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Slovakia: Dancing With the Devil

Grim forebodings over the arrival of ultra-rightists in the Slovak parliament.

by Martin Ehl 9 March 2016

The only funny moment following the Slovak elections last Saturday came during a television debate when a group of experts had to decide whether to describe newly-elected members of the extreme-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) as extremists or neo-Nazis. But any amusement over such a dilemma had a bitter undertone.

 

Marian Kotleba – the head of regional government in the Banska Bistrica region in central Slovakia and now a freshly elected parliamentarian – has openly aligned himself with World War II fascists. Hardly surprising then that there are doubts about the nature of the movement he leads and which now holds 14 seats in the legislature.

 

Slovaks have many troubles after the elections and the rise of the far right is only one of them. In Europe similar parties have made their presence felt in Hungary, France, and Germany.

 

Even Slovak Nationalist Party head Andrej Danko (now looking quite moderate by comparison) has called his new colleagues in parliament “the party from last century” while refusing to negotiate with them.

 

But as we have seen not only in Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, parties connected with the dark past have proved remarkably adept at using social media to put a veneer of respectability over their operations.

 

While the so-called traditional parties struggle with an apathetic electorate and ageing party structures, newcomers do not bother with door-to-door canvassing or setting up party offices in every biggish town.

 

They work and gather support online, secure in the knowledge that not all Facebook users are young, well-educated and open minded individuals with a passion for free choice, respect for others, and for the rights of minorities.

 

There is uncertainty on the horizon as Europe struggles to survive as one entity in the face of multiple crises. A more belligerent Russia and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East have created quite a shaky environment. Some voters are looking for any port in a storm.

 

Politicians of today in Eastern and Central Europe are not ashamed to accept a little financial help from some strange sources. The ties of Hungary’s far right nationalist Jobbik party to President Vladimir Putin of Russia come to mind.

 

With eight parties in the new Slovak parliament it will be super-hard to create a properly functioning government. Many leaders started to speak about values immediately after election night – even Danko from (the now more moderate) Nationalist Party.

 

Nobody has precisely defined what the new values are, but one thing is clear: The extremist parties have forced some politicians to rethink what they really want and what the new boundaries – both metaphorically and literally – should be.

 

The rise of extremism is partially blamed on Prime Minister Robert Fico’s hard-core campaign against migrants – even though few if any have gone to Slovakia.

 

Similar rhetoric, maybe even harsher, is used by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to defend himself against growing support for Jobbik, now the most powerful opposition party in the country.

 

The extremism which is establishing itself as a part of the political scene in Central Europe is the result of recent crises as well as older failures – communism remains a potent force. The Czech Republic has an unreformed communist party in parliament which for 25 years has blocked the creation of more stable governmental majorities.

 

It is widely expected that Slovakia will now go through a period of deep political instability – in no small measure exacerbated by the neo-Nazis in parliament  unless they are heavily opposed and isolated.

 

But I am afraid most of the Slovak political establishment is in a state of shock following the elections, and is still unaware of the nature of the new devil they are dancing with.

 

In this sense the Slovak situation reflects what is happening elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe.

Martin Ehl is the foreign editor of the Czech daily Hospodarske noviny. He tweets at @MartinCZV4EU.

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