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Slovakia's Pre-Election Purge
"There Is No Police Coup," Says President
“Of one they said that he had robbed funds from the city government; of another, that he had not succeeded in some undertaking because he was bribed; and of yet another, that because of his ambition, he had committed this or that impropriety. As a consequence of this hatred arose on every side, which led to deep disagreements, from deep disagreements to sects, and from sects to ruin.” - Machiavelli [Discourses, I.8]
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On Thursday, August 17th, just weeks before a snap parliamentary election meant to end a year of political instability which has seen three different governments, the police in Slovakia arrested the country’s spymaster and several other high ranking intelligence and security officials. This was the latest move in a string of prosecutions, now dating back years, targeted at the former ruling party, Smer-SD, who are leading in election polling. Smer’s leader, Robert Fico, independent Slovakia’s longest serving Prime Minister, has called the actions a “police coup.” Meanwhile, the President, Zuzana Caputova, insists there has not been a police coup, which I take as a sign that there absolutely has been a police coup. The Slovak President is normally a ceremonial position with severely limited powers, but these increase when the country is under a “caretaker” government as it currently is. To the outside world, the biggest concern is that while the current Slovak government has been a staunch supporter of the policy of indefinitely arming Ukraine, Fico is seen as “pro-Russian,” in the sense that he wants the war to end through diplomacy instead of fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian. Despite Fico leading a left wing party, his populism has people making absurd claims about how Hungary’s Orban is “colonizing” the country through an alliance with Fico’s Smer party. While I am a skeptic of spy and police agencies and find it easy to believe in their corruption, the combination of the timing shortly before an election, the boiler-plate language about “illiberalism” and Russian influence from the worst people in the world, and the extreme difficulty of finding clear information about the situation combine to lead me to believe something here is not above board. One does not have to be a conspiracist to think this is about blocking Fico’s election and removing all his loyalists from power.
Regarding the specific charges, Deutsche Welle reported that Stefan Hamran, the President of the Slovak Police, announced that the Slovak Information Service (SIS) director Michal Alac was arrested, along with Vladimir Pcolinsky, the former SIS head, as well as the Director of the National Security Authority Roman Konecny were among those being prosecuted. The charges they face are described by Hamran as follows, “establishing, forming and supporting a criminal group…abuse of public authority and…obstruction of justice.” To the skeptical observer, all of these things sound as if they failed to discover any crime and the men simply resisted being investigated, which is how people who thought they were being set up may behave. According to the Associated Press, 7 people total were arrested for corruption surrounding a businessman named as Peter K. for a plot to obstruct investigations during the time when Robert Fico was Prime Minister. Their actions are said to have resulted in four investigators at the National Criminal Agency having been accused of manipulating testimonies, accusations which were dismissed in court. In a separate case, the current NSA chief and former SIS chief are accused of conspiring to remove officers in the security authority, which is responsible for giving out security clearances. The week before, former national Police Chief and current Smer candidate Tibor Gaspar was detained on corruption charges, along with oligarch Norbert Bodor, who is accused of organizing a crime group to control the police. Interestingly, but one month before that, Slovakia’s Interior Minister who is supposed to oversee these agencies was dismissed after criticizing the police on Facebook; because the country is under a caretaker government, his powers reverted back to the Prime Minister. It’s easy to see why Fico would call this a police coup. For her part, President Caputova claims she didn’t know about the arrests in advance as the separation of powers would prohibit political figures from learning such things, but it is impossible to believe this went forward without some degree of approval from the country’s political leaders.
Caputova defended the arrests on the grounds that the investigations were long-running and had been heavily covered in the media. However, that being the case, it is all the more suspicious that they timed the arrests as they did. The investigations are old though, going back to 2018 when an journalist investigating corruption named Jan Kuciak was murdered. Attempts to prosecute an oligarch for the murder have been unsuccessful, but it all is said to tie back to Fico’s Smer party. Tibor Gaspar, the politician who was just arrested, stepped down as the national police chief at the time, following the outcry about Kuciak’s murder. In 2020 he was arrested, in a year that saw a widespread crackdown on officials who were said to be corrupt, primarily associated with, Bodor who is a relative of Gaspar and is said to be the string-puller of much of the country’s corruption. It’s notable that Gaspar remained free and able to run for office, and now right before an election they would again try to prosecute him. Fico also stepped down as Prime Minister following the assassination in 2018. Prosecutors attempted to prosecute Fico for corruption in 2022, but he had immunity as a lawmaker and narrowly won a vote preserving his immunity. At the current time Fico is not facing any charges, but it is obvious why he feels these prosecutions are intended to disrupt his chance at winning the election, which his party currently leads by 4 points with 21% of the vote.
The charges against Fico and the rest of Smer would be credible if we were not so accustomed to attacks on anyone who goes against the Western “program.” Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto went as far as to say there was a “global hunt” for politicians opposing the “liberal mainstream.” The discourse around the election is that “Russian disinformation” is threatening the country, and of course if the leading candidate Fico wins it will be attributed to that cause. However, NATO’s own polling shows deep skepticism about NATO within Slovakia, and an outright 50% oppose continued support to Ukraine compared to 41% who support continuing aid. Perhaps this could be said to already be the result of Russian disinformation, but it shows that a government which ends support for Ukraine is the will of the Slovakian people. A Foreign Policy article from July titled “The West Can’t Ignore Slovakia’s Election: A pro-Kremlin candidate is leading the polls—and could shatter the country’s support for Ukraine” reads as if it was written by AI in terms of hitting every point to convince the reader there is a vast illiberal Russian conspiracy. As with every election that falls into this dynamic, the media seems to make it clear by their coverage that they are in fact some sort of international conspiracy against the candidate said to be “pro-Russian.” Of course, it is less likely a conspiracy and more likely complete ideological conformity among Western media. Making a big deal about the premise of Slovakia withdrawing support for Ukraine is kind of a funny thing Slovakia is a small, low population country that is not particularly wealthy, and it has already given its Soviet military equipment to Ukraine. This does not seem to be an important chink in their vaunted Western unity, though I suppose with Slovakia border Ukraine it is bad message if the country’s government does not fear Russia. Regardless, it’s less absurd than this song and dance was in Montenegro, in that Fico is actually somewhat pro-Russian and Slovakia is in Central Europe. We shall see if the anti-Russia fearmongering works in this election, because it may turn out to be the case that actual bear attacks become a bigger political issue than the threat allegedly posed by Russia.
The situation in Slovakia is opaque to outsiders. This was remarkably difficult to write, and is so short because of a dearth of available information. There have only been a handful of articles describing what is objectively a shady circumstance. Even so, the most common international narratives are being applied. Fico, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister since independence, is being treated like a dangerous fringe figure. It is clear, as ever, that the outside powers do not see “democracy” to mean “the will of the people” or “the results of the election,” but a specific type of NATO-aligned “liberal” government. The global “mainstream” media is this same faction. It is obvious that there is a deep power struggle within this country, and it is probably safe to assume that the ruling party and prosecutors are less concerned about reigning in corruption than using it to damage an enemy’s electoral prospects. We should all watch this election closely, because shadowy forces seem to be afoot, and we can be sure if Fico wins the liberal internationalists will suddenly have a deranged obsession with Slovakia.
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