On October 30, 2023, the newly appointed Slovak government deployed police and armed forces to the border it shares with Hungary. This deployment came after Prime Minister Robert Fico, who came to power after his Direction party won the parliamentary election on September 30th, stated that, “illegal migration must be controled or else people linked to “terrorist” groups could enter the country” (ABC News, 2023).
Fico has been described by many as a populist leader seeking to drastically curb immigration (see for example, Balkan Insight). His coalition government includes “an ultra-nationalist far-right party” that Le Monde states “share his staunch anti-refugee rhetoric and populist leanings.”
Before Fico, Slovakia had adopted a more welcoming stance to immigration, welcoming many Syrian and Afghan refugees (Balkan Insight). But the new Prime Minister announced that “authorities should forcefully prevent the entry of migrants to Slovakia and deport all those already in the country.” (Claudia Ciobanu, 2023). Migration to Slovakia has increased dramatically in recent months. AP News states for example that “According to the Ministry of Interior, the country registered 39,688 migrants from the beginning of the year until Oct. 1—an 11-fold increase from a year ago.”
Anti-immigration rhetoric and policies in Slovakia are not happening in a vacuum. In recent months, Poland, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria have all been tightening border control. As argued by Hall in a recent book reviewed by the Washington Post, dictators learn from each other. Specifically, Fico’s call for a clampdown on immigration mirrors what happened in Poland, which has also implemented stricter border control.
Populism is often a precursor to democratic erosion. Overall, Freedom House reports that Slovakia has a freedom rating of 90/100 which signifies that the country is relatively free and still a liberal democracy. But this could significantly change based on recent developments. As argued by Jan-Werner Müller in “What is Populism,” populists undermine pluralism by claiming that they, and only they, can represent the people. Populists also often promote the idea of a homogenous “people” and tend to have restrictive views on immigration.
Overall, Slovakia’s recent appointment of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico may lead to a decline in their Freedom House score. The next few months will show how far he is ready to go to implement his party’s anti-immigration rhetoric.
AFP, L. M. with. (2023, October 11). Slovak populist Fico says will form coalition with far-right. Le Monde.fr. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/international/article/2023/10/11/slovak-populist-fico-says-will-form-coalition-with-far-right_6164488_4.html
AP News. (2023, October 3). Austrians and Czechs reintroduce controls on the border with Slovakia to curb migration. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/czech-republic-slovakia-migration-c19c6dfb4e89636279c5473c7f8083c8
The Associated Press. (2023, October 30). Slovakia’s new government announces a massive deployment at the Hungarian border to curb migration. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/new-slovakias-government-announces-massive-deployment-hungarian-border-104482348
Board, E. (2023, June 22). Opinion | dictators’ dark secret: They’re learning from each other. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/06/22/dictators-trade-toolkits-cling-power/
Ciobanu, C. (2023, October 31). Poland-Slovakia Border: In And Out Of Control. Balkan Insight. https://balkaninsight.com/2023/10/31/poland-slovakia-border-in-and-out-of-control/
Dlhopolec, P. (2023, September 14). Slovakia Finds Itself In Eye Of Illegal Migration Storm. Balkan Insight. https://balkaninsight.com/2023/09/14/slovakia-finds-itself-in-eye-of-illegal-migration-storm/
Müller, Jan-Werner. What Is Populism? University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Slovakia: Freedom in the World 2023 Country Report. Freedom House. (2022). https://freedomhouse.org/country/slovakia/freedom-world/2023
Spike, J. (2023, October 5). Slovakia begins border checks with neighboring Hungary in an effort to curb migration. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/slovakia-starts-border-check-hungary-migration-450831f11ecba3ddb859ccb65e72bb71 Stoklasa, R. (2023, October 4). Slovakia tightens controls on Hungary border as migrant arrivals rise. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/slovakia-putting-temporary-controls-border-with-hungary-amid-migration-rise-2023-10-04/