In our second instalment for the breakfast discussions, we met to deliberate the ongoing developments stemming out of Bratislava.

The general conversation revolved around whether or not the country, the ruling party (Smer) or Prime Minister Fico will survive the controversies surrounding the murder of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend, Martina Kusnirova.

We briefly commented on whether the political situation in CE is inherently prone to corruption. This was in relation to a theory that to be politically successful in the V4 you need to have parties which can capture many segments of the population. Examples for this were Smer, Fidesz in Hungary, PiS and even PO in Poland.

Once these parties are in power, they start dealing out perks to those supportive of their cause, which eventually leads to an oligarchisation of the democratic intuitions.

It was noted that Poland has, so far, been able to avoid rampant corruption. Yet, out of the 28 EU countries, Slovakia as well as Hungary have slipped in the 2017 Corruption Index by Transparency International to 23rd and 27th positions, respectively.

As an aside, someone commented that corruption tends to develop in societies when traditional or legitimate institutions are too costly, leading to the open-ended question of which was more preferable for the Slovak people, corruption or inefficiency.

If the latter, then the current situation could spell the end of Fico and Smer. If the former, it is possible that there will be little political change in the republic.

Being European

We then shifted more broadly and wondered what impact these recent scandals and the government’s questionable response (offering a million-euro bounty in the shadow of a masked armed policeman) might have on Slovak society and identity.

Until quite recently, Slovaks were viewed as a remarkable success story of EU integration, being the only V4 country, thus far, to ascend to the eurozone. Moreover, the euro enjoys rare popularity in the small CE country.

It was stated bluntly that a “strong” national identity might not really exist in the state. Rather, they may view themselves as more European rather than purely Slovakian.

To support this, it was mentioned that the recent movement linked to Slovak nationalism – which positions the nation as descendants of both a pan-Slavic past as well as the Great Moravian Empire – headed by the Kotleba party had many of their USPs easily usurped by Fico and Smer in the most recent election.

A similar situation played out in neighbouring Hungary when Fidesz shifted politically to attract the base of the far-right, nationalist party Jobbik.

Playing the Soros card 

Some wondered how the Slovak public will view Fico’s recent accusation that a meeting between George Soros, a wealthy Hungarian-American activist, and Slovakian President Kiska was a pretext for destabilising the country. It should be mentioned that Kiska said the September ’17 meeting was regarding the quality of life for the Roma living in Slovakia, one of the poorest populations in Europe.

Nevertheless, this tactic works well in Hungary which is why Orbán is so keen to keep playing it. There was no clear consensus as two possible paradigms were stated, the above-mentioned Hungarian and the rather unsuccessful Polish model.

When Jarosław Kaczyński and PiS attempted to follow the anti-Semitic bandwagon peddled by the captains of illiberal democracy by saying that Soros was trying to destroy traditional societies, the Polish public largely ignored the comment and the strategy was abandoned.

Options laid bare

Who else could lead the Slovak people? Progressive Slovakia (Progresívne Slovensko) is a left-wing “catch-all” party (movement), but it is still in its infancy and would probably struggle with its pro-EU and socially-liberal message.

That leaves the aforementioned nationalists who may fair better in an environment potentially hostile to the EU as a backlash against Smer, but this depends on what new ideas they could bring to the table.

Wrapping up, the future of Slovakia seems largely dependent on who the public will place the responsibility for the deaths of Kuciak and Kusnirova. The outrage is obvious and justified, but with few alternatives to vote for, this CE country might be left deciding between the least of many evils.

Galan Dall is a journalist and the editor of Visegrad Insight.

Galan Dall

Eastern European Futures

In 2009, the European Union and six of its Eastern neighbours launched the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with the stated aim of building a common area of shared democracy, prosperity, stability and increased cooperation. A decade on, however, progress has been mixed.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and supported by the International Visegrad Fund.

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