Dangerous Divides

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Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was in a “stable” condition but “not out of the woods yet”, officials said late Thursday, after an assassination attempt that shocked the nation and prompted concerns about divisions in the country, following officials’ remarks that the attack was politically motivated, the Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday, Fico was shot five times at close range after attending a government meeting in the central town of Handlova. He was in critical condition and underwent hours of surgery.

Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kaliňák said the prime minister’s condition had stabilized, but it was “still very serious as the injuries are complicated.”

On Thursday, police charged 71-year-old security guard and poet Juraj Cintula with attempted murder in Fico’s shooting, Politico added. Local media reported that Cintula told police he had planned the shooting, but had no intention of killing Fico.

If found guilty, he could face up to 25 years or life imprisonment.

Although authorities are still probing the gunman’s motives, Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok told reporters that the attacker is “a lone wolf who had radicalized himself … after the presidential election,” Al Jazeera noted.

Eštok was referring to the April elections won by Fico’s ally, Peter Pellegrini.

The attack prompted condemnations in Slovakia and abroad, with Pellegrini, the president-elect, calling it an “unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin – an ally of Fico – described it as a “monstrous crime.”

Fico was reelected as prime minister for the fourth time following the October parliamentary elections – he was forced to resign in 2018 over corruption allegations. Last year, his party, the populist Direction – Slovak Social Democracy (SMER-SSD, or Smer), was able to capitalize on the cost-of-living crisis and public skepticism of supporting the war in Ukraine.

The prime minister has blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for starting the conflict in Ukraine and has called for opening up dialogue with Russia. His administration has also sought to weaken anti-corruption efforts and plans to replace the public broadcaster with a new channel under greater government control.

These policies have brought out thousands of protesters since his reelection.

The assassination attempt underscored fears of the deep political polarization in Slovakia: Fico’s allies quickly blamed opposition parties and journalists for the attack, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Amid the controversy, Pellegrini and outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová called for calm and said they would invite all parliamentary parties for a joint meeting.

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