Fico forgives his would-be assassin and attacks opposition in first statement since shooting

Fico forgives his would-be assassin and attacks opposition in first statement since shooting
Robert Fico predicted that he could be back in office at the turn of June and July if his recovery goes as planned. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera June 6, 2024

Slovak populist Prime Minister Robert Fico forgave his would-be assassin in his first public statement since he was shot on May 15 but insisted that he had not acted alone.

The Smer leader attacked the opposition, media, NGOs and the EU, signalling that the period of attempts to reconcile the deeply divided country after the shooting is now over. 

“It is time to make the first move and that is forgiveness,” Fico opened his video statement posted on his Facebook social media page, adding that “I feel no hatred towards the stranger who shot me” and that “I will not take any legal action against him”.

He described the 71-year-old shooter who was apprehended on the scene of the May 15 shooting in the town of Handlova as an “opposition activist”.

“It is evident that he was only a messenger of evil and political hatred which the politically unsuccessful and frustrated opposition developed in Slovakia to unmanageable proportions,” Fico claimed.

Fico also warned that “anti-government media, foreign-funded non-governmental organisations” will “downplay my assassination attempt”, that “there were no connections between him [shooter] and the opposition” and asked “anti-government media co-owned by financial structures of [US philanthropist George] Soros not to go down this path”.

Fico, whose aggressive nationalist rhetoric, and frequent attacks on sexual minorities, media and the EU have prompted comparisons with the playbook of Hungary's autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said he had suspected an attack on a politician was imminent.

“I had no intelligence reports, but my experience after 32 years in politics warned me,” he stated, warning there will be “more victims”.

Slovakia has been increasingly engulfed in conspiratorial thinking amid the proliferation of disinformation websites spreading hoaxes about the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which spilled over into mainstream politics with the help of far-right politicians such as Minister of Environment Tomas Taraba or Smer party legislator Lubos Blaha.

Fico himself has been accused of spreading such thinking, something he returned to in his Facebook video. He said that the EU and Nato believed the Ukraine war "must continue at any cost in order to weaken the Russian Federation".

"Anyone who does not identify with this single mandatory opinion is immediately labelled as a Russian agent, and politically marginalised internationally," Fico said, according to Reuters.  

But Fico also tried to strike a more conciliatory tone, saying “I am no angel either, I know how to be tough. The governments I have been in charge of were not perfect. Certainly, many things could be done differently.”

He predicted that he could be back in office at the turn of June and July if his recovery goes as planned. 

Fico’s video message caused disappointing reactions from opposition politicians. “We were all rooting for him to recover soon, we all sharply condemned the attacker’s deed, we all hoped to start walking towards common reconciliation. But from the first address it seems that Fico rejected this,” Chairman of the opposition leading Progressive Slovakia Michal Simecka told media, pointing to Fico’s “repetitions of conspiracies about a world campaign of Soros against Slovakia”.

Fico’s statements came shortly before the moratorium on the campaign for the European elections came into effect. Fico’s Smer is projected to edge ahead of Progressive Slovakia (PS),  after PS had long maintained a lead in the  EP elections prior to the May 15 assassination attempt on Fico.

The latest poll by Ipsos agency for daily DennikN projects Smer to collect 24.6%, ahead of PS with 21.9%. Fico’s key coalition ally, the centre-left Hlas, is projected to come third with 11.2%, followed by the far right Republika with 8.7%, and the the other mainstream opposition parties, the  Christian democratic KDH with 6.3%, and neoliberal SaS with 5.7%.

Two non-parliamentary parties are also projected to collect MEPs, the centre-right Democrats with 5.2%. and the ethnic Hungarian Aliancia with 5.1%. The third ruling coalition party, the far-right SNS, would stay below the 5% threshold at 3.2%.