Who is Robert Fico, the populist Slovakian prime minister who was shot?

Fico became the longest-serving head of government in the history of Slovakia, a European Union and NATO member. Credit: PA

Words by Hannah Norbury

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, 59, is in serious but stable condition after he was shot in the abdomen on Wednesday.

He had been greeting supporters at an event in the town of Handlova, nearly 140 kilometres northeast of the capital, when he was attacked. A total of five shots were fired.

The attacker has not yet been named, but was described as a 71-year-old from the town of Levice. He was charged on Thursday.

The attempt on Fico’s life also came at a time of high division in Slovakia, as thousands of demonstrators have repeatedly rallied in the capital and around the country to protest his pro-Russian, anti-American messages.

It also comes just ahead of June elections for the European Parliament.

But who is Fico, and why is he such a divisive figure in Slovakia? ITV News explains.

Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia. Credit: AP

Born in 1964 - in what was then Czechoslovakia - Fico began his political journey as a member of the Communist Party.

In the late 1990s, he founded the Smer party, becoming its chairman in 1999.

The party was once described as left-populist, but has over the last years, embraced right-wing views on immigration and cultural issues.

Most recently, Fico was compared to the nationalist prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Viktor Orbán.

Fico began the first of his three terms as prime minister in 2006, serving for four years before going into opposition after his coalition lost an election.

He returned to power in 2012 but resigned as prime minister in July 2018 following mass demonstrations over the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée.

Kuciak had been reporting on tax-related crimes implicating politicians in Fico’s party, and his murder set off a political crisis for Fico.

In one infamous press conference, Fico was pictures with bundles of cash on a table, promising to pay €1 million for information leading to the capture of the killer.

Despite being temporarily ousted, Fico was re-elected for a third term last year, with his party winning the election on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform.

Another major part of his election campaign was vowing to stop military support for Ukraine, as it fought against Russia's invasion. He also argued that NATO and the United Stated provoked Moscow into war.

Since then, the tensions in the country have only heightened.

Following the shooting on Thursday, Šutaj Eštok, Slovakia's interior minister, called for an end to the violent language on social media.

“I want to appeal to the public, to journalists and to all politicians to stop spreading hatred,” he said.

“We are on the verge of civil war.”

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