Robert Fico, a populist leader, orchestrated a political resurgence last year. The 59-year-old has previously drawn comparisons to former US President Donald Trump. However, his electoral triumph last autumn ushered in another figure within NATO sympathetic to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Criticism has mounted amid growing apprehensions that Mr Fico might steer Slovakia away from its pro-Western trajectory, echoing concerns voiced about Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, also a NATO member. Demonstrators have consistently taken to the streets across Slovakia to protest against his policies.

Mr Fico, alongside his SMER party, clinched nearly 23% of the votes in the October polls. He is notorious for his vitriolic outbursts against journalists and has campaigned against immigration and LGBTQ+ rights. The Prime Minister has previously opposed EU sanctions on Russia and has been vocal about his opposition to Ukraine joining NATO. He advocates for the US and other nations to leverage their influence to broker a compromise peace deal between Russia and Ukraine.

Furthermore, Mr Fico has echoed Putin’s unsubstantiated claim that the Ukrainian government operates a Nazi regime, necessitating protection for ethnic Russians in Ukraine. The politician founded the SMER party in 1999 and has served as Prime Minister for over a decade across three separate tenures.

Born into a working-class family, Mr Fico obtained a law degree in 1986 and joined the ruling Communist Party at the time. After the fall of communism in 1989, he worked as a government lawyer, secured a parliamentary seat under the renamed Communist Party, and represented Slovakia at the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr Fico initiated his first four-year term as Prime Minister in 2006, running on a platform opposing austerity reforms. Despite winning the parliamentary elections in 2012, his bid for the presidency in 2014 proved unsuccessful. In 2016, his party failed to secure a majority, leading to his resignation in 2018 after a multi-party coalition allowed him to continue as leader.

Following the October 2023 election, where his party emerged as the largest, Mr Fico formed a coalition with Voice – Social Democracy (Hlas) and the Slovak National Party, commencing his fourth term as Prime Minister. All three coalition parties lean towards leftist or nationalist ideologies. Despite previous anti-American sentiments, he has criticised what he perceives as Western interference in Ukraine’s conflict, describing it as inciting Slavic nations to engage in fratricidal warfare.

Mr Fico’s appeal to some stems from promises to safeguard the living standards of those left behind in Slovakia’s gradual convergence with Western Europe, coupled with nostalgia for the communist era.

Earlier this year, Mr Fico reiterated his contentious stance that Ukraine should cede territory to broker peace with Russia. He argued that expecting Russia to relinquish Crimea, Donbas, and Luhansk was unrealistic. Moreover, he denounced Ukraine’s NATO membership as a potential trigger for World War Three, asserting that Ukraine is not independent but under US influence and control.

Recently, thousands protested against his controversial revamp of Slovakia’s radio and TV services, condemning it as a government takeover of the media. Mr Fico’s refusal to endorse the EU’s new migration system further underscored his defiance of EU directives, citing concerns about accepting migrants without sufficient knowledge or paying substantial fees per migrant.

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