Slovakia’s ruling party lost its parliamentary majority, and neo-Nazis gained 8 per cent of the vote in Saturday’s election.
More than 200,000 Slovakians voted for the neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia (L’SNS). That figure includes 23 per cent of first-time voters. Some of the fourteen elected L’SNS MPs were once monitored by the state. But they are now free to express their views in the National Council.
Marian Kotleba, who leads the L’SNS, gained a parliamentary seat. He was elected governor of the Banská Bystrica Region (BBSK) in 2013. Kotleba’s brother, Martin, also gained a seat in parliament. Natália Grausová, another L’SNS MP has defended the Slovak regime which acted as a Nazi satellite in World War II. The Nazis murdered 75,000 Slovak Jews (around 83 per cent of the pre-war total). Deportations stopped after a Vatican representative intervened. But after the Slovak National Uprising in 1944, the SS took control of the fascist Hlinka Guard militia.
Before taking office, Marian Kotleba fashioned himself in the image of the Hlinka Guard. Mr Kotleba established his first political party Slovenska Pospolitost (Slovak Brotherhood) in 2003. The interior ministry banned it in 2006 for its incitement to racial, national and religious hatred.
To mainstream his image required ditching overt fascism. He replaced it with the mainstream dislike of Slovakia’s isolated Roma minority. Police have arrested Kotleba for inciting racial hatred, but he’s escaped conviction.
An English-language manifesto rejects EU membership and NATO. The L’SNS wants to form domestic militia groups and allow citizens to own guns. Their populist electoral rhetoric spoke of ‘banishing thieves’ from parliament and supporting ‘white’ families. A focus on Christian identity helps the party externalise Muslims as a threat.
At times, the personality cult around Marian Kotleba overrides that of other party members. Kotleba’s own rhetoric makes clear that the L’SNS seeks to ‘protect our homeland from thieves’. Externalising threats allows them to romanticise the fascism of Jozef Tiso’s Nazi satellite state.
The shift towards neo-Nazi, extremist and nationalist parties is a growing trend in parts of Europe. Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) mirrors the creeping illiberal attitudes of Orban’s Hungary. In Denmark, the People’s Party are the second-largest party in parliament. Polling data put the Sweden Democrats at their highest projected share of the electoral vote at 19.9 per cent. A Median poll put the antisemitic and Islamophobic Jobbik as Hungary’s second-strongest political party at 21 per cent.
Austria’s Freedom Party and Italy’s Lega Nord continue to gain support in opinion polls. In spite of its failures in the final rounds of local elections, the Front National made historic gains in the first-round. This surge owes to their ability to exploit societal anxieties and anger directed at the EU, Muslims and refugees.
The fracturing of Slovakia’s political scene presents a challenge for Mr Fico to form a ruling majority. The surge in support for neo-Nazis caught many pundits off-guard. Other politicians condemned Kotleba’s party. But this only serves to foster their sense of self-victimisation and racist populism.