Slovakia’s Leader Survives Surgery After Shooting, Deputy Says

Slovakia’s Leader Survives Surgery After Shooting, Deputy Says

Robert Fico, 59, has played a pivotal role in Slovakian politics in the years since it gained independence in 1993 and has served as prime minister longer than any other leader.

Slovakia — a landlocked country of around 5 million people — gained independence after the so-called Velvet Revolution, a series of popular and nonviolent protests in 1989 against the Communist Party in what was at that time still Czechoslovakia. That year, the Berlin Wall fell, Communist power in much of Eastern Europe collapsed and the Cold War in effect ended.

Mr. Fico, who had been a Communist Party member while it was in power, founded the Smer party in the late 1990s. He began the first of his three terms as prime minister in 2006, serving for four years before going into opposition after his coalition lost an election. Mr. Fico returned to power in 2012 but resigned as prime minister in July 2018 following mass demonstrations over the murder of a journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, who had been uncovering government corruption. The protests, which rocked the country, were the largest seen since the Velvet Revolution; demonstrators demanded the resignation of the government and new elections.

Slovakia ranks high in independent assessments of press freedom, but the protesters had also sought deeper changes in the country Mr. Fico had overseen.

The Smer party started out on the political left but has increasingly embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues. Much of the international discussion of Mr. Fico’s leadership in recent years has focused on his ties to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, Slovakia’s southern neighbor. Like Mr. Orban, Mr. Fico has been a staunch critic of the European Union.

After a parliamentary election last fall, Mr. Fico began his third term as prime minister, then had heart surgery the next month. He emerged to form a coalition government after securing around 23 percent of the vote, having campaigned against sanctions that were imposed on Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Not one round of the country’s ammunition should be sent to Ukraine, he had told voters.

That stance, in a country where pro-Russian sentiment had historically been significant, worried E.U. leaders in Brussels, who said they feared that Slovakia could form a pro-Russian alliance with Mr. Orban and, potentially, Italy’s leader, Giorgia Meloni, that would impede support for Ukraine in the European Union. At the time, it was also seen as a sign of the apparent erosion of the pro-Ukrainian bloc that Europe had formed after the invasion.

Slovakia’s military contributions to Ukraine were negligible compared with countries such as the United States and Britain. But last year it became one of several European Union countries on Ukraine’s borders to block imports of its grain, fearing that it could undermine Slovakia’s farmers.

In April, an ally of Mr. Fico, Peter Pellegrini, won a vote to become Slovakia’s president. The position is largely ceremonial, but analysts said the victory strengthened the grip of political forces friendly to Russia in Central Europe, given that Mr. Pellegrini opposed providing military and financial aid to Ukraine.

Mr. Fico was born on Sept. 15, 1964, into a working-class family in the city of Topolcany in the Nitra Region of what is now Slovakia. He graduated in 1986 from Comenius University Bratislava, where he received a law degree, according to the Slovak government’s website. He earned a doctorate at the Institute of State and Law at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and served in the military from 1986 to 1987.

Mr. Fico studied in the United States, Britain, Finland, Belgium and France, specializing in human rights and criminal law, according to the government website. He married Svetlana Ficova, a lawyer and professor, and they have a son. News reports in Slovakia say the couple is separated.

A correction was made on 

May 16, 2024

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of Italy’s leader. She is Giorgia Meloni, not Georgia.

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