Slovaks began voting in a general election today that polls show will hand firebrand leftist Premier Robert Fico a third term in power on the back of staunch anti-refugee rhetoric.
Arguing that jihadists masquerading as refugees could infiltrate the European Union, the populist leader has insisted on “monitoring every Muslim” in predominantly Catholic Slovakia after November’s attacks in Paris. His anti-refugee policies have echoed EU hawks like Czech President Milos Zeman, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
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“We’ll never bring even a single Muslim to Slovakia, we won’t create any Muslim communities here because they pose a serious security risk,” Fico told thousands at a rally in Bratislava for his Smer-Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party, days ahead of the vote.
Leaders in the EU’s poorer ex-communist east have mostly refused to accept refugees as Europe grapples with its worst migration crisis since World War II. Fico has bolstered his popularity with one of the toughest refugee stances in Europe. “I voted for Smer-SD. I like the way they lead this country. I find Fico trustworthy,” a pensioner who identified herself only as Anna told AFP at a polling station in Bratislava.
However very few refugees have arrived in Slovakia, opting instead for richer nations. Fellow pensioner Stefan Kralko told AFP: “I support him (Fico) because I feel safe.” “The future of our children is at stake, I’ve seen the footage on TV, the situation in Europe is worsening,” added a Fico voter in her fifties, who asked not to be identified.
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With his Czech, Hungarian and Polish partners, Fico has vowed to help Bulgaria and Macedonia seal their borders with EU member Greece, should Athens fail to stem the tide of refugees from Turkey by mid-March. As Slovakia gears up for the EU’s rotating presidency in July, he starkly warned that “we have reached the point when… Greece is likely to be sacrificed for the sake of
Schengen”, referring to the 26-nation passport-free travel zone.
Fico also insists that Slovakia, a eurozone member since 2009, opposes further bailouts for troubled Greece, calling this “a red line for us”. But not all have been wooed by Fico’s strident anti-refugee rhetoric. Public sector workers who feel left behind by Slovakia’s economic success staged strikes demanding wage hikes ahead of the vote.