THE REGIONAL elections are usually the dullest of events – people you don’t know get elected into offices you don’t hear about for the next four years. But this time was a little different.

Smer suffered an unprecedented debacle in Bratislava. The right got hammered in the rest of the country. Some incumbents were unexpectedly forced into a second round. And the main surprise was Marian Kotleba. The anti-gay, anti-Roma, anti-establishment candidate received 20 percent of the vote in Banská Bystrica and made it into the second round, leaving far behind former labour minister and right-wing veteran Ľudovít Kaník (who himself has a weakness for organising press conferences in Roma settlements).

Why was this unexpected? During the Second World War, Banská Bystrica was the centre of the anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising, and has always been known for leaning to the left. Its Roma problem is not as bad as in some other parts of the country. And Kotleba has improved his result massively since the last elections – his support has doubled since 2009 and his 26,000 votes put him on par with Monika Flašíková-Beňová, who ran for Smer in Bratislava (she got 28,000).

There are three important lessons to be learned from this. Firstly, with radical parties such as the Slovak National Party (SNS) out of parliament, it is easy to forget the level of intolerance that exists in Slovakia. Especially when it comes to the Roma.

Secondly, resentment against traditional parties and politicians is becoming more and more vocal. The anti-Gorilla movement was one example, the success of Igor Matovič’s party of “common people” another, and now comes the far right. There are dramatic differences between these political projects. But they all derive their appeal from a high degree of frustration with the current state of politics.

Lastly, the election results in Banská Bystrica illustrate the role leaders play in the shaping of history. Most experts agree that there is nothing special about Bystrica and if there was a clever extremist in every region, they would all do well. Luckily, for now, Slovakia only has one Kotleba.