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What's the future of Russian-Slovak relations?

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Most Central European countries share a complicated communist past with the Russian Federation and their current foreign policy varies a great deal toward their powerful neighbor, from one country to the next. When Andrej Danko, the Speaker of the Slovak Parliament and Chairman of the Slovak National Party visited Russia at the end of 2017, he chose to hold a friendly, Russophile speech, stirring up much controversy. Did this visit underline a new direction for Slovak foreign policy toward Russia? And how were his actions viewed back home?

Strange event for foreigners, nothing new for locals

Machajdík Matúš | 2017. December 25. 19:00

The relationship between Slovakia and its “Big Slavic Brother“, Russia, has always been very warm (despite some changes to the course here and there). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a high ranking official should visit Putin’s stronghold and declare future cooperation between the two countries.

Slovakia had enjoyed an enormously expedient, frivolous, hypocritical and opportunistic foreign policy ever since the governing left-wing Smer party came into power in 2012 (currently being in a coalition with two other parties). Prime Minister Robert Fico self-styles himself as a realist and decided that this is how his foreign policy would be shaped. Unfortunately for him, this approach backfired, because Mr. Fico desired to be on each side of every issue and many Slovaks saw through it, rendering his social democratic party increasingly less popular in the elections of 2016. As a result, Robert Fico had no other recourse than to enter a coalition government.
Our new coalition government now comprises of three parties, (previously four, but the fourth one collapsed) Smer, Slovak National Party (SNS), Most-Híd. All of the partners in this eldritch assembly, (yet again, this supposedly socialist party is joining up with the far-right nationalist SNS, as was done in 2006) have signed a document committing themselves to a pro-European and Atlanticist direction of Slovakia! All of this was questioned recently, courtesy of SNS.

*Danko playing the Russian card

On 15th of November, speaker of the National Council (the Slovak Parliament), a trained lawyer and the Chairman of the nationalist SNS, Andrej Danko, payed a visit to the Russian Federation. In addition to this trip, he made a speech to the Russian MPs in the lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly (Duma). In this quite boring rhetorical exercise, he had a chance to have his long contained Russophilia finally come streaming down. He said for example that: "We are Slavs, our culture, history but also the sensing of our surroundings are connected and close. We understand each other, we believe each other". Apart from it being untrue (not only were Slovaks conquered and incorporated into the Hungarian Empire, while Russia was occupied not once, but Bulgaria had Macedonia in its possession for several years,) this should come as an insult to every Ukrainian who is currently defending their country from the onslaught of the Russian backed "rebels". Such a collectivist argument needs to be immediately dismissed as victim-culture, producing at best and dangerous at worst!
Many Slovak MPs were understandably dismayed by this genuflecting to the Russian Bear. Chairman of the parliamentary foreign policy committee, František Šebej, drew attention to the fact that the chairman of the Duma is on an American sanctions list. Conservative reagent, MP Peter Osuský, reminded Mr. Danko that while, of course he has the right to express his own views, he also represents the Slovak Republic. What is worse however, is that Mr. Danko refused to condemn the Russian annexation of Ukrainian land, using a very old-fashioned "I am not a historian" excuse, when asked about Crimea (Ukrainian territory annexed by Russian troops in March of 2014).

*Culture and history explain all

In reality, this move changes little to nothing in Russo-Slovak relations. Surely, it can be considered a small shift, but only that. The relationship between Slovakia and its “Big Slavic Brother” have always been very warm (despite some changes to the course here and there). Therefore it comes as no surprise that a high ranking official should visit Putin´s stronghold.
A recent poll had showed that Slovaks trust Russia the most out of any V4 countries (that is, from the Central European region of Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary). As a predominantly Christian and very conservative nation, many Slovaks (including the former catholic Prime Minister, Ján Čarnogurský) see Russia as a protector of traditional values and a bulwark against an imminent "Muslim invasion". Prime Minister Fico refused to put sanctions on Russia only buckling under pressure from other EU members – as he usually does. Speaker Danko has participated in debates organized by extremely anti-American and even anti-Semitic forces (while carefully playing the neutral position). 

An important figure of Slovak emancipation and the de facto creator of Slovak language, Ľudovit Štúr, had openly called for Slovakia to be consumed by Russia before the end of his life. This creates a historical precedence that is easily exploited by many far-right nationalists. They can point to this text and demand from Slovaks to follow in their ancestor's footsteps. Anyone who is opposed will be labelled as a traitor or anti-Slovak. So in effect, this "historical visit" was nothing new for ethnic Slovaks, yet can be surprising to an abundance of foreigners. 

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