AS YOU call into the wood, so the wood (hora) replies. And I’ll only sing very gently into it. This is what Smer leader Robert Fico says about his next four years in office. What a change compared with the Fico we remember from the 2006-2010 period. Back then, other proverbs seemed more fitting: it was an eye for an eye (if not two eyes for one), and he who wasn’t stealing, was stealing from his family. No one knows how long the new façade will last. But let us consider the factors that will help hold it in place, as well as those that might cause a relapse.
First, the ones that provide grounds for optimism:
1. the overwhelming nature of Smer’s victory. With such a huge majority, Fico rightly feels he has no choice but to be nice. Otherwise he will start being compared to the ostracised Viktor Orbán of Hungary, and could even unite the totally divided right. If he doesn’t give his political opponents good reasons to attack, they will likely just continue arguing with each other.
2. the absence of extremists in parliament. There is now no relevant political force to criticise the government for being soft on Hungarians, Roma, or some other perceived threat. And that frees Fico’s hands. His long-term strategy is to appeal to authoritarian, anger-driven voters, but he can now do so in a more civilised fashion, since Ján Slota will not be breathing down his neck.
3. the potential for further victories. Previous rivals of the right – Vladimír Mečiar, Ján Slota, or Fico I – had little chance of winning the moderate centre vote, and could in no way convert any supporter of the right. If Fico guarantees stability, maintains a pro-European course, causes no catastrophe in the public finances and has no huge scandals, he can dominate the centre and keep right-wing voters tranquil enough not to vote. Whether he is aiming for the presidential office, or further parliamentary victories, this is crucial for success.
However, the temptation to return to old ways may be strong. Firstly, if he does have a change of heart, there will be absolutely no one to hold him back. Secondly, it is in Fico’s nature to seek out conflict. And it is what his supporters expect – a permanent state of warfare with someone. The rich, the banks, the monopolies, the minorities, anyone. Especially if the economy doesn’t recover, and some credible critic appears in the ranks of the opposition, conflict will be inevitable. Thirdly, Smer is not a party of do-gooders that went into politics to make the world better. In great part, it’s a corporation created to siphon off public funds. It can hardly deny its nature, and some of the scams will leak. There is nothing better than a little yelling to distract the audience.
Whatever he does in the future, for now Fico is the unquestioned ruler of Slovakia. Given how many times he has lied, how much money has been stolen on his watch, and how much aggression he has spread throughout the years, you have to wonder – does the hora remember all the noise? And will it ever scream back?