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Slovakia Stumbles

Behind Its Anti-Democratic Rhetoric

Slovak and European Union flags flutter next to Bratislava Castle, October 11, 2011. Petr Josek / Reuters

In 2014, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gave a famous speech inthe Romanian town of Băile Tuşnad, in which he revealed his fascination with “illiberal democracy,” citing Russia and Turkey as role models. The idea is by no means new—Fareed Zakaria popularized the phrase nearly two decades ago in an article in Foreign Affairs—but it remains relevant. Today, the rise of illiberal democracy serves as an apt description of recent political trends, not only in Hungary but also in other post-communist countries in central Europe. One may agree that in Poland, the new ruling party, the right-wing Law and Justice, has been openly following the Hungarian path by attempting to take over the country’s constitutional tribunal, subordinate public media, and spread nationalist rhetoric. But in Slovakia, which had largely shaken its illiberal past, the situation today is more complicated.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose leftist-populist party Smer–Social Democracy has won all of the parliamentary elections since 2006, is often compared to Orbán, especially since Fico has become an outspoken critic of EU migration policy and has made anti-Muslim rhetoric central to his campaign for the March parliamentary elections. Fico has vowed on multiple occasions to “never bring even a single Muslim to Slovakia,” and after the terrorist attacks in Paris, he announced that he would monitor “each and every Muslim on the territory of Slovakia.” Until recently, Fico, like Orbán, headed a one-party cabinet, had a majority in the parliament, and faced a divided and lackluster opposition, which would have allowed him to at least attempt to adopt a Hungarian model.

And yet he has not done so. True, Fico lacked enough of a majority in parliament to rewrite the constitution and had to respect the politically independent president, but he did not wage war against the country’s checks and balances, nor did he try to turn the media into a bullhorn for the governing party. In fact, during Fico’s first

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