The World Today for September 29, 2023


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Since the invasion of Ukraine last year, Russia has become diplomatically isolated from the West – but not everywhere in Europe. Russophobes, in fact, are sounding alarms about the candidacy of Roberto Fico in Slovakia’s general election on Sept. 30.

“We are a peaceful country,” said Fico, a former prime minister and leader of the center-left Direction – Slovak Social Democracy (SMER-SDD, just Smer) political party. “We will not send a single round to Ukraine.”

As Reuters noted, Fico is favored to return to the premier’s office after voters go to the polls. It’s quite a reversal for the politician who stepped down as prime minister in 2018 after a political crisis and mass protests erupted over the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak, who had been investigating alleged ties between the Italian mafia and people close to Fico, and writing about corruption scandals linked to Fico’s party.

Afterward, dozens of senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and business people linked to Smer have been convicted of corruption and other crimes, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, Fico came under investigation on suspicion of founding an organized crime group, but Slovakia’s pro-Russian prosecutor general stepped in and threw out the indictment, the AP added.

Now, if he wins, Fico has pledged to reverse the country’s current staunch support for Ukraine, a neighbor that has received Slovak funding and weapons to resist Russia’s revanchism. Slovakia, for instance, was the first NATO country to send Soviet-era fighter jets to the Ukrainians.

Instead, Fico has echoed Russian talking points about Ukrainian fascists murdering Russians in eastern Ukraine, and called for resuming diplomatic relations with Moscow. He has vowed to veto Ukraine’s proposed membership of NATO.

Those views are more popular than many Europeans would prefer. As the analytical group Carnegie Europe explained, kitchen table issues like utility rates, mortgage costs, inflation, and the quality of public services will motivate voters.

But polls in Slovakia also show that only 54 percent of Slovaks approve of giving financial aid to Ukraine, compared with a 75 percent average in the European Union. While 64 percent of EU citizens would allow Ukraine to enter the bloc, only 45 percent of Slovaks agree.

Many Slovaks feel as if the liberal democracy and free market capitalism that has reigned in the country since the end of the Cold War has failed to deliver on its promises, added the AP.

The great wave of migration of asylum seekers from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that has swept through Europe in the past decade is likely one reason why Slovaks have soured on Western-style globalism, Deutsche Welle reported. Slovaks in communities hosting migrants or serving as thoroughfares for migrant trains complained of “litter, noise, smells and people sleeping on the ground.”

But Russian propaganda is also widespread in the country’s media. Last year, for example, wrote the Guardian, a local news outlet published a video of a Russian defense attaché attempting to bribe a Slovak journalist to disseminate Russian talking points about the war in Ukraine in the Slovakian news. The Russian agent was expelled, but the episode illustrated the state of the country’s press.

As a result, voters might be forgiven if they wonder if an attaché has ever approached Fico.

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