Democratic Empowerment and Transnational Threats

Kotleba and the Changing Perception of Fascism in Slovakia

Marian Kotleba is indisputably the face of current Slovakian fascism. He is a chairman of the far-right neo-Nazi political party The People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) that officially sympathizes with the war Slovak state (1939-45) – that time an ally of Nazi Germany. 

LSNS expresses strong anti-Roma and anti-immigrant rhetoric, distances itself from the current establishment, proposes the rejection of same-sex civil union including LGBT rights, encourages Christian fundamentalism and calls for a departure from the EU and NATO, along with replacement of the euro with the Slovak crown. However, anti-Roma rhetoric is a key element of the agenda and it has been proved as the most successful tool of mobilization that increases media coverage. 

Domestic Militia against ‘Gypsy extremists’

Roma minority is on the edge of society as the system fails to effectively integrate them. Most of the Roma ghettos are located in the eastern and southern Slovak regions where they are segregated. They live below the poverty line; they have to live without basic infrastructure such as access to water or electricity. The politicians have often been blamed that never have taken the issue seriously. There has been no progress since the fall of communism and the current situation is characterized by increasing segregation and higher incidence of Roma-targeted crimes.

LSNS does not hesitate to call Roma ‘asocial parasites’ abusing the welfare system (due to extensive access to social benefits such as free housing or allowances) and tags them as those who rob, rape and murder decent people. Undoubtedly, the Roma minority is directly linked to security issues in LSNS’s rhetoric. Therefore, the party proposed to establish domestic militias composed of volunteers who would be allowed to actively protect their lives and property as policy failed to do so. Especially in the places with a high concentration of Roma along with the policy exercises to train the locals.

The Vouchers with Extremist Symbolism

In the latest case, police charged Kotleba with extremism and he faces up to eight years in prison if convicted. The case is linked to donation for disabled children that was made last year when Kotleba submitted the vouchers worth € 1,488. These numbers are widely known for its pro-Nazi message: 14 refers to Fourteen Words in a slogan used by white supremacist David Lane – “we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” and 88 is a Nazi code for ‘Heil Hitler’ as H is the eight-letter of alphabet. 

LSNS’s members were repeatedly charged with Holocaust denial or xenophobic statements, and in 2017 the prosecutors made a notice to the Supreme Court to dissolve the political party, pointing at the pro-fascist tendencies and the violation of the Slovakian constitution and international laws. However, according to the Supreme Court, the prosecutors have not provided evidence that LSNS is a threat to democracy and so dismissed its dissolution. Since the election in 2016, the prosecutors have received more than 160 suggestions to dismiss LSNS especially referring to a fact that the party is identical to the party Slovak Togetherness which was dissolved in 2006. People surrounding the party continued their activities in a form of civil association and later on, the same people stood by Kotleba and established the current LSNS.

The radicalization of public opinion? 

Generally, extreme right-wings were not considered as significant players in Slovakia until the 2012 parliamentary elections when the LSNS showed its potential in several regions. However, the election in 2016 revealed the greater surprise when the party gained 8%[1] of votes (polls suggested max. 3.5%) and occupied fourteen seats in the National Council. Afterwards, Kotleba became a governor of the self-governing region Banska Bystrica. Kotleba even ran for president this year and obtained 10.4%[2] in the first round. 

Undoubtedly, Kotleba’s strength is his manner of expression and face-to-face contact with potential voters. His speeches are authentic and easily understandable. Moreover, he does the campaign continuously and goes to places where no other politicians go. The party appears at rallies, agricultural days or tractor races. 

Kotleba takes advantage of frustrated and dissatisfied citizens who desire a change.  Nevertheless, his sharp rhetoric has affected radicalization of public opinion. The aspects of nationalism, anti-Roma attitudes and the reinforcement of stereotypes against any minority have already entered the public discourse. The boundaries between ‘legitimate’ and ‘extreme’ have become blurry. It can be even said that hate speech has become normalised even between the mainstream parties which are aware of how powerful these topics are and a necessity to incorporate them. It leads to a question: Are voters capable of distinguishing between a far-right party and others?

Furthermore, the voters are manipulated as fascism is often put into context with improper deeds. For instance, Kotleba saved the city of Detva from gold mining that would have destroyed the place. Slovakians then ask themselves “if this is a deed of fascism, then I am also one of them”. However, no one claims that Kotleba is a fascist because of saving Detva or donating money. People are not able to critically understand these facts and the concept of fascism is losing its meaning in the Slovakian environment. 

Kotleba’s tactics and suitably fragile political situations on both Slovakian and European levels facilitate constantly increasing electoral preferences of LSNS – in October 2019 exceeding 10%[3]. It is apparent that Kotleba has moderated his rhetoric, the party reflects more on Christian topics and so they are able to approach a wider spectrum of voters. Moreover, LSNS cooperated with the leading party Smer-SD on the rejection of the UN migration pact or worked on the constitutional amendments. Along with the rejection on party’s dismiss, people tend to not to be ashamed of voting him and the internal splits of potential voters seem to be less complex as they used to be several years back. 

[1] The Election to the National Council 2016, Slovakia., 7. 11. 2019.

[2] The Presidential Election 2019, Slovakia., 7. 11. 2019.

[3] Focus (2019): Election Preferences of Political Parties, October 2019., 7. 11. 2019.

By Soňa Hoigerová

Soňa holds a Master's degree in International Relations and European Studies from the University of Florence. Besides European policies, she is interested in the issues concerning Gender and Global South. She has been currently working as a European Solidarity Corps officer for the National Agency.

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