Heightened political tensions signal uncertain future for Slovakia’s stability

Political tensions remain elevated in the wake of Europe’s first assassination attempt on an EU leader in over 20 years, with political figures across Europe attempting to leverage the situation for political gain ahead of the EU elections on June 6. Multinationals should monitor developments within Slovakia, as the incident has sparked an elevated risk of political unrest, with conspiracy theories and blame continuing to be bandied back and forth.

The risk of civil unrest in Slovakia is at its highest level since the 2018 protests, which forced Fico’s government out of office following widespread demonstrations. With tensions in the country reminiscent of those in 2018, multinationals should factor in potential governmental and civil instability into their mid-term plans.


  • Slovakian PM Robert Fico was hit by four bullets in an assassination attempt last week. He remains in the ICU following surgery, but the latest reports indicate he is expected to make a recovery.
  • The assailant was identified as 71-year-old Slovakian citizen Juraj Cintula. A recording of the suspect was released shortly after he was detained, in which it’s insinuated that one of the motives was the government’s recent action on RTVS. The public broadcaster was replaced by a new body, STVR, which would be indirectly controlled by the Fico government.
  • Slovakian Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok has speculated that this was not a lone-wolf attack, following forensic evidence indicating that Cintula’s communication history had been deleted two hours after his arrest.
  • These tensions have spilled out of Slovakia’s borders, with Polish PM Donald Tusk and Belgian PM Alexander De Croo receiving death threats shortly after, highlighting the rising political tensions across the region.

Our View

We expect increased polarization in the lead-up to the European elections, with parties across the spectrum continuing to trade blame for the attack. The broader concern, however, is the long-term direction Slovakia will take if/when Fico returns to office upon recovery. While we have yet to see an official statement from Fico since the incident, we expect this event will hasten Slovakia’s march toward populism, likely to result in government attempts to further decrease media freedom, which is likely to breach the EU’s Media Freedom Act and would result in punitive measures being taken by the EU.

Following the attack, politicians from the ruling coalition blamed opposition figures and the media for inflaming hatred in the country, which they claim led to the incident. In a press conference, Interior Minister Estok directly confronted journalists, stating, “The shooter was interested in politics—he followed the news you wrote.” Politicians from across Europe have expressed concerns that the assassination attempt is likely to embolden the ruling coalition to further crack down on opposition figures and the media.

This potential crackdown follows recent trends in the country, where the government cut ties with four independent media outlets last year over claims of impartiality and hostile bias. Additionally, the government has replaced the state media outlet RTVS with a new body, STVR, with the Fico government appointing a government-friendly director general. This increasing oppression of media outlets has raised concerns within the EU that Slovakia is following in the footsteps of Hungary, leading to an EU resolution in December calling for EU funding to be suspended if Slovakia continues its reformation of the state media.

In response to these developments in Slovakia, and similar trends in Hungary in recent years, the EU passed a Media Freedom Act in April, which seeks to protect EU journalists and press freedoms across member states. The concern going forward is whether the Fico government will double down on recent attempts to dismantle the free press, which could result in punitive action against the country or, more worryingly, the start of Article 7 proceedings that could lead to EU funding being suspended. The answer is unclear, but as the dust begins to settle following the attack, the outlook is more pessimistic. Lawmakers passed a resolution on Wednesday calling for the media not to spread hatred towards the government, which could foreshadow a broader crackdown in the coming months.

Further concern remains over whether this will be the catalyst for broader civil unrest in the country. In 2018, an investigative journalist was murdered following an investigation into corruption within Fico’s government, which spiraled into widespread civil unrest that forced the resignation of Fico and his entire cabinet. Following four successive prime ministers in five years, Fico was once again voted back into power in 2023. However, the division in the country that brought him down in 2018 is still very much present, with a planned protest of tens of thousands scheduled to take place on the same day as the assassination attempt, before being cancelled.

Outside of Slovakia, other European politicians have used the attack to further their own political agendas. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a close friend and ally of Fico, suggested that the attacker was motivated by the Ukrainian war and that Slovakia and Hungary’s stance, which most Western countries see as Russophile, is pro-peace. This rhetoric was echoed by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who further supported the claim that Fico was targeted for his Kremlin-friendly views, saying, “There are only a few [Russian-friendly] politicians in Europe,” and adding, “They need to take care of their safety.”

Following the attack, other politicians across Europe have received threats on their lives, sparking broader concerns that a new wave of political violence may be taking hold in a period of increasing political polarization. Polish PM Tusk announced last Thursday that he had received politically motivated death threats following the assassination attempt. Similarly, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo filed a police report against a radio presenter who told listeners live on air, “You see that it is possible to shoot down a prime minister. So I would say: Go ahead.”

Ultimately, the events in Slovakia over the last week are symptomatic of the growing issue of polarization within Europe. The historic balance of centrist parties moderating fringe voices has been upset, with polling for the upcoming EU elections indicating a populist surge. As polarization increases and citizens become increasingly disenfranchised, the risk of political violence and civil unrest rises.

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