Robert Fico: Wikis

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Robert Fico

Fico in August 2009

Incumbent
Assumed office 
4 July 2006
President Ivan Gašparovič
Preceded by Mikuláš Dzurinda

Member of the National Council
In office
23 June 1992 – 4 July 2006

Born 15 September 1964 (1964-09-15) (age 45)
Topoľčany, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia)
Political party Direction-Social Democracy (1999–present)
Other political
affiliations
Communist Party (1987–1990)
Party of the Democratic Left (1990–1999)
Spouse(s) Svetlana Fico
Alma mater Comenius University in Bratislava

Robert Fico (born September 15, 1964) is the current Prime Minister of Slovakia (since July 4, 2006).

His relatively new left-wing party Direction – Social Democracy (Slovak: SMER – Sociálna demokracia) was the winner of the parliamentary elections in 2006, receiving approximately 30 percent of the cast votes. After the victory he created a coalition with the Slovak National Party an extremist[1][2][3] nationalist party[1][2][4] led by Ján Slota and with the People's Party - Movement for a Democratic Slovakia led by Vladimír Mečiar.

Contents

Life

Fico was born in a working class family on September 15, 1964, in the town of Topoľčany. His father was a forklift operator and his mother worked in a shoe store. Fico has two siblings, a brother Ladislav and a sister Lucia. He is married to a wife Svetlana, they have one son.

Fico acquired his legal education during the communist rule in then- Czechoslovakia. He graduated from the Law Faculty of the Comenius University at Bratislava and later worked for the Institute of State and Law of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, a communist take on a think-tank body. Fico joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1987.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, following the collapse of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Fico joined the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), a successor of the Communist Party of Slovakia. From 1994 to 2000 Fico as a political appointee represented Slovakia as its legal counsel at the European Court of Human Rights. During this time Fico lost all 14 cases he handled [5].

In 1999 Fico left his SDL party whose support had meanwhile dropped below the threshold required to get into parliament. Subsequently he founded a new party called Smer (Direction). Although at first presented as a centrist party, the Fico's new party project soon shifted towards a more extreme and populist leftist rhetoric[citation needed], the part of the political spectrum having been left vacant after the disintegration of Fico's previous SDL party.

Fico soon became one of the most popular opposition politicians in Slovakia. His rhetoric was most often aimed at the ongoing reforms being carried out at the time by the right wing government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. Although praised by international politicians, institutions and economists alike,[6][7] Dzurinda’s reforms’ short-term negative impacts increased the appeal and popularity of Fico's populist rhetoric, particularly among the countryside population, elderly, lower social classes, and voters with a lower level of education, which to this day make up the majority of his electorate[citation needed].

In the parliamentary elections of 2002, Fico's SMER received 13.46% of the votes and became the third largest party. The result was much lower than the pre-election estimates and Fico openly called it a failure. In the following four years Fico continued with his sharp anti-reform and populist rhetoric, gradually increasing his party's numbers in opinion polls.

2006 Election victory

In the following elections in 2006 SMER won with 29.1% of the votes and formed a coalition government with Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS and Ján Slota's SNS.

In addition to Mečiar's and Slota's controversial political past, Slota and his nationalist and anti-Hungarian SNS party presented a problem of its own, especially in light of Fico's SMER party's attempt to present itself as a modern, socialist and pro-European party. Ján Slota has been known for his frequent vulgar, defamatory and hatred-inciting anti-gypsy and anti-Hungarian remarks,[8] including a drunken public speech in which he called for Slovaks to "get in tanks and level Budapest to the ground".[9][10]

As a result of Fico's decision to form government with Slota’s extremist SNS, the EU-wide Party of European Socialists suspended Fico's party application to join them. In late February 2008 however the Assembly of PES partially reversed this decision, conditionally reinstating the application after both SMER and SNS sent the PES a signed letter, committing themselves to respect minority rights. Slota’s numerous nationalist and hate inciting remarks[11][12] made since have gone largely ignored by the PES and have not effected SMER’s application.

Fico himself has never publicly criticized or condemned Slota's remarks and speeches and as an obvious result of Ján Slota's conduct the government-level relations between Slovakia and the neighbouring Hungary deteriorated to an unprecedented level. Several meetings between two countries' prime ministers were abruptly canceled and those few that did take place resulted in little progress or improvement of relations.[13]

Domestic policy

Robert Fico meeting with Serbian President Boris Tadić.

A large part of Fico’s election victory was largely attributed to his loud criticism of the previous right-wing government’s economic, tax, social, pension and legislative reforms. The reforms were generally perceived as very positive and successful by such international bodies as IMF, the World Bank or the OECD,[14] however they negatively affected certain segments of the population, particularly low wage earners, the unemployed, and welfare and other social assistance recipients.

While in opposition, and primarily during the election campaign, Fico vowed to reverse and cancel the majority of the reforms, however upon taking the office he adopted a substantially more cautious approach. Fico inherited the economy in an excellent condition which was generally attributed to the said reforms. The country was achieving a record-high GDP growth and it was starting to fulfill the Maastricht criteria required for the Euro currency adoption, for which the country was aspiring at the time (Slovakia eventually adopted the euro currency on January 1 2009 as third of the former Soviet-block countries).

As a result, contrary to his numerous pre-election promises and declarations, Fico implemented only a few changes that were deemed mainly cosmetic and did not substantially change any of the reforms. According to analysts, the likely reason for Fico's turnaround from his election promises was the realization of the catastrophic consequences the cancellation of the reforms would have on the economy.[15] In retrospect Slovakia seems to now have a balance between the free market and some social protection.

The most successful reform Fico did introduce was in establishing some reasonable standards in how many times employees may be kept on as temporary workers instead of being given permanent contracts. Under the one-sided, pro-employer legislation of the Mikulas Dzurinda government an employer could (and many did) keep new staff as temps and create a two-tier workforce. Generally Slovak labour regulation is in tune with most other EU states.

One of few modifications Fico's government did implement was a slight modification to the unconventional and economist-praised flat tax system introduced by the previous government in a way that slightly decreased or eradicated a tax-free part of income for higher income earners. Presented as a millionaire tax to Fico's electorate, the tax change essentially impacted everyone earning over €1200 a month, yet had minimal or no impact on those earning over €3000 a month. A lower VAT was imposed on medications and books, though in spite of his election promises Fico failed to extend this onto a wider group of products such as groceries. The Economic crisis of 2008-9 seems to have stopped efforts for more progressivity in the tax system.

Among the more radical measures were controversial legislative changes which effectively banned private health insurance companies from generating profit. As a result Slovakia is being sued by several foreign shareholders of local health insurers through international arbitrations.[16]

In health care, Fico abolished fees that people had to pay when visiting a doctor or a hospital, introduced by the previous government, however no further much-needed reforms have been carried out in the health care system since, resulting in a record high system debts and numerous hospital closures.[17]

In 2007, Fico unsuccessfully tried to regulate retail food prices, an unprecedented effort in a generally free market European union.[18] His legislative measures however failed due to various loopholes that were essentially impossible to close without violating fundamental free market principles.

In August 2008, Fico threatened the foreign shareholders of a local gas distributor SPP, the French Gaz de France and the German E.ON, with nationalization and seizure of their ownership shares in a dispute over retail gas price.[19][20]

Fico is an active proponent of nuclear energy.

In 2010 Fico faced large scale protests and a blockade of major cities by truckers upset by badly implemented toll on first class highways. Truckers demanded that the price of fuel be reduced to compensate for the toll.[21] Fico first refused to speak with representatives of the truckers, saying "he won't be blackmailed", a few days later he capitulated giving in to the demands. The tax cut given to truckers will amount to about 100 million EUR.[21]

Foreign policy

Robert Fico with Mirko Cvetković during the state visit to Serbia

In foreign policy, Fico and his government have faced substantial difficulties in achieving political acceptance abroad, mainly due to his coalition with the controversial and internationally isolated parties of Vladimír Mečiar and Jan Slota.

Fico himself created several controversies, for example having attended a reception organized by the Cuban Embassy in Bratislava commemorating an anniversary of Castro's revolution, or announcing that one of his first foreign trips would include Libya, China or Venezuela.[22]

Compensating his lack of close political allies within the EU (head of the Czech social democrats Jiri Paroubek being a notable exception), Fico has been actively strengthening relations with several non-EU countries such as Serbia or Russia. For example Slovakia modernized Russian MiG-fighters in Russia and did not buy new NATO-standard jets in the West.[23] Additionally Fico condemned Georgia in 2008 for the aggression against South Ossetia.[24]

Fico is an opponent of the planned construction of new US ABM and radar systems in military bases in the neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland (also criticized by Russia)[25] and one of the first steps upon taking the office was a military pullout from Iraq.

Robert Fico has strongly opposed unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo, as a result of which Slovakia has not recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state.

Fico’s views on Communism

One of Fico’s famous remarks is his comment on his perception of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which peacefully brought down the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and helped bring down the Soviet rule in all of Eastern Europe. He has been quoted saying as “not having noticed it (the revolution) due to being busy at work” (at the communist ministry of justice) and he has referred to the Velvet Revolution as “an ordinary coup that did not influence his life in any visible way."[26]

Fico has often defended the communist regime as being more social than the capitalist one. Fico has remained unapologetic about his membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia prior to the regime's collapse.

Fico and the Media

Fico is known for his hostile and often bumpy relationship with the media. During his press conferences he often verbally attacks, lectures and taunts the present journalists, often accusing them of bias and attacks on his government. On several occasions he has openly and on record used profanities against specific journalists (“idiots”, “pricks”).[27][28]

Fico often sues media for libel. Although most of his lawsuits are aimed at tabloids, he has also sued broadsheet dailies (SME, Pravda) as well as an economic weekly Trend. He has won several of the lawsuits, while others have been dismissed. As of March 2009 Fico has more than 10 pending libel lawsuits with a tabloid weekly Plus 7 Days alone. Some of Fico's lawsuits are based solely on a headline, or a satiric cartoon. Several of the court judgments have raised serious concerns about the freedom of press in Slovakia, especially in the cases when besides an apology Fico had also been awarded substantial financial compensatory damages.

Since taking up the office as a prime minister, Fico has granted only one press media interview, to tabloid daily Novy Cas. Although a frequent participant in televised political debates prior to the elections, since then he has only attended televised shows with no political opponents present.

In his ongoing feud with the media, Fico has often been quoted as suggesting that the government should own and operative its own media outlets to assure "objective" information about the government.

Fico often tries to dictate the media what they should cover, and subsequently taunts them when they don't. Fico has on several occasions issued a bizarre and unusual apologies to several foreign politicians, whose visit of Slovakia Fico felt were largely ignored by the media. One such example was the visit of the Russian prime minister Zubkov in April 2008. Most media did not consider the visit of the virtually unknown Zubkov substantially newsworthy hence only minimal coverage was done. To make matters worse, during the press conference the journalists were not allowed to ask any questions. Subsequently Fico sent Zubkov a letter of apology where he apologized for the Slovak media's lack of interest in his visit.[29]

Cabinet of Robert Fico

References

  1. ^ a b Cas Mudde (2005). Racist extremism in Central and Eastern Europe. Routledge. p. xvi. ISBN 0415355931, 9780415355933. http://books.google.hu/books?id=YB-ZwiBf5HgC&pg=PA245&lpg=PA245&dq=sns+extremist+party&source=bl&ots=wnfyjLqnlx&sig=wfuD5NmoLykU_WXCRze7vqs4Z8c&hl=hu&ei=yYQWSsizFcKQ_Qa99eCDDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5#PPR13,M1. Retrieved 2009.05.22.. 
  2. ^ a b Zoltan D. Barany (2002). The East European gypsies: regime change, marginality, and ethnopolitics. Cambridge University Press. p. 313. ISBN 0521009103, 9780521009102. http://books.google.hu/books?id=yTylND961ZMC&pg=PA313&lpg=PA313&dq=sns+extremist+party&source=bl&ots=_VxIIE_hea&sig=pRZHwg9hNk68Z-_CHIpbibMOKJc&hl=hu&ei=9ocWSp23NMOPsAbGhtGRAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9#PPA313,M1. Retrieved 2009.05.22.. 
  3. ^ Juliana Sokolova (2 - 04 - 2009). "Slovakia: in search of normal". openDemocracy.net. http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/slovakia-in-search-of-normal-0. Retrieved 2009-05-22. 
  4. ^ The Steven Roth Institute: Country reports. Antisemitism and racism in Slovakia
  5. ^ European Court of Human Rights: Annual surveys of activity
  6. ^ "Blair admires Slovak reforms=2006-06-10". Slovak Spectator. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/22701/10/. 
  7. ^ "Merkel positive about Slovak reforms=2006-05-12". Slovak Spectator. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/23323/10/. 
  8. ^ "SNS boss crosses another line". Slovak Spectator. 2008-10-13. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33180/2/sns_boss_crosses_another_line.html. 
  9. ^ "Slota lets rip, again". Slovak Spectator. 2008-06-16. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32050/2/slota_lets_rip_again.html. 
  10. ^ "Why is Slovakia not in NATO?Ján Slota explains". Slovak Spectator. 2008-02-13. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/5301/11/. 
  11. ^ "Slota ridicules Hungarians during PMs' meeting". Slovak Spectator. 2008-09-03. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32832/10/slota_ridicules_hungarians_during_pms_meeting.html. 
  12. ^ "SMK taking Slota to court over anti-Hungarian statements". Slovak Spectator. 2008-10-16. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33238/10/smk_taking_slota_to_court_over_anti_hungarian_statements.html. 
  13. ^ "Slovak–Hungarian relations thawing slower than hoped". Slovak Spectator. 2008-12-15. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33850/2/slovakhungarian_relations_thawing_slower_than_hoped.html. 
  14. ^ "OECD satisfied with Slovakia's economic performance". Slovak Spectator. 2008-03-19. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/15440. 
  15. ^ "WHO IS REALLY BENEFITING FROM FICO’S POLITICS". The Institute for Public Affairs. 2007-05-22. http://www.ivo.sk/buxus/docs/publicistika/subor/Mesez_SPEX_april_may_2007.pdf. 
  16. ^ "Slovakia will face arbitration for health insurance profit ban". Slovak Spectator. 2008-07-17. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32427/10/slovakia_will_face_arbitration_for_health_insurance_profit_ban.html. 
  17. ^ "Government proposes protected hospitals list". Slovak Spectator. 2007-08-06. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/28574/2/. 
  18. ^ "Fico attacks retail chains over rising prices". Institute of Economic and Social Studies. 2007-07-22. http://www.iness.sk/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=633. 
  19. ^ "Fico threatens nationalisation to stop energy increases". Slovak Spectator. 2008-08-18. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32696/10/fico_threatens_nationalisation_to_stop_energy_increases.html. 
  20. ^ "Slovak PM threatens to expropriate utilities-paper". Reuters. 2008-08-18. http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssUtilitiesElectric/idUSLI69531620080818. 
  21. ^ a b Slovakia gives in to truckers’ demands
  22. ^ "Fico giving new face to Slovak foreign policy". Slovak Spectator. 2007-01-22. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/26315/2/. 
  23. ^ http://de.rian.ru/business/20080229/100308217.html
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ "U.S. missile defence in Europe angers Russia". CBC. 2007-03-05. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/03/05/missiledefence-eu.html. 
  26. ^ "Left-wing populists win in Slovakia". The Reference Frame. 2006-06-17. http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/06/left-wing-populists-win-in-slovakia.html. 
  27. ^ "The Media’s Role in Slovakia is Put in Question by Abusive Government Behaviour and Statements". Association of European Journalists. 2008-12-25. http://www.aej-uk.org/media-08-Slo-3.doc. 
  28. ^ "Fico: Journalists are “idiots”". The Slovak Spectator. 2008-11-07. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33958/28/fico_journalists_are_idiots.html. 
  29. ^ "Fico slams media over coverage". The Slovak Spectator. 2008-04-14. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/31401/2/fico_slams_media_over_coverage.html. 

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Mikuláš Dzurinda
Prime Minister of Slovakia
2006–present
Incumbent
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