Contains distressing content.
15 May 2024

Slovakia PM in life-threatening condition after shooting

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

With Slovakia’s prime minister’s life hanging in the balance, his political rivals and supporters have come together to denounce the assassination attempt, calling it an attack on Slovak democracy.

Robert Fico was hit in the stomach after a gunman opened fire during a meeting with supporters in the town of Handlova, just over 100 miles from the capital Bratislava.

Fico was shot several times in an apparent assassination attempt. Seemingly unable to walk after reportedly being shot in the abdomen, leg and arm, his security detail desperately bundled him into a car. While only a few feet away, the alleged attacker was pinned to the ground. He was detained and arrested.

“I heard three shots. It was quick. One by one. Like if you throw a firecracker on the ground. I think it’s a nightmare. I think I won’t wake up from this. This shouldn’t happen in Slovakia,” said a witness.

‘An attack on democracy’

Fico was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in a nearby town. His injuries were reportedly too severe to risk the journey to Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, just over 100 miles away. Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister had attended a government meeting in a cultural community centre in the town of Handlová, now a crime scene sealed off by police. After news broke of the assassination attempt, Slovakia’s president called the shooting of a political rival an assault on the country’s democracy.

“Something serious has happened that we can’t even realise yet. A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but it’s also an attack on democracy,” said President Zuzana Čaputová.

“Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we witness in society leads to hateful acts. Please, let’s stop it.”

A polarised environment

Fico won a surprise third term last October, running on a populist agenda in clear defiance of the European Union and pledging not to send a single bullet to Ukraine. His opponents worry he is steering Slovakia away from a pro-Western course and aligning the country more closely with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Less than two weeks ago, thousands of people took to the capital’s streets to protest against the controversial overhaul of the country’s public broadcasters, something critics say would result in the government taking full control of the media.

While it’s too soon to glean the alleged attacker’s motives, the fear in Slovakia and around Europe is that the incident, rather than bringing a country together in pain, could polarise it even further.