaign.

As well as adopting a pro-Kremlin stance – saying that the EU should forge closer ties with Russia – Fico has also taken aim at NGOs and journalists since returning to power.

In this way, he mirrors neighbouring Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Despite the two countries having a fraught relationship for years, they have forged closed ties in recent months.

Just this week, according to Politico, EU Human Rights Commissioner Michael O’Flaherty (who is from Ireland) wrote to the Slovakia parliamentary leadership asking MPs to alter direction on new laws seen as anti-NGO.

O’Flaherty wrote that the new law could be “incompatible with EU law, including on the ground of unjustified interferences with the right to freedom of association”.

O’Flaherty also criticised proposed changes the public broadcaster RTVS which will allow the government to nominate people to its governing council and give it more editorial control at the broadcaster.

Trained as a lawyer and with over 30 years in parliament, Fico is a shrewd, experienced politician. Fluent in English, he is known to enjoy fast cars and football and has a soft spot for expensive watches.

He is married to lawyer Svetlana Ficova with whom he has a son, Michal, although Slovak media have reported the couple has separated.

Fico’s favourite saying is “patience always brings red roses”.

His shooting has been condemned by world leaders across the political spectrum.

With reporting from AFP