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Robert Fico, populist veteran of Slovak politics

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was in life-threatening condition after being shot multiple times, is a former Communist Party member who has been accused of swaying his country’s foreign policy in favour of Russia.

Mr Fico, whose Smer-SD party won the general election last September, is a four-time prime minister and a political veteran whose time in power has been marred by corruption scandals and controversial reforms.

During his current term, Mr 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.

Mr Fico is a former member of Slovakia’s Communist Party

The EU and NATO member nation of 5.4 million people has provided substantial military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.

However, Mr Fico has stopped sending weapons to Ukraine, pledging not to provide Ukraine with “a single bullet” during the electoral campaign for last year’s election, which ended with his party forming a coalition with far-right partners.

He once hailed Slovakia’s adoption of the euro as a “significant historic decision” but took aim at the EU, NATO and Ukraine during the campaign in a bid to appeal to far-left and far-right voters and labelled his pro-western opponents as “warmongers”.

He also said he would not allow the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin under an international warrant if he ever came to Slovakia.

In a book published last year called “Fico: Obsessed with Power”, Slovak sociologist Michal Vasecka said Mr Fico “definitely appreciates Putin’s authoritarianism”.

Mr Fico meeting with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal last month

“At the same time, his relationship to Russia is historically determined by the socialist motto ‘With the Soviet Union for Eternity’,” he added.

A lawyer by profession, Mr Fico launched his political career in the Communist Party just before the 1989 Velvet Revolution saw the former Czechoslovakia dissolve, ushering in capitalism and democracy.

The no-nonsense Mr Fico burnished his EU credentials as Slovakia’s representative to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg from 1994 to 2000.

During that time, he was overlooked for a ministerial post by the Democratic Left Party (SDL) – the Communist Party’s political heir – in 1998.

He unceremoniously quit the party the following year to set up his own, the Smer-Social Democrats (Smer-SD).

Far-right link

The gamble paid off in 2006 when Smer-SD scored a parliamentary landslide, catapulting Mr Fico into the prime minister’s seat two years after Slovakia joined the European Union.

The leftist leader forged a coalition with the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), which shares his staunch anti-refugee rhetoric and populist leanings.

Mr Fico shrewdly capitalised on the global financial crisis in 2008 to bolster his popularity by refusing to impose austerity measures.

Slovakia’s 2009 eurozone entry crowned Mr Fico’s first four-year stint as prime minister, but elections in 2010 sent him back to the opposition as he failed to form a coalition despite coming out on top.

He later scored a landslide win in a 2012 snap election following the fall of a centre-right coalition amid corruption allegations.

Mr Fico, whose Smer won a majority in parliament, suffered a blow in 2014 when Andrej Kiska, a philanthropist and political novice, beat him to the Slovak presidency.

Red roses

When the refugee crisis swept Europe in 2015, Mr Fico took a tough stance on migrants, refusing to “give rise to a distinct Muslim community in Slovakia” and slamming the EU’s quota programme to redistribute refugees.

Smer went on to win the 2016 election, but that stint as premier ended two years later following the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, who were found shot dead.

The crime sparked a wave of anti-government sentiment across Slovakia as Mr Kuciak uncovered links between the Italian mafia and Mr Fico’s government in his last article published posthumously.

Mr Fico being transferred to another hospital via helicopter

An election in 2020 saw an anti-corruption coalition take power, but Mr Fico retained his seat in parliament.

Born on September 15, 1964, Mr Fico has shrugged off “populist” and “demagogue” labels.

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.

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

Live: Leaders ‘shocked and appalled’ by shooting of Slovak PM

Slovak PM Fico in ‘life-threatening condition’ after shooting

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