Slovakia’s plot to assassinate Robert Fico puts Europe at risk

A gunman shot Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is famous for defying his fellow European Union leaders, multiple times at close range on Wednesday, in the most serious attack yet. into a European leader for decades.

Mr. Fico was shot after emerging from the House of Culture in Handlova, a town in central Slovakia, while greeting a small crowd in Banikov Square. He was taken to a nearby hospital, then taken to another hospital for emergency surgery.

Hours later, deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba told the BBC that Mr Fico’s situation was no longer life-threatening and that he hoped the prime minister would survive.

The gunman, identified by Slovak news agencies as a 71-year-old poet, was immediately wrestled to the ground by security guards.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok said at a news conference that Mr. Fico was shot five times and that initial evidence “clearly points to political motives.” When asked to name the attacker, he said: “Not today.”

The assassination has raised fears that increasingly polarized and vicious political debates in Europe have led to violence.

Mr. Fico began his three-decade political career as a leftist but over the years moved to the right. He served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018, before returning to power in last year’s election. After being ousted in street protests in 2018, he was re-elected on a platform of social conservatism, nationalism and promises of generous welfare programs.

His opposition to military aid to Ukraine, friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and other positions have placed him outside the European mainstream. Like his ally Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, Mr. Fico is a frequent critic of the European Union.

Like Mr. Orban and the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders, Mr. Fico is happy to present himself as a tenacious fighter for the common people, an outspoken enemy of liberal elites and a bulwark against immigration from outside Europe, especially Muslims.

His critics have accused Mr. Fico of undermining media independence, objected to his efforts to limit foreign funding of civic organizations and called him a threat for democracy. They accuse Mr. Fico of trying to return Slovakia to the days of Soviet bloc repression.

Mr. Fico’s political career appeared to be over after being ousted in 2018, but he found new support last year by promoting anti-LGBTQ views, attacking the European Union as a threat to national sovereignty and opposition to continued arms supplies to Ukraine.

During his term as prime minister, Slovakia became the first country to stop sending weapons to Ukraine, although non-military aid continued.

His return to power last year reflected a broader trend across Europe: a decline in support for the center-left and center-right parties that calmly swapped positions after the election and agreed on majority terms. everything.

The shooting captured on videos showed Mr. Fico, 59, approaching a small group behind a waist-high metal fence, when an older man walked up and fired a handgun pointing a few feet away.

On a video from Slovakian Radio and Television, a public broadcaster, and verified by The New York Times, five clear gunshots can be heard.

With the first explosion, Mr. Fico doubled over and fell back onto a bench as more noises were heard. Security guards then pushed him into a black Audi a few meters away, half-carrying him out the back door of the car.

a post on the prime minister’s official and verified Facebook page said that Mr. Fico was in a “life-threatening condition.” “The next few hours will decide,” the post said. Government officials did not say which part of his body was hit.

There was no immediate comment from police on the attack, the most serious attack on the life of a European head of government since Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic of Serbia. was assassinated in 2003.

The shooting drew a wave of condemnation from world leaders, including President Biden, who called it a “horrible act of violence” and Mr. Putin, who praised Mr. Fico as a “human being.” brave and strong-minded.”

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, whose stance was largely ceremonial, said in a statement: “The shooting of the prime minister is first and foremost an attack on people – but it is also an attack on democracy”.

Some of Mr. Fico’s allies in Congress say his progressive opponents created the atmosphere for the shooting.

Michal Simecka, chairman of the opposition Progressive Slovakia party, said he shared the “horror” of the attack but warned against spreading “false information” about the attacker. In a post on social media platform X, he emphasized that the attacker was not a member of his movement or affiliated with his party in any way.

Mr. Fico resigned as prime minister in 2018, after weeks of mass protests over the murder of a journalist who was exposing government corruption and his fiancée. Protesters said the government was not interested in solving crime. Several people were later convicted in connection with the murders, but a businessman accused of orchestrating them was acquitted.

Report contributed by Gaya Gupta, Pavol Strba, Daniel Victor, Lauren Leatherby, Matthew Mpoke Bigg And Matina Stevis-Gridneff.


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