Home Featured Slovakia’s presidential runoff is a contest between the West and Russia – POLITICO
Slovakia’s presidential runoff is a contest between the West and Russia – POLITICO

Slovakia’s presidential runoff is a contest between the West and Russia – POLITICO

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And yet, the election comes at a febrile political moment: Slovakia appears evenly split between a pro-Western camp that’s alarmed by Russia’s aggression, and a reactionary one that’s suspicious of the West and attuned to the Kremlin’s talking points. And it is this divide that will determine Saturday’s outcome.

While political leaders, parties and specific policy issues come and go, some version of this East-West divide has always been present in Slovakia.

In 1998, for example, then-budding authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar was voted out in an election seen to be existential, after U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had called Slovakia the “black hole” of Europe. Then, in early 2018, Slovaks took to the streets after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, ousting Mečiar’s political and ideological successor Robert Fico.

But last October, Fico returned to power, embittered and radicalized by what he called an “attempt to overturn a democratic election,” instigated by philanthropist George Soros and the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava. Since then, the Slovak government has strongly veered toward Russia and ended its aid to Ukraine. Fico has also abolished a special prosecutor’s office, which pursues corruption-related cases, and he’s tried to shorten the statute of limitations on a range of crimes — seemingly to protect himself and his inner circle from ongoing investigations.

Slovakia’s urban pro-Western segment has responded to all this with mass protests, and incumbent President Zuzana Čaputová challenged the criminal code reforms in the country’s Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, the governing coalition has also been trying to end the autonomous legal status of the country’s public television and radio, turning public broadcasting into a subsidiary of the government.

All of this should serve as a powerful mobilizing force for Slovakia’s opposition, which has already come together behind Korčok. And in the first round, Korčok won with a healthy margin of 5.5 percent. In the run-off, however, the race promises to be tight, as Korčok has little hope of attracting the third-party vote, which is currently clustered around Štefan Harabin — an antiestablishment and openly pro-Kremlin candidate, who received almost 12 percent of the vote.

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