BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AFP) — A Slovak extreme right nationalist party made spectacular gains in weekend elections thanks to anti-migrant sentiment in the EU member state and Prime Minister Robert Fico’s decision to tap into it on the campaign trail, analysts say.
The head of the LS-Nase Slovensko (Our Slovakia) party, 38-year-old Marian Kotleba, “is a neo-Nazi” who reaped the benefits of Fico’s “nationalist rhetoric regarding migrants” according to analyst Samuel Abraham.
“His rising support does not surprise me. It has always been here. All societies have a 10 to 12 percent share of extremists and Slovakia is no exception,” added the expert, head of the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts.
The surge of the country’s far right fits into a wider European trend that has seen nationalist parties such as France’s National Front and Hungary’s Jobbik gain ground at a time when the EU is battling its worst refugee crisis since World War II.
More than one million refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since the start of 2015, although Slovakia has only welcomed 700 according to the United Nations.
Though Our Slovakia secured 14 seats on Saturday to enter parliament for the first time, the response from other parties suggests Kotleba’s outfit has no chance of being part of a coalition government.
Both Fico’s Smer-Social Democrats (Smer-SD) and the splintered right refuse to consider such a scenario in the eurozone member of 5.4 million people that has posted solid economic growth.
On Monday evening, several thousand young demonstrators held a silent anti-fascist march through Bratislava, toting signs with crossed-out swastikas on their way to a Holocaust memorial.
“We want to show these people that we are not going to tolerate fascism. We are ready to get in their way and get in the way of fascist ideology,” medical student Frantisek Kukel told AFP at the protest organized by the group Bratislava Without Nazis.
The country is gearing up to take the rotating six-month helm of the EU from July — a role that will put the health of its democracy in the international spotlight.
Hostile to both the Roma minority and the established elite, Kotleba has spoken warmly about former Slovak president Jozef Tiso, who agreed to deport tens of thousands of Jews to Nazi Germany during World War II.
In a television interview Sunday he also expressed other ultranationalist views.
“We said if we get a mandate from voters to exit the criminal pact of NATO, then we will do so,” he said, adding: “When it comes to the EU, we said we will initiate a referendum on leaving the European Union.”
He also proposed to “impose order on the parasites in (Roma) settlements,” to protect residents from “gypsy terror” and to fight corruption.
Kotleba founded his first party — the far-right Slovenska Pospolitost (Slovak Brotherhood) — in 2003 but the interior ministry banned it three years later for incitement to racial, national and religious hatred.
The former high school teacher, who sports a pencil mustache and has masters degrees in education and economics, tried again at the 2012 general election with Our Slovakia.
Results were disappointing for the party whose members wear dark uniforms in the style of 1930s and 40s fascists, but a year later Kotleba became governor of his native central region of Banska Bystrica by tapping into anti-Roma sentiment.
This time he centered his election campaign on his opposition to welcoming migrants, notably Muslims — a view shared by a definite segment of the voting public.
Alena Kluknavska, an expert on extremism at Bratislava’s Comenius University, attributed part of Kotleba’s success to the fact that far-right groups have not been alone in showing aversion towards minorities.
“The public perception towards ethnically or culturally defined ‘Others’ has been relatively hostile in the region of Central and Eastern Europe, and nationalism is not confined to the extreme right, but is also part of mainstream politics,” she told AFP.
Our Slovakia was thus able to profit from the anti-migrant rhetoric of Fico, whose party however lost out in the vote by only securing 49 seats instead of its previous 83.
Having lost his parliamentary majority, Fico now has the difficult task of seeking support from other mainstream parties to form a coalition government.
Political analyst Abel Ravasz said Fico’s government had been playing “a very dangerous game”.
“They highlighted the ‘migrant danger’ above all messages communicated. This, combined with the far-right parties’ own ride on the ‘migrant wave’, caused a synergy effect that skyrocketed the far right parties to parliament.”