Could Fico win leave pro-Ukraine Czechia isolated in region?

Robert Fico

Slovak elections at the weekend were also closely watched in Czechia. Critics said the victory of Robert Fico and Smer was partly fueled by Russian disinformation, and the Czech interior minister says the benefits of liberal democracy need to be better explained to voters. In the more immediate term, does the outcome leave Czechia isolated as a pro-Ukraine, pro-EU state in the region? I spoke to political scientist Petr Just.

Petr Just | Photo: ČT24

“Despite Poland and the Polish government showing some tendencies that are close to Viktor Orban, and which are close to the potential Slovak prime minister Robert Fico regarding help for Ukraine, Poland is more on our side.

“So if we take Ukraine as the cleavage issue, the Visegrad group would probably be split into Hungary and Slovakia on one side, with a more reluctant approach to helping Ukraine, and Poland and Czechia on the other side, with a more active approach.

“In other fields, like EU affairs, still, despite him being quite critical to the EU, Robert Fico is still a politician who doesn’t want to leave the EU. As are the politicians in Hungary and Poland.

“So in general the Slovak government will probably remain pro-European. But this will probably strengthen the Eurosceptic voice within the EU.

“So I don’t think the Czech Republic will be totally isolated, if Mr. Fico becomes the prime minister and Smer is the leading governmental party.”

There is a general perception that disinformation, probably Russian disinformation, probably played a role in the Slovak elections. The Czech interior minister, Vít Rakušan, said that if the Czechs want to hold on to liberal democracy its merits have to be explained to those who don’t benefit much, if at all, from it. What do you say to that idea?

Vít Rakušan | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,

“It’s always much easier to spread disinformation and criticize and challenge the government than to defend liberal democracy and defend what the government does.

“So I understand the point that Mr. Rakušan wanted to make, but on the other hand I think it’s a quite challenging task. I’m not sure how the Czech government will be able to achieve any goal of pursuing people who do not have trust in liberal government, to change their opinion.

“So this definitely will be something that the Czech government will need to invest a lot of energy in. So far government policy regarding combatting disinformation has been rather controversial.

“It usually reaches to two extreme polls, two extreme positions. One extreme position has been voices saying, We need to leave freedom of speech as open as possible. And the other extreme pole is, We want to ban and close all the disinformation media.

“But obviously the solution lies in the variety of options that are between the two extreme poles. And this is something that the government needs to discuss primarily with communications experts, with experts on political communication.”

What about the head of the Czech opposition, Andrej Babiš of ANO. Last week he attacked the liberal party Progressive Slovakia very strongly and he was quick to congratulate Robert Fico. Why is that? And how do his politics compare to those of Fico?

Andrej Babiš and Viktor Orbán | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“Andrej Babiš, Robert Fico and for example Viktor Orban have different ideological backgrounds, but they have one thing in common and obviously this is now becoming a more important factor than ideology.

“The thing they have in common is technique, how they want to execute politics, how they want to run politics. They all favour more the executive approach, rather than cooperating with the legislature. They all want to make unilateral decisions.

“But there is also one issue that connects them all, and that is there approach to migration.”