Pundit: Czech govt. “not very happy” over Pellegrini win in Slovakia

Robert Fico (left) and Peter Pellegrini

The weekend’s presidential elections in Slovakia were also closely watched in Czechia. Czech leaders have congratulated winner Peter Pellegrini, despite his pro-Russian image. But what is Prague really thinking about his victory? And could Czech populists take inspiration from Pellegrini’s campaign rhetoric? I spoke to political scientist Jiří Pehe.

“I think in general the Czech political elite, at least those on the side of the governing coalition, are not very happy about the result of the elections in Slovakia, simply because Pellegrini is just an extended arm of Robert Fico.

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio

“Even after his victory he repeated some of the ideas that defined his campaign. That is that Slovakia will not engage more extensively in the conflict in Ukraine, that Slovakia wants peace.

“He also said that he wants to help the government, because until now he has been part of this government.

“So that’s something that is not very well received, at least by the current governing coalition in the Czech Republic.

“But of course, for political reasons, the leaders have to be diplomatic and say that they expect that Pellegrini will continue in the tradition of excellent relations between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.”

Pellegrini seemed to really play the fear card in his campaigning and went big on the war in Ukraine, or at least said he was for “peace”. Here in Czechia Andrej Babiš endorsed Pellegrini, as did Zeman. Do you think the way in which he won could influence how Babiš and other Czech populists campaign in elections, going forward?

“Yes, of course, that’s why Babiš invested so heavily in the Slovak election. He went to Slovakia, he supported Pellegrini. And before that he supported Fico, so obviously Babiš feels that there is some political capital to gain from this kind of political constellation in Slovakia.

Peter Pellegrini | Photo: Václav Šálek,  ČTK

“But of course it is too early to say whether this will pay off, because the Slovak government may soon run into problems with the EU and with NATO, if it continues with its current policies.

“That will of course affect the new president, so we have to wait and see where Slovakia is in one year.

“Right now the rhetoric we hear from Slovakia about peace and sovereignty and so on is something that will probably be well received by the electorate of Andrej Babiš in the Czech Republic, because he feeds them the same diet.

“But at the same time, I think that if Slovakia becomes a country that may take an economic downturn, or even faces conflicts with the EU, then it may not be such an attractive model.

“So, as I said, it will all be much clearer in a year or so.”