Pundit: Czech leaders watching Slovak elections with “apprehension”

Robert Fico

Czechia’s closest neighbour Slovakia goes to the polls on Saturday to elect a new parliament, after the centre-right coalition collapsed and a caretaker government took over in May. Many in this country are following the election closely, with the president saying a win for populist ex-PM Robert Fico could damage relations. I discussed the possible outcome and its impact on Czechia with political scientist Jiří Pehe.

What do you think the mood is among Czech leaders as they watch the build-up to the Slovak elections?

Jiří Pehe | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“I think that most Czech leaders watch Slovak elections with apprehension and maybe with emotions which are not quite common when they watch elections in other countries, because of course Slovakia is a country that is very close to the Czech Republic and the outcome will determine whether the two countries will be working together, whether they will be as close as they have been or whether they will drift apart.”

President Pavel says a win for Fico could disrupt Czech-Slovak relations. What does he mean by that?

Rober Fico | Photo: Václav Šálek,  ČTK

“Well, President Pavel refers to the fact that Robert Fico has made during the electoral campaign a number of statements which, if he follows up on them, would mean that Slovakia would stop supporting Ukraine, would weaken its ties to the Euro-Atlantic community and maybe would have problems with liberal democracy.

“So obviously it would be very difficult for the Czech Republic to maintain the same kind of relations that we have had with Slovakia in the last few years because the policy or political framework would be quite different from what it is now.”

Finally, the Czech government seems to have lost interest in the V4 group. Could a Fico win mean the final nail in the coffin for the V4 from Prague’s perspective?

Flags of the Visegrad Four countries | Photo: archive of Polish Parliament

“From Prague’s perspective, I think that the future of the V4 is really on the line, because it is not the just the elections in Slovakia but also the upcoming elections in Poland which may either finish the cooperation or may actually deepen it, depending on the results.

“So if Slovakia goes in the direction of Hungary and contemporary Poland, then of course the Czech Republic would become isolated within the Visegrad group and would find it very difficult to continue with productive cooperation.

“But on the other hand, the outcome could also be quite different. The most optimistic outcome would of course be the victory of pro-European forces in both Slovakia and Poland. And that would actually revive the Visegrad group to some extent. I say ‘to some extent’ because of course Hungary is still politically where it is and it will be very difficult to change its current course.”