Slovak premier Robert Fico in 'life-threatening' condition after assassination attempt

Slovak premier Robert Fico in 'life-threatening' condition after assassination attempt
Bodyguards rushing Prime Minister Robert Fico away after the shooting. / bne IntelliNews
By Albin Sybera May 15, 2024

Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and seriously wounded at a walkabout after a cabinet session on May 15 and he has been airlifted to a hospital in Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia.

Fico’s condition has been described by local media as “life-threatening". He has a bullet in his abdomen, though he was reportedly conscious when paramedics reached him.  

“An assassination was carried out on R. Fico today. He was shot multiple times and is in life-threatening condition […] nearest hours will decide,” Fico’s Facebook account posted shortly after the reports of the shooting in Handlova.

video of the shooting on social media shows the moment of the attack and five shots can clearly be heard being fired by the assailant.

Fico was shot with a pistol by a 71-year-old man when he walked over to a small crowd of people who greeted ministers after the cabinet session ended, Slovak public broadcaster RTVS reported.

Fico was immediately rushed to the hospital by his bodyguards while the suspected shooter, whom RTVS reporters described as “disoriented,” was apprehended. He has already been questioned by police investigators, though there is as yet no reported motive.

 “I heard three or four shots. I saw how Fico was being picked up from the ground. The shooter was then pacified,” journalist Daniel Vrazda was quoted as saying by online news outlet     

Slovak media have identified the shooter as Juraj Cintula, a poet who has been critical of the government on social media.

Politicians from across the political spectrum were quick to blame Slovakia's deepening political polarisation for the attack. The country has been wracked by street protests since Fico won the September general election and formed a coalition that has quickly moved to assert control and target media and NGO critics. 

"The assassination of the prime minister is a threat to everything that has adorned Slovak democracy," said incoming president Peter Pellegrini, formerly a close colleague of Fico and currently a coalition ally. "I am appalled at where hatred for a different political opinion can lead. We don't have to agree with everything, but there are many ways to express our disagreement democratically and legally," he wrote on social media, Dennik N reported. Pellegrini is rushing to return to Slovakia.

Slovakia’s outgoing liberal President Zuzana Caputova, a fervent critic of Fico’s aggressive rhetoric and populist style, condemned the “brutal attack”.

"The hateful rhetoric we witness leads to hateful actions. Please, let's stop it," said Caputova. "A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but also on democracy," she said.

Politicians from across Slovakia’s polarised political spectrum expressed their horror and sympathy, and parliament suspended its session upon receiving the news of the shooting.

That did not stop Fico’s party colleague, MP Lubos Blaha, from blaming the parliamentary opposition, alleging that “this is your work”.

Fico's ally, Hungarian premier Viktor Orban, was quick to express sympathy. "I am deeply shocked by the attack on my friend Robert Fico,” declared Orbán. "We pray for his health and speedy recovery! God bless him and his country!".

Local political scientists underscored the extremely polarised politics in the country when commenting on the attack on Fico, and also recalled the shooting of two men and wounding of one woman in front of an LGBTQ-friendly bar Teplaren in Bratislava in autumn 2022. The Teplaren shooter was supposed to be hunting for targets, including from the Jewish community and the then government of premier Eduard Heger.

“Tomorrow similar shots can be rung against opposition politicians. If that happens again we cannot be surprised,” political scientist Miroslav Radek was quoted as saying.

Fico and his Smer party formed a ruling coalition with centre-left Hlas and far-right SNS last autumn after an aggressive campaign targeting Slovak military support of Ukraine. Fico has since reoriented Slovak foreign policy to a more Kremlin-pleasing stance, calling for peace negotiations.

Fico’s cabinet has also been criticised by the EU, opposition and liberal media for dismantling of the Special Prosecutor Office in an apparent attempt to shield the Smer party officials from high-profile corruption investigations.

This week the ruling coalition, relying on its narrow majority of 79 in the parliament of 150, is set to push ahead with legislation aimed at dismissing the RTVS management and tightening the government control over the public broadcaster. It is also preparing a law to expose the foreign funding of NGOs.

There are already some fears that the ruling coalition could use the shooting to clamp down even tighter on opposition forces.

"A political war is starting for the SNS at this stage," declared leader Andrej Danko, according to daily Dennik N. Danko added that changes will follow in relation to the media and the politicians of the former government, and that they will not "sneeze" at them.