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Is Robert Fico a Populist?

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Robert Fico was once again elected on April 4th 2012. His style of governing seems to have undergone a radical change since his first term as head of government from 2006 – 2010. How should we interpret his way of governing? Can Robert Fico be described as a populist?
Source: Robert Fico

A Social-democratic Program must not be mistaken for Populism

Adam Kundrat | translated by: Adam Kundrat | 2013. January 31. 02:00

The post-election fears have proved themselves to be unnecessary. The Fico-government, composed of politicians as well as specialists, has not imposed itself on the opposition. Instead, it prefers to maintain a dialogue with its social-partners as well as the opposition in order to establish social justice and economic recovery.

With the Direction – Social Democracy party gaining absolute majority in parliament, some predicted an authoritarian policy and an economic catastrophe. However, more than two months after the elections, the contrary has been proven. The first positive surprise is the formation of the government and its composition. Besides the big names of the D – SD party, a part of the ministerial seats was entrusted to specialists from different professional backgrounds. Far from being a populist measure, these appointments assure the representativeness of the government. Simultaneously, this shows us that Fico wishes to calm the political scene after the ambiguous appointments of his last government. Furthermore, this underlines his will to assure an efficient governmental action.

 

The confidence that the citizens showed in the D – SD party by giving them an absolute majority has allowed the government to fulfill the promised action easily. Even so, the Prime Minister established a Social Council, where he invited social partners such as employers, trade unions, local communities and churches to dialogue. This quest for a larger consensus gives even more legitimacy to the program proposed by the social-democrats. Fico has also chosen to appoint two members of the opposition to the post of vice-president in the National Council, contrary to the practice of giving a single post to the opposition. In addition, the still fragmented right-wing could give appointments to several controlling functions. The NGOs fear that they will be concerned in a rearrangement of governmental posts; however the new Prime Minister has let it be known that he will create a government council for the NGOs as well as the function of the Representative for Human Rights and National Minorities. This post will be proposed to the minority party Most-Hid, currently in the opposition. A better cooperation cannot be imagined. This certainly does not mark a policy of de-accountability but rather a breath of a new political culture, a culture of dialogue and openness.

*Robert Fico – can he be described as a populist?

A politician whose policy is one of popular measures and often costly in the short term is referred to as a populist. Fico is easily considered to be a synonym for populism, especially by the right-center Slovak press. However, M. Fico presented himself at the elections with a legitimate socialist program. On the one hand, he is not a supporter of austerity – Fico wants to revive the economy and improve the labor market by stimulating growth and job -creation. The socialist idea is to establish social justice by making the rich and the banks who have profited greatly from the crisis contribute. Thus, the government will soon put an end to the experiment of the single tax - it cannot under any circumstances work in Slovakia, a country with social inequalities and a high unemployment rate. On the other hand, Mr. Fico acknowledges that economic growth is inconceivable without a disciplinary budget. For this reason the government is committed to reducing the public spending deficit to below 3% of the GDP in 2013. Finally, in this period of financial and social difficulty, Mr. Fico has shown his determination to put his socialist vision into place – which by definition cannot be described as populist.

 

The Calm before the Storm

Barbora Bodnarova | translated by: Barbora Bodnarova | 2013. January 31. 02:00

The current behavior of the Prime Minister is different from that of his first mandate. However, that is not a reason to believe that he has changed overnight and that he will no longer resort to populism. On the contrary, his recent non-populist actions are mere decoys to mask his efforts of increasing his power.

Many see Robert Fico as a true-blue populist because of his first term. Already when forming the new government he did not hesitate to ally himself with extreme right-wing parties, notably the SNP (Slovak National Party) and the People’s Party.

*A Populist Past

The rhetoric of Robert Fico is based on an extremely simple language with a direct approach and an authoritarian tone which can go so far as to be aggressive. His governance can thus be characterized by his hysterical reactions which greatly worsened the relations between Slovakia and Hungary. When it comes to social politics, Fico did not trouble himself with structural reforms of the social system. Instead he preferred to give a “Christmas bonus” in December to all pensioners; a sum adding up to 30 euros. This in spite of the fact that he is the leader of the only social-democratic party in Slovakia.

*New Term, New Robert?

Robert Fico won the parliamentary elections last March thanks to the “Gorilla Affair”. This victory gave him new powers. At the same time, he seems to have changed his behavior.

In particular, when constructing the program of his new government, he invited representatives from universities, churches and trade unions to express their opinions. It may thus seem that he has chosen to pursue a more consensual policy, abandoning his previous self-centeredness and authoritarianism.

In addition, three of the appointed ministers are not members of the party Direction – Social Democracy. He even offered center-right-wing parties the right to participate in his government. Furthermore, the recent removal of the government’s vice-president post has opened up a new post; the Special Prosecutor for the rights of minorities; a post he did not hesitate to offer to the opposition.

*Continuity

Nevertheless, the current actions of Mr. Fico are best translated into a logic of continuity rather than a logic of severance. The cases cited are primarily politically opportunistic displays; a cunning populism that best describes the political personality of Mr. Fico.

As an example, despite the fact that Mr. Fico has invited representatives from the non-governmental sector to participate in the drafting of his program, he has conveniently forgotten to invite non-governmental organizations, which serve as “watchdogs”.

The fact that he has appointed three technocratic ministers has given his government a more professional appearance. The decision was positively received by observers. However, those who know Mr. Fico well will remember how he constantly passed on the responsibility of his party and himself in scandals and corruption affairs onto the People’s Party and the Slovak National Party. It would be wise to know whether the three professionals – who by definition lack support from the Direction – Social Democracy Party, will act as Robert Fico’s scapegoats. After all, they have no control over the corruption in their ministries. Thus, they are easily removed by charging them with the responsibility of the actions of members of Fico’s party.

The removal of the post of the government’s vice-president responsible for human rights and the rights of minorities is part of the same logic. In spite of the democratic issues raised by this decision, Robert Fico removed a post of great responsibility, in order to scatter its powers between three separate departments and a Special Prosecutor for the rights of minorities. This new post which he so generously offered to the opposition has powers greatly inferior to that of the government’s vice-president. Thus, his powers in this domain are quite limited, yet Mr. Fico’s speech assigned him full responsibility. As his last government was severely criticized for deteriorating the situation for minorities and human rights, giving the responsibility to the opposition is a particularly profitable course of action.

Thus it becomes clear that Mr. Fico is truly a populist strategist. The current political situation allows him to employ increasingly sophisticated practices. However, one should also take his parliamentary-campaign meetings in 2012 into consideration; they show that Mr. Fico also resorts to “old school” populist practices.

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

This article convinced me.

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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A Social-democratic Program must not be mistaken for Populism

Adam Kundrat|translated by: Adam Kundrat

The Calm before the Storm

Barbora Bodnarova| translated by: Barbora Bodnarova

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