Shock and words of support from Prague in wake of assassination attempt against Slovak PM

News of the brutal assassination attempt against Slovak PM Robert Fico, who is now fighting for his life in a Slovak hospital, sent shockwaves around Europe. Politicians in Czechia have been sending messages of support and solidarity to the former sister state and urging restraint in what threatens to be a potentially dangerous situation.

Shock and dismay in Prague

Expressions of shock and disbelief filled media outlets and social networks on Wednesday following  news of the assassination attempt against the controversial Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. The Czech head of government, Petr Fiala, said violence was not justifiable under any circumstances.

“The assassination attempt against Robert Fico is shocking, terrifying and absolutely unjustifiable. Violence has no place in our society and cannot be tolerated. Slovakia is our closest partner and I want to assure the Slovak people that we are with them at this difficult time. My thoughts are with Robert Fico and his family and I wish him a speedy recovery.”

President Petr Pavel said the attack was reprehensible, whatever its motivation. He said it should be a warning about how far the deepening of hostility and aggression in society can lead.

Deputy Prime Minister Marian Jurečka stressed that politics should be about discussion, listening, respect and decency.

The leader of the opposition ANO party Andrej Babiš, who is himself Slovak, said the news from the country was terrible and that he was praying for Mr. Fico.

Fears for Slovak democracy

Although in recent weeks the policies of the Fico cabinet have polarized the society and there were signs of growing tension, news of the assassination attempt against the head of government came as a huge shock both to politicians in Slovakia and leaders around Europe.

Matus Sutaj Estok and Robert Kalinak | Photo: Denes Erdos,  ČTK/AP

Reporting on the prime minister’s condition following five hours of emergency surgery, Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said it was "the saddest day for democracy" in the 31-year history of independent Slovakia. He said the shooter’s motive had clearly been political and stressed that it was not just the prime minister who was fighting for his life, but Slovakia was fighting for its future.

"What was unleashed, the hatred that was sown, has today become a storm. We are standing on the brink of civil war. This assassination attempt against the prime minister, is confirmation of that."

Emotions are running high. Members of Prime Minister Fico’s Smer party have accused the opposition parties and the liberal media of being responsible for the attack, saying they had been spreading hatred and dividing the society for years. Deputy Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko, head of the far-right Slovak National Party, said the media had blood on their hands and warned there would be “changes made” in the wake of this incident.

The ruling parties refused to speak at a joint press conference with the opposition, while Michal Šimečka, who is the leader of Slovakia's largest opposition party, Progressive Slovakia, condemned the violence and called for calm and restraint. He said the opposition was suspending all political activities and campaigning in the elections for the time being.

Clearly shaken by the developments, Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, whose term in office ends in mid-June, made a plea for an end to the rhetoric of hate.

Who was the shooter?

The assassination attempt took place in the central Slovak town of Handlova when the prime minister walked over to a group of fans in the local square following a cabinet session. According to the Slovak media, the shooter is a 71-year-old man, a relatively unknown poet, who was dissatisfied with the Fico government and the political situation in Slovakia. He reportedly made up his mind to carry out the shooting after Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico, was elected president of Slovakia in early April.

Photo: Kevin S. Vineys,  ČTK/AP

Security service under fire over “chaotic” response

Both Czech and Slovak experts have criticized the government’s security team and the prime minister’s bodyguards for their response to the crisis, citing „chaotic action“, a lack of preparedness and pointing out that the prime minister was shot five times in the chest, stomach and arm and none of his men jumped to cover for him or fire a shot at the assassin.

Author: Daniela Lazarová | Sources: Česká televize , Český rozhlas
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