Slovakia is expected to hold a key parliamentary vote that should see the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS), which is rising up against Muslims, Jews, Roma and the European Union, achieve significant gains.
Saturday’s election in the central European country of 5.5 million people seen as a battle between populists, far-right radicals and a new generation of liberal politicians over 150 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
The final opinion poll showed that the LSNS, which entered parliament in 2016, rose to third place in the race with 10.3% support (or 18 seats), behind the long-standing populist Direction – Social Democracy (SMER) (16.9% or 30 seats) and the centrist Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLANO) party (15.5% or 27 seats).
Eight parties are expected to meet the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament, including six opposition groups that could muster 93 seats between them.
The growth of the far right in this conservative Roman Catholic country comes a year after Slovakia elected its first female president, Zuzana Caputova, who ran on a progressive platform of tolerance and acted accordingly in higher level by defending human rights and various national minorities.
“Slovakia is the last country in Central Europe where, at least officially, we are a fully-fledged liberal democracy. Now either we confirm it … or the Slovaks will join others in a region in retreating into a kind of soft authoritarianism, at best illiberal democracies, ”Michal Vasecka, director of the Bratislava Policy Institute, a group told Al Jazeera. independent reflection.
“In this sense, these are the most important legislative elections of the last 20 years”, he declared.
Vasecka also said that the rise of the “neo-Nazi” LSNS, led by Marian Kotleba – who is on trial for spreading hatred – could be partly linked to the “loss of hope in democracy” of the Slovak people two years ago. after the murder of a journalist investigating high-level corruption plunged Slovakia into crisis.
The investigation into the murder of Jan Kuciak in February 2018 revealed a nebulous network of ministers, police officers and judges all linked to Marian Kocner – a Mafia-linked oligarch accused of ordering his assassination.
“Over the past 20 years, Slovakia has become an oligarchic state. Basically several people are running the country in the shadows and people are fed up, ”Vasecka said.
Slovakian disillusionment helped the LSNS broaden its range of supporters beyond the first-time voters, who won them 14 parliamentary seats in 2016, without offering a full political program.
“Kotleba’s party is supported mainly by men, younger men, who do not have a high level of education,” Marian Sekerak, a Slovak political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
The main target of LSNS are the Roma, he said, referring to the ethnic minority which has been dubbed “parasites” by the party which claims them to be the origin of many problems.
“In Slovakia there is a large minority of Roma. It has tens of thousands of people and many of them are in social need, which has been a problem for almost every government since independence in 1993, ”Sekerak said.
“It’s a social issue, not a racial issue, but it has become part of the rhetoric of the far right, Kotleba’s party,” he said.
Almost 80 percent of those polled in a survey conducted by the Slovak Academy of Sciences said that Roma enjoy undeserved advantages and benefit from the country’s social system.
“Almost two-thirds of those surveyed – 64% – were more likely to identify with overtly negative stereotypes about Roma, for example: ‘There are very few decent or reasonable Roma’”, the report released earlier this month.
At least 51% see the ethnic minority as a threat to national identity, according to the survey.
Grigorij Meseznikov, president of the Institute of Public Affairs in Bratislava and a member of the Institute for the Humanities (IWM) of the Europe’s Future program in Vienna, told Al Jazeera that the roots of racist sentiment run deep in the country.
During World War II, Slovakia was an ally of Nazi Germany, and the government of the day participated in the Holocaust.
“Almost all the Jews were deported and killed. So literally there are only a few thousand Jews in Slovakia – but still this [anti-Semitic] the feeling survives. This party [LSNS] Openly adores this Slovak state from WWII. This means that they inherit this legacy of national fascism, ”he said.
Meseznikov also said that the far right – and some mainstream parties – used xenophobic rhetoric against Muslim migrants, especially since the influx of Syrian refugees to Europe in 2015.
“Few people have been granted refugee status in the country, but this fear of migrants, Muslims, coming to Europe is there,” he said, adding that LSNS ‘”very rude” remarks have attracted the mainstream because they seemed “more authentic”.
Meseznikov said “the country’s image is deteriorating”, but the LSNS was unlikely to be included in a future coalition government.
The ruling party and opposition parties have said they will not cooperate with the far right, however, some Al Jazeera analysts have suggested that remains a possibility.
“Yes, luck is still on the table, but it is diminishing every day. But politics are sometimes strange, ”Vasecka said.
He said that if Kotleba’s party had a direct influence on governance, “it would be a fundamental threat to the Euro-Atlantic leadership of Slovakia”.
“On the other hand, the threat to the EU could be as far as this type of political party starts to dominate more in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This would threaten disintegration and weaken the EU as a whole.
Follow Al Jazeera’s Tamila Varshalomidze on Twitter @ tamila87v