KEY POINTS

  • People's Party-Our Slovakia is polling about 11%-12% of the electorate
  • Slovakia, is a nation of 5 million and a member of the EU since 2004
  • Kotleba openly admires Jozef Tiso, the leader of Slovakia’s Nazi puppet state

 

 

An extremist right-wing party is set to attract increased support in national elections in the southeastern European nation of Slovakia this Saturday.

The neo-Nazi People's Party-Our Slovakia, also known as LSNS, led by Marian Kotleba, is polling about 11%-12% of the electorate, meaning it could become the second most powerful party in parliament, behind only the left-wing Direction-Social Democracy party, or SMER, which has ruled the country for most of the past 15 years.

LSNS’ campaign rhetoric assails immigrants, homosexuals, Jews, Muslims, liberals, Roma (gypsies) as well as pro-European lawmakers in Brussels and the capital Bratislava whom they deride as “elites.”

If LSNS does as well as polls predict, other parties in parliament may have to reluctantly form a coalition with it in the next government.

Slovakia, a nation of 5 million and a member of the EU since 2004 has long been championed as an example of successful integration with the west. It has delivered annual gross domestic growth of at least 3% and kept the jobless rate relatively low (5.6% as of October 2019).

Automakers Mercedes, Kia, VW and Renault are among Slovakia’s biggest employers.

However, two years ago, SMER’s image took a heavy blow after the party was blamed for the murder of a journalist named Jan Kuciak who was about to expose links between SMER, corrupt businessmen and the underworld. The turmoil led to the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Since June 2019, Zuzana Caputova of the left-wing Progressive Slovakia party has served as president.

However, analysts think the far right has gained the most from the continuing corruption scandals involving SMER and wealthy oligarchs,

"But now it's becoming apparent: above all, it's the extremist far-right that has benefitted," said political scientist Grigorij Meseznikov.

Liberal and centrist politicians have been unable to cooperate, leading to a big opening for the far right.

Kotleba has railed against the political incumbents in Bratislava and offers himself as a fresh new face.

In 2017, Kotleba handed out checks to poor Slovak families worth exactly 1,488 euros ($1,619) – the number 1488 is meaningful to neo-Nazis. “14” refers to the “14 words" slogan coined by the American neo-Nazi David Lane [“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children."] “88” stands for "Heil Hitler," since H is the eighth letter in the English alphabet.

Kotleba and his party also glorifies the Slovak government of World War II which was a puppet state under the control of Adolf Hitler and deported many Jews to concentration camps.

Kotleba openly admires Jozef Tiso, the leader of Slovakia’s Nazi puppet state, who was executed for war crimes in 1947.

Kotleba’s party routinely characterizes the Roma as “parasites,” gay people as “perverts” and Muslims as “terrorists”.

There are about 400,000 Roma currently living in Slovakia.

But Meseznikov said Kotleba appeals to the same segment of the public that SMER once did: those who worry that the country’s prosperity will not last.

"[Kotleba] successfully portrays himself as the only non-corrupt politician," said journalist Peter Bardy, who added that the exposure of more oligarchy-linked corruption in Slovakia inadvertently further emboldens the far right.

Aneta Vilagi, a political scientist at Comenius University in Bratislava, said Kotleba should not be underestimated and that democracy itself is at stake.

“This is a threat in any liberal democracy, especially since this party has gained more and more popularity in the past four years,” she said.

In the last election in 2016, Kotleba’s party won 14 seats in the 150-seat national assembly, or 9% of the total.

“The consequences of these elections will forecast the future direction of the country,” said Vilagi. “We’re talking about a direction towards an authoritarian regime or saving the character of democracy.”

Vilagi also warned that some LSNS voters might not even realize how deeply fascist and anti-democratic the party is.

“[Nazism is] something that’s been long forgotten, and people only connect it to the horrors of war,” she said. “This is the case where a party defines who is acceptable and who isn’t through their rhetoric. In an attempt to keep order and ensure the protection of the ‘right’ values, Slovak culture and traditions, they won’t shy away from using violence.”

But Kotleba also has other matters on his mind. In March, he will face a trial for promoting neo-Nazi ideology.

“What I see as a problem is that since 2016 [when LSNS first gained seats in parliament] we as a society have moved to a wider acceptance of expressions of hate in common life,” Vilagi said. “I was taken aback by the fact that people don’t even feel uncomfortable about using [hate speech] expressions like that anymore. So what? Everybody says so. The key thing is the tone that political elites and media have set for the debate.”

Miroslava Sawiris, a researcher at the Bratislava Global Security Forum, said social media has greatly helped LSNS.

“The unregulated landscape that [social media sites] offer is contributing towards this radicalization and polarization of people in Slovakia,” she said.

LSNS, she added, was able to “build up a very efficient network of related pages on Facebook…and what they offer is basically a constant stream of [criticism] for all the other parties and very strong propaganda machine for this particular party.”

Pavol Hardos, a lecturer at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations at Comenius University, stated: “The danger isn’t necessarily from Kotleba and his party. The danger is that his ideas, or the ideas of the radical right, are already very much normalized in Slovak discourse.”

Vilagi concluded that “although not every voter realizes this, we analysts see that these elections can define the future character of the regime that we have in the country. This vote is either for democracy or for moving away from it.”