Assassination Attempt on Slovakia Prime Minister: The Danger of Political Polarization

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Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico is taken to a hospital by rescue workers after being shot four times by a gunman, leaving him in critical condition on May 15, 2024. (Jan Kroslák/AP)

On Wednesday, May 15, in the small former mining town of Handlova, the Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot four times in the abdomen and arm from close range: a likely politically motivated assasination attempt that sent shockwaves across the country. After a government meeting at a cultural center, a small crowd of supporters were waiting outside to greet the prime minister. However, as Fico approached the people around the barricades to shake hands, a man raised his arm and fired five rounds at him.

Staff hurried Fico into a vehicle and rushed him to a local hospital where he underwent a five-hour surgery. He was then helicoptered by rescue workers to a major trauma center in Banska Bystrica where he underwent a second two-hour procedure the following day. Despite initial fearabout his survival, as of May 19, the Deputy Prime Minister Rober Kalinak has reported that Fico’s life is not longer in immediate danger, and his condition is stable, but “remains serious and he requires intensive care,” and he still can not be transferred to a hospital in the capital. In fact, the Minister of Interior Matus Sutaj Estok told press that “if the shot went just a few centimetres higher, it would have hit the prime minister’s liver.” 

The shooting was the first major assasination attempt on any European leader in more than 20 years, not since former Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was stabbed back in 2003. Such a tragedy has deeply shaken Slovakia, which has been suffering from toxic political tensions and a dangerously polarized climate. In fact, Fico himself predicted that current hostilities were so intense that “a leading government politician” would end up getting murdered.

Despite requests from prosecutors to not publicly release information about the suspect or the case, and courts guarded by armed officers, local new media have reported that the suspect is a 71 year old former shopping mall security guard and author of several poetry collections, identified as Juraj C from Levice. Per the ruling of the Slovak Specialised Criminal Court in Pezinok, he is to be held in pre-trial detention after being apprehended and charged with a premeditated attempted murder. 

What could have motivated such an attack? Fico’s supporters blame the sharp political polarization in Slovakia. Kalinak has accused opposition politicans and media outlets for portraying Fico as a criminal, dictator, or pawn of Russian President Putin, and for protesting government policies. 

The horrific event has raised alarms about the consequences on political hostility and divison, inciting urgent calls for unity and peace. But it appears the assasination attempt has only further pitted politicians against each other as ideological divides deepen. 

Slovakia has reached a crossroad in history, and much of it now depends on what Fico, and the rest of the government, will choose: conflict, or unity.

Written by Emilie Fann

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