Donald Trump might be bringing the word “fascist” back into American political discourse, but in Europe it never really went away. Slovakia has just had a vivid reminder of that, with the entry into parliament for the first time of the People’s Party, which explicitly models itself on the clerical fascist movement that ruled the Slovak puppet state during the Second World War.
Understandably enough, that’s been the big headline to come out of Saturday’s election. It’s true that the People’s Party (or Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia, to give it its full name) only won 8.0% of the vote and 14 of the 150 seats (see official results here). But it was part of a larger and disturbing pattern.
Another 8.6% and 15 seats went to the slightly less far-right Slovak National Party (SNS). And within the centre-right, the more moderate forces lost ground to more conservative and Eurosceptic parties: Freedom and Solidarity more than doubled its vote to become the second largest party, with 21 seats, while Ordinary People was close behind with 19 (up three).
On the other hand, the Christian Democratic Movement, previously the main centre-right party, lost 3.9% to drop below the threshold for representation. Most-Hid, a more centrist party, stayed in parliament but lost two seats, and Siet (or “Network”), a new centrist group, performed below expectations, placing eighth with 5.6% and ten seats.
Smer-Social Democracy, the party of prime minister Robert Fico, remains the largest party, and with more than twice the vote of its nearest rival its support will probably be indispensable to any new government. Nonetheless, with an adverse swing of 16.1% and the loss of 34 of its 83 seats, this has been a major defeat for it.
Given the gains for the far right, it’s impossible to describe the result as a defeat for Fico’s virulently anti-immigrant policies. But it certainly discredits the idea – to which I had given currency myself – that his strategy had drawn the sting of the more extremist parties. On the contrary, he seems to have enabled them: just as a decade of unhinged Republican rhetoric opened the door for Trump, Fico has given credibility to those who are even less restrained.
If fear of immigrants is your big issue, why settle for fascism-lite when you can have the real thing?
It all reinforces the point that there is no single best strategy for dealing with the far right: what works at one time and place fails miserably at another. John Howard tried a Fico-like strategy to overcome One Nation by embracing its policies, and it worked for him. But when Nicolas Sarkozy tried it in France, it depressed the National Front’s vote, but he still lost the election anyway.
Fico has had success in the past by taking the SNS into coalition, and it’s not impossible he could do so again. But there’s no way he’ll touch Kotleba’s group, so that would still leave him short of a majority. The wild card is We Are Family, a new party formed by controversial businessman Boris Kollár, which garnered 6.6% of the vote and eleven seats.
If Fico were to reach agreement with both Kollár and the SNS, that would bring him to 75 seats, just one short of a majority – against 61 for the combined centre and centre-right and the 14 neo-Nazis. Alternatively, if the four centre and centre-right parties could agree among themselves and bring the SNS on board (which Freedom and Solidarity has flagged as an option), they would have a narrow majority – or a substantial one if they got We Are Family as well.
There may well be a long period of negotiations to come.