FAR-RIGHT extremist Marian Kotleba has achieved his biggest political success in the November 9 regional elections. Not only did he advance into the second round of the regional governor election with over 21 percent of the votes, but he also received more than 8,600 votes as a candidate for the regional council. In absolute numbers, this makes him the councillor with the biggest voter support in the whole country.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Elena Gallová Kriglerová from the Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK) about why people give their vote to extremist groups.
TSS: Why did Kotleba get enough voters’ support to advance into the second round against the incumbent regional president Vladimír Maňka in Banská Bystrica?
Elena Gallová Kriglerová (EGK): It’s a combination of factors. The attitudes of the public towards the Roma, or towards minorities more generally, have worsened. We have conducted research on the level of public support for rightist extremism in Slovakia, and have found that when the economic crisis and subsequent social tensions deepen, a considerably large part of society is prone to foster strong tendencies towards these rightist extremist ideas. In the Banská Bystrica region many people are unemployed and experience various situations that give rise to tensions in the society, which might favour such extremist ideas.
Another problem is that Kotleba defeated [centre-right candidate] Ľudovít Kaník who was, in my opinion, even more racist, radical, and hardline in the campaign, and someone who was working from a very elitist position. From there, he couldn’t address the more educated voters who usually vote for the rightist parties, because for them he is very radical and openly racist. Yet, at the same time he couldn’t address people who are socially underprivileged, because his measures are very well-known to be radical towards any social groups.
The low turnout certainly contributed to [Kotleba’s victory], but I don’t think it was decisive. I believe that support for these rightist extremists is on the rise, as Kotleba is becoming, at least in his statements in the media, a rather standard politician. He no longer talks like a Nazi or a skinhead in big boots, but uses rhetoric typical for standard political parties. As a result, he has started gaining voters. He apparently has it very well thought through.
TSS: So people actually don’t feel like they are supporting extremists by voting for him?
EGK: Exactly. There is a section of voters who think that he talks reasonably. They are precisely the people who would tell you “I’m not a racist, but…”, or “[Kotleba] is going to solve things here in a sensible way”. I’m not saying he is going to pursue his “solutions”, not even nearly perhaps. But it’s the the face that he is trying to present. I think he works with several target groups. On TV he uses standard language, but in front of other selected audiences he talks openly about “gypsy parasites”. I think he’s got sophisticated tactics of how to address his different target groups, and this could be a danger for the future.
TSS: PM Fico said Kotleba’s victory is a problem for the right.
EGK: It’s a problem for the whole country. On one hand, Fico said that rightist extremism has no chance, and I think it's interesting that the prime minister must distance himself from rightist extremism, at least verbally. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a problem for the rightist parties. It’s definitely not that the rightist voter has nobody to vote for, and so must go for Kotleba. I think that the voter base of Kotleba’s party consists mainly of former Slovak National Party (SNS) voters, maybe Vladimir Mečiar’s voters and even Fico’s voters.
TSS: What do you expect to happen in the second round?
EGK: I think he cannot win in the second round because Smer’s candidate had almost 50 percent in the first round. It may be that some voters will go to vote just to prevent Kotleba from becoming the regional president, but that’s hard to predict now. It will be interesting to look at it afterwards, at how all this effected the Banská Bystrica region.