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Anger, anxiety, acrimony: Slovaks weigh what led to Fico shooting
Anger, anxiety, acrimony: Slovaks weigh what led to Fico shooting
Anger, anxiety, acrimony: Slovaks weigh what led to Fico shooting
by DZRH News19 May 2024
Levice, Slovakia, May 17, 2024. Markiza TV/Handout via REUTERS

By Boldizsar Gyori, Kuba Stezycki and Jan Lopatka

HANDLOVA, Slovakia/BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak opposition party leader Michal Simecka, who described an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico this week as an attack on democracy, said on Friday that he, his wife and child had received death threats.

His experience is not uncommon, a measure of the extreme political and personal animosities in Slovakia and across Europe that formed the backdrop to the shooting of Fico, who was still in intensive care, two days after being shot at close range.

Slovaks like Lubos Oswald, a 41-year-old councillor in Handlova, Slovakia, where the shooting took place, felt a tragedy may have been in the making following years of deepening splits within the population and toxic political debate.


"It can't go on like this anymore: two neighbours hating each other for not having the same political opinions," he told Reuters outside the shopping mall in the town where the assailant, a former security guard, fired five shots at Fico as he greeted supporters after an off-site cabinet meeting.

"This is what I feel in the local council. People try to stir up emotions and hatred," Oswald said.

In the hours following the shooting, politicians across the spectrum have sought to ease anxiety, with Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak calling for the country "to embark on a path of tolerance".

But in echoes of previous debates, Kalinak, a 53-year-old lawyer seen in Slovakia as Fico's right-hand man, accused opposition parties and the media of fanning acrimony by encouraging protests against government policy.


"Frustration from endless losses... has led us to where we are today," Kalinak said on Thursday, adding that he believed the suspect became radicalised because voters gave power to a Fico ally, Peter Pellegrini, in April's presidential election.

Tens of thousands of people have marched throughout the country of 5.4 million since Fico returned to government last October, calling his policies a power grab.

"He's putting his stamp on the whole political scene. In the past, he would done it more carefully, now he has a perfect blueprint given by (Hungarian leader) Victor Orban," said Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts President Samuel Abraham.



Fico embarked on a whirlwind of changes which have raised concern over the rule of law, including scrapping a prosecution branch dealing with high crime as well as plans to ease punishments for graft, revamp public media and limit the influence of non-governmental organisations. He has also ended government military support for Ukraine.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said the suspect listed government policies on Ukraine, dismantling the special prosecutor's office that deals with high-level corruption, and its plans to reform the public broadcaster as reasons for the attack.

Fico had long accused civil society organisations and independent journalists of doing the opposition's bidding.

In April, he warned that language by opposition supporters was dangerous.


"They are vulgar and swear at government politicians on the street ... I am only waiting until this frustration ... morphs into the murder of a leading government politician."

Authorities have not named the suspect, but Reuters has matched photographs of him with a man pictured in a protest against Fico in April, holding a banner reading "PEACE + PROSPERITY (West)/WAR + POVERTY (East)" and chanting "shame" and other slogans, some of them vulgar.

For many Slovaks, anxiety had increased since parliamentary election campaign last year, during which President Zuzana Caputova accused Fico, who had called her a U.S. puppet, of inciting hatred against her, saying she had received death threats.

Lenka, a 31-year-old social worker from Bratislava, said "society has two poles ... There are people who love (Fico) and there are others who hate him."


Standing in the same underground passage in central Bratislava to take refuge from heavy rain above, Veronika, a 28-year-old architect, said the upcoming European elections in June added to widespread unease.

"Everyone is tense ... It's more and more aggressive, but I don't think it's only in Slovakia, but worldwide."

(Writing by Jan Lopatka, additonal reporting by Barbara Erling in Warsaw, editing by Justyna Pawlak and Philippa Fletcher)

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