Slovaks surprised by Kotleba's victory

Did Kotleba’s victory surprise you? How do you understand his success and what does it mean for the future of the region and the country?

Did Kotleba’s victory surprise you? How do you understand his success and what does it mean for the future of the region and the country?

Stanislav Mičiev, director of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica
- I was one of the few people who were saying that this could really happen. Unfortunately it did happen, as an unpleasant surprise. People voted irrationally, emotionally and wrongly. I’m afraid that he will now use his four years in the top post as a chance to employ his people in the structures of the office and the regional organisations, and in that way create a path to his success in the parliamentary elections.

Klára Orgovánová, director of the Roma Institute, former government proxy for Roma communities
- It did not surprise me. When he made it to the second round, I expected this could happen. His victory shows many things, but firstly it exemplifies populism in Slovakia. Kotleba, as well as the current government proxy for Roma communities, Peter Pollák, are products of their time, which is driven by populism.

Kálmán Petőcz, head of the Slovak Helsinki Committee
- I think it surprised everyone, although when I look at the analyses of where and how people voted, it makes sense after all. Kotleba’s success reminds me of the success of Jobbik in Hungary - there is one party, or in this case one person, building their entire message on absolute populism in the totalitarian sense.

Matúš Kostolný, editor-in-chief of the Sme daily
- Kotleba’s victory surprised everyone, and I’m no exception. It seems he managed to convince a substantial part of voters that he is an appropriate reaction to politics and parties that have ruled until now. It is shocking, because voters seem to be overlooking the fact that Kotleba is not only a candidate of protest, but also an admirer of Nazi solutions.

Peter Pollák, government’s proxy for Roma communities
- Not only me, but the whole country was surprised. People are frustrated by empty promises, and they have basically shown disagreement with standard political parties who did not solve the Roma problems seriously for 22 years. People thus voted for a man who offers simple solutions and populism. The Banská Bystrica elections must be a warning for politicians who need to realise that it is no longer possible to hide from Roma issues.

Eduard Chmelár, activist, rector of Media Academy in Bratislava
- No. After the first round I warned that Kotleba might win, because the mobilisation of democratic voters was zero, from all sides. I attended a debate with citizens before the elections in Banská Bystrica; I felt the mood, and even then I had concerns that this wouldn’t end well, because the mood was really volatile. It absolutely didn’t surprise me, I expected it.

Laco Oravec, human rights activist, programme director of the Milan Šimečka Foundation
- I expected that the dormant extremism and discontent might spring out in this way, also because in the neighbouring countries similar movements and politicians have stronger support. There was no reason to think Slovakia would be spared, especially since relations between Roma and non-Roma are strained. But it surprised me that Kotleba got the chance to succeed now and so significantly. It means that in the future these opinions and sympathies towards Kotleba’s party or similar people will become a permanent part of the political scene and electorate. Just like in the surrounding countries, there will be a certain group of inhabitants who will be inclined to support these subjects and self-proclaimed messiahs.

Irena Bihariová, People Against Racism president
- I have to admit it surprised me. I have always claimed that fortunately the rightist extremist scene is not as sophisticated in Slovakia as it is for instance in Hungary. But it seems that voters are not that sophisticated either, so probably what Kotleba was saying was enough to win their votes. I don’t like the opinion that it shows the desperation of voters. If we compared this with the 1930s, the public opinion against Jews was equally unfriendly then, and the social fight against the Jews was led with equal ferocity.

Lucia Kollárová, spokesperson of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Slovakia
- We fully respect the result of democratic elections. We don’t believe that voters of Marian Kotleba are fascists or that his winning a percentage of votes was a sign of growing fascism in Slovakia. The decision of citizens to vote for Kotleba is an expression of their frustration and anger that are the consequence of the state not solving some problems in the long term. We hope that the events of this weekend will be a memento for democratic politicians and that they will start solving real problems of citizens, not only of Banská Bystrica Region.

Peter Vavro, editor-in-chief of the Hospodárske Noviny daily
- His victory surprised me because it would never occur to me that a man from 1939 could be attractive to 71,000 people in 2013. His success is a total failure of the so-called standard left and right, because in the Ľudovít Kaník and Vladimír Maňka they weren’t able to offer a trustworthy alternative to extremism and a negative mood in society.

Nora Slišková, editor-in-chief of the Pravda daily
- I have seen the risk since the very beginning, but I believed extremism would not succeed. There are several reasons why it happened. Mainstream political parties reprehensibly underestimated the campaign, and failed to solve the long-term problems…. Where the state and its institutions fail, extremism comes. Our society did not learn, and this is the consequence.

Miroslav Kusý, political analyst
- It surprised me very much, it surprised everyone. All political scientists, politicians, were saying that his victory in the first round is a warning sign and that’s all. That was the general belief. But it turned out to be wrong. It’s shocking. The reasons are both economic and political. There is the frustration of citizens because of the problems of the region, which suffers from a high unemployment rate and a low living standard. And on the political side, politicians underestimated it, mainly the Smer chairman, who did not come to support his candidate in the region.

Elena Gallová Kriglerová, researcher, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture
- It surprised me very much, I did not expect it to go this far. The potential of rightist extremism in Slovakia proves to be rather strong. What happened now is that it has finally surfaced. It is very strong in the whole country, and across society. Even among people with higher education, people with decent jobs, people who do not find themselves in a serious social situation. So I think the potential to go the Hungarian way is there.

Rudolf Chmel, Most-Híd MP, former deputy PM for human rights and national minorities
- It surprised me very much. I expected the victory of any of the candidates of the standard political parties. I see the explanation in two factors: first, that 75 percent of voters were unwilling to vote for any candidate in the second round, which was obviously affected by people being disgusted with the way in which this region and the state are administered, as well as the general distrust in imperfect democracy and market capitalism. Second, I see the votes for Kotleba as protest votes of those who wanted to teach a lesson to the former management of the region and the whole political spectrum. Everybody – political, economic and intellectual elites – is responsible for the situation.

Alena Kluknavská, a doctoral candidate with the Comenius University’s department of political sciences, who specialises in extremist groups
- His victory in Banská Bystrica Region is not a big surprise. After the VÚC elections four years ago he already received 10 percent of the vote in the run-off over the region’s president, even without an intensive campaign, which he built mostly on his reputation from Slovenská Pospolitosť (Slovak Togetherness). Though these elections showed that he has a big influence at the regional level, and people legitimised him [by electing him] to the post of a real politician, if he wants to succeed at the national level, he has to show that he is not the type of politician whom he had criticised before the elections, and that he will … really turn his promises into actions and use the offered potential in other regions as well.

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