Czech Republic should consider Nazi electoral gains in Slovakia a warning
The election results in Slovakia this past weekend have sparked a great deal of response beyond the country's borders and have been commented on by Czech politicians and by Czech and international media. The elections overall were won by the Social Democratic party of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, Směr–SD, but compared to the elections four years ago, that party has suffered significant losses in terms of its share of the electorate and has lost its majority in the unicameral legislature.
A total of eight movements and parties are now seated in the Slovak Parliament. The success of the ultra-right party of Marian Kotleba, the "People's Party Our Slovakia" (Lidová strana naše Slovensko - LSNS), has prompted an enormous reaction, as the party's program, among other things, has promised to establish "order with the parasites in the settlements", to protect people from "Gypsy terror", to reject immigrants, and to advocate for Slovakia leaving "the NATO criminal pact".
Slovakia opens up room for extremism
"It is alarming that voters have decided to support someone whose opinions have no place in a democratic society. We must not allow such a thing to be repeated in our own country," said Civic Democratic Party (ODS) chair Petr Fiala in the Czech Republic.
According to Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD), Social Democrats in Slovakia must not now take up the rhetoric or themes of the extremists - "They will lose support and open up room for the extremists," he tweeted. "The lesson of the elections in Slovakia is that populism is not a key to the Government, but is rather a key that opens the door for even more populist, extreme political entities," declared Czech MEP Pavel Telička (ANO).
Czech President Miloš Zeman has also labeled Kotleba's party fascist. "I do not want to meddle with Slovakia's internal affairs, but I was surprised by the ascendancy of a party that I consider fascist there, so I presume Mr Kotleba will file criminal charges against me now... Yes, he is the successor to Hlinka's People's Party (Lidová strana)," the Czech President said today.
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek (ČSSD) called Kotleba's rise to Parliament a debacle. "I definitely believe that the fascists' victory was not anticipated, or rather, it was not anticipated that they would get into Parliament. This is a debacle for everyone, not just for Slovakia. We must all understand, this is a disaster that should never have happened," he said.
According to the Czech governing parties, the cobbling together of a government in Slovakia will be very difficult given the fragmented electoral results. According to Czech politicians from both the governing coalition and the opposition, a stable Slovak Government is important for the Czech Republic because Slovakia will chair the European Union later this year.
"What is clear from the electoral results is an apparently significant shift to the right. On top of that, extremists in the form of Kotleba's People's Party Our Slovakia have made it into Parliament," wrote the Austrian daily Oberösterreichische Nachrichten (OÖN).
That daily reminds its readers that the party calls NATO a criminal group, has promised to do away with "parasites in the Romani settlements", and regales refugees with racist insults. The BBC has also drawn attention to the significant rise of Kotleba's party, saying it believes the success of the ultra-nationalist LSNS comes as a shock.
The BBC reporting emphasizes that Kotleba is an actual neo-Nazi, one who recently wore a uniform modeled on that of the Hlinka Guard, the militia from the era of the Nazi Slovak State. Kotleba's party has apparently attracted young voters who were casting ballots for the first time ever out of concern over the migration crisis, according to the BBC.
"This is a moment of great shame for Slovakia," said British-Canadian journalist Tom Nicholson, who has lived in Slovakia for 23 years and who warned that Kotleba's party is not like France's Front National, which he believes has been erroneously labeled neo-Nazi when it is actually an ultra-right party. "These are Nazis," he told the BBC.
The electoral success of the right-wing radical Kotleba, who was directly elected Governor of the Banská Bystrica Region in 2013, is being noted by the media in both Austria and Germany as well. According to the Austrian daily Kleine Zeitung, Kotleba has now delivered an electoral shock.
For his part, Kotleba says he believes the Slovak Government is continuing to privilege foreign interests over those of its own inhabitants. "I believe this is the beginning of a new era for Slovakia and I hope the result of all of this will be that we succeed in saving Slovakia," he said in response to the results.
A warning for the Czech Republic
"The results of this election do not mean that between last night and this morning Slovakia has become racist and extremist. Rather, the elections have demonstrated that for a large segment of the country, xenophobic speech, intolerance, and aggression against everything that is different are not insurmountable taboos," the Slovak daily Denník N wrote on its website.
"In a Parliament where there are open neo-Nazis from the People's Party Our Slovakia, or pure populists from Boris Kollár's We are Family formation, suddenly the Slovak National Party of Andrej Danko is the 'standard party'. The optics are that the Slovak National Party has backed away from hard nationalism by comparison," Czech commentator Luboš Palata said in his commentary for Czech news server iDNES.cz.
"I don't like the term 'shock', but the Slovak elections have given us a shock. Please note that this is also a serious warning: This could happen to us too. Slovak nationalists and fascists have scored points unbelievably," warns Martin Fendrych, a commentator for Czech news server Aktuálně.cz.
Who is Kotleba?
Marian Kotleba was born on 7 April 1977 in Banská Bystrica. He graduated in General Education Teacher Training from Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica and completed a degree in economics at the same school in 2013.
From 2001-2012 Kotleba was employed as a teacher at the Athletic High School in Banská Bystrica. In 2003 he became the leader of the ultra-nationalist movement Slovak Solidarity-National Party (Slovenská pospolitost-Národní strana), which the Slovak Supreme Court dissolved in 2006.
A group of right-wing radicals led by Kotleba then succeeded in taking over the "Party of the Friends of Wine" (Strana přátel vína). They subsequently renamed it the People's Party Our Slovakia and ran candidates in the Slovak Parliamentary elections of 2010, but won far less than the 5 % of the vote needed to get into Parliament and scored similar results in the 2012 elections.
Kotleba was prosecuted for having shouted the WWII-era greeting of the authoritarian Slovak State, "Na stráž!" ("On Guard!") at a public assembly held on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Slovak State (the First Slovak Republic). The Slovak Prosecutor halted his prosecution on those charges in 2009, justifying that decision by saying it could not be proven that Kotleba's intent had been to show sympathy for extremism.
In November 2013, Kotleba unexpectedly won the decisive second round in direct elections for the position of Governor of the Banská Bystrica Region. When he assumed the office of administrator (the Slovak equivalent of the Czech position of Regional Governor) at the end of 2013, he declared that he would strive to reduce the region's dependency on the EU.
As Governor, Kotleba became the center of attention after refusing to sign off on disbursing already-approved subsidies for a cultural project about extremism and for another festival. He is against Slovakia's membership in NATO.
Last year Kotleba gave a speech to a demonstration against immigrants;he has previously organized marches against Roma and makes no secret of his sympathies for the WWII-era Slovak State, which was strongly influenced by Nazi Germany. In its program, his LSNS has promised, among other things, to establish "order with the parasites in the settlements", to protect people from "Gypsy terror", to reject immigrants, to advocate for Slovakia leaving "the criminal NATO pact" and for the holding of a referendum on the country leaving the EU.
The strongest parties in Slovakia began distancing themselves from the LSNS after partial electoral results were publicized, including the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), the former chair of which, Ján Slota, became infamous for his snappy attacks against Hungarians or Romani people. The new chair of the SNS, Andrej Danko, has chosen to use more moderate words than Slota did.
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