Robert Fico (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈrɔbɛrt ˈfit͡sɔ]), (born 15 September 1964) is a Slovak politician who has been Prime Minister of Slovakia since April 2012. Previously he was Prime Minister from 4 July 2006 until 8 July 2010.
Life and early career
Fico was born in 1964, in the town of Topoľčany. His father was a forklift operator and his mother worked in a shoe store. He has two siblings, and is married to Svetlana Ficová; they have one son.
Fico graduated from the Law Faculty of the Comenius University at Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and later worked for the Institute of State and Law of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1987. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and the collapse of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Fico joined the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), a successor of the Communist Party of Slovakia. From 1994 to 2000 Fico represented Slovakia as its legal counsel at the European Court of Human Rights but lost all 14 cases which he handled.
In 1999, when support for the SDL dropped below the threshold required to get into parliament, Fico left and founded Direction – Social Democracy (SMER), becoming a popular opposition politician while criticizing the reforms of the right-wing government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. Eventually, SMER became popular enough that it absorbed its parent party.
2006 government coalition controversy
In the elections in 2006 SMER won with 29.1% of the votes and formed a coalition government with Vladimír Mečiar's People's Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and Ján Slota's Slovak National Party (SNS). Slota has been known for making anti-gypsy and anti-Hungarian comments, including a drunken public speech in which he threatened to "get in tanks and level Budapest to the ground".
One reaction to the coalition came from the EU-wide Party of European Socialists (PES), who suspended SMER's application to join the PES. In late February 2008 however the Assembly of PES conditionally reinstated the application after both SMER and SNS signed a letter committing themselves to respect minority rights.
Fico has never publicly condemned Slota's remarks and speeches, and government-level relations between Slovakia and Hungary have deteriorated. Several meetings between the two countries' prime ministers were abruptly cancelled, and those few that did take place resulted in little improvement of relations.
Before the 2010 elections, Fico's party, seeking reelection was in a relatively strong position according to several polls. However just before the election a political scandal broke out, described as one of the gravest in the country's 17-year history. A voice recording surfaced in which a voice strongly resembling that of Fico claims that he raised several million euros in undeclared funds for the 2002 election as well as calling for a "parallel financial structure" to be created for the financing of Smer's election campaign. Slovak media sources such as SME carried the news about the recording in great detail; however Fico dismissed it as a forgery.
Fico also attacked the media sources that published information about the recording, saying "Should I go over there and give you a smack because you are scoundrels? What you are doing is unheard of. You are masturbating on the prime minister every day." Fico has since been questioned on the matter, SME announced. Daniel Lipsic[who?] told the press he has "handed the recording to the general attorney office". In the election, Fico's SMER remained the biggest party in Parliament, with 62 seats. However, his coalition partners were decimated, with the HZDS being completely shut out. Unable to find a partner willing to given him the 14 seats he needed to stay in office, Fico resigned. He said he "respects the election result" and expressed his desire to lead a resolute opposition after his narrow loss.
Following the fall of the government that replaced his, Fico's Smer-SD returned to power being the first party since the breakup of Czechoslovakia to win an absolute majority of seats. Fico initially sought to form a national unity government with SDKU or KDH, but when this failed he formed the first one-party government in Slovakia since 1998.
A large part of Fico's election victory in 2010 was attributed to his loud criticism of the previous right-wing government's economic, tax, social, pension and legislative reforms. The reforms were generally perceived as very positive and successful by such international bodies as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or the OECD, however they negatively affected certain segments of the population, particularly low wage earners, the unemployed, and welfare and other social assistance recipients.
While in opposition, and primarily during the election campaign, Fico vowed to reverse and cancel the majority of these reforms, however, upon taking office he adopted a more cautious approach. Slovakia was starting to fulfill the Maastricht criteria required for Euro currency adoption, which it completed on 1 January 2009.
The most successful reforms Fico introduced were to establish some reasonable standards in how many times employees may be kept on as temporary workers instead of being given permanent contracts. Under the one-sided, pro-employer legislation of the Mikulas Dzurinda government an employer could (and many did) keep new staff as temps and create a two-tier workforce. Slovakia's labor policies are generally in tune with most other EU states. One of few modifications Fico's government did implement was a slight modification to the unusual flat tax system introduced by the previous government in a way that slightly decreased or eradicated a tax-free part of income for higher income earners. A lower value added tax was imposed on medications and books, though in spite of his election promises Fico failed to extend this onto a wider group of products such as groceries. Among the measures were controversial legislative changes which effectively banned private health insurance companies from generating profit. As a result Slovakia is being sued by several foreign shareholders of local health insurers through international arbitrations. In 2007, Fico unsuccessfully tried to regulate retail food prices, an unprecedented effort in a generally free market European union.
In August 2008, Fico threatened the foreign shareholders of a local gas distributor SPP, the French Gaz de France and the German E.ON, with nationalization and seizure of their ownership shares in a dispute over retail gas prices.
In 2010, Fico faced large scale protests and a blockade of major cities by truckers upset about badly implemented tolls on the highways. Truckers demanded that fuel prices be lowered to compensate for the tolls. Fico initially refused to speak with representatives of the truckers, saying he would not "be blackmailed", but a few days later capitulated. The cuts given to truckers will amount to about €100,000,000.
In foreign policy, Fico's government has faced controversies due to their affiliation with internationally isolated parties of Vladimír Mečiar and Jan Slota.
Compensating his lack of close political allies within the EU (the head of the Czech Social Democrats Jiri Paroubek being a notable exception), Fico has been actively strengthening relations with several non-EU countries such as Serbia and Russia. Slovakia modernised Russian MiG-fighters in Russia and did not buy new NATO-standard jets from the West. Additionally Fico accused Georgia of provoking Russia when attacking South Ossetia in 2008.
Fico is an opponent of the planned construction of new U.S. anti-ballistic missile and radar systems in military bases in neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland and one of the first steps upon taking the PM's office was a military pullout from Iraq. Fico opposed the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, as a result of which Slovakia has not recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state.
Fico and the media
During his press conferences he often verbally attacks, lectures and taunts the present journalists, often accusing them of bias and attacks on his government. On several occasions he has openly and on record used profanities against specific journalists (“idiots”, “pricks”). After characterising journalists as “hyenas”, the broadsheet Pravda adopted a hyena from Bratislava Zoo.
Fico, on at least one occasion, issued an apology to a foreign politician whose visit to Slovakia was largely ignored by the media. When Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov visited in April 2008, most media did not consider the visit of the virtually unknown Zubkov substantially newsworthy. To make matters worse, during the press conference the journalists were not allowed to ask any questions. Subsequently Fico sent Zubkov a letter of apology in which he apologized for the Slovak media's lack of interest in his visit.
- "European Court of Human Rights: Annual surveys of activity" (PDF). http://www.echr.coe.int/NR/rdonlyres/66F2CD35-047E-44F4-A95D-890966820E81/0/Surveyapercus_19591998.pdf. Retrieved 12 October 2011.[page needed]
- Lesná, Ľuba (13 October 2008). "SNS boss crosses another line". Slovak Spectator. http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/33180/2/sns_boss_crosses_another_line.html.
- "Slota lets rip, again". Slovak Spectator. 16 June 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32050/2/slota_lets_rip_again.html.
- "Why is Slovakia not in NATO? Ján Slota explains". Slovak Spectator. 13 February 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/5301/11.
- Vilikovská, Zuzana (3 September 2008). "Slota ridicules Hungarians during PMs' meeting". Slovak Spectator. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32832/10/slota_ridicules_hungarians_during_pms_meeting.html.
- Vilikovská, Zuzana (16 October 2008). "SMK taking Slota to court over anti-Hungarian statements". Slovak Spectator. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33238/10/smk_taking_slota_to_court_over_anti_hungarian_statements.html.
- Lesná, Ľuba (15 December 2008). "Slovak–Hungarian relations thawing slower than hoped". Slovak Spectator. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33850/2/slovakhungarian_relations_thawing_slower_than_hoped.html.
- "Slovak PM reeling from bombshell on eve of elections". Businessneweurope.eu. 11 June 2010. http://businessneweurope.eu/storyf2152/Slovak_PM_reeling_from_bombshell_on_eve_of_elections. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- Beata Balogová. "Daily publishes a recording resembling Fico's voice". Spectator.sme.sk. http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/39180/2/daily_publishes_a_recording_resembling_ficos_voice.html. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "Vote 2010: Fico accepts election defeat, returns mandate". Spectator.sme.sk. http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/39335/10/vote_2010_fico_accepts_election_defeat_returns_mandate.html. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "OECD satisfied with Slovakia's economic performance". Slovak Spectator. 19 March 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/15440.
- "Slovakia will face arbitration for health insurance profit ban". Slovak Spectator. 17 July 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32427/10/slovakia_will_face_arbitration_for_health_insurance_profit_ban.html.
- "Fico attacks retail chains over rising prices". Institute of Economic and Social Studies. 22 July 2007. http://www.iness.sk/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=633.
- "Fico threatens nationalisation to stop energy increases". Slovak Spectator. 18 August 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/32696/10/fico_threatens_nationalisation_to_stop_energy_increases.html.
- "Slovak PM threatens to expropriate utilities-paper". Reuters. 18 August 2008. http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssUtilitiesElectric/idUSLI69531620080818.
- "Slovakia gives in to truckers' demands". Financial Times. 12 January 2010. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/83a0153e-fedb-11de-a677-00144feab49a.html. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "Fico giving new face to Slovak foreign policy". Slovak Spectator. 22 January 2007. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/26315/2.
- "Russland übergibt Slowakei modernisierte MiG-29 nach Nato-Standards | Wirtschaft | RIA Novosti". De.rian.ru. 29 February 2008. http://de.rian.ru/business/20080229/100308217.html. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "Slovak Prime Minister Knows Who Provoked this War in the Caucasus". HNonline.sk. http://www.hnonline.sk/news/c1-26396000-slovak-prime-minister-knows-who-provoked-this-war-in-the-caucasus. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "U.S. missile defence in Europe angers Russia". CBC. 5 March 2007. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2007/03/05/missiledefence-eu.html.
- Slovakia: Declaration violates basic international law, B92, 2008-02-25
- "The Media's Role in Slovakia". Association of European Journalists. 25 December 2008. http://www.aej-uk.org/media-08-Slo-3.doc.
- "Fico: Journalists are "idiots"". The Slovak Spectator. 7 November 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/33958/28/fico_journalists_are_idiots.html.
- "The Muzzle Law: Prison for journalists". Prisonforjournalists.com. 23 February 2009. http://prisonforjournalists.com/EN/media-stories/media-rise-up.html. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- 31. decembra 2009 7:02 (11 September 2001). "Novinárska hyena kačice loviť nemusí". Spravy.pravda.sk. http://spravy.pravda.sk/novinarska-hyena-kacice-lovit-nemusi-dss-/sk_domace.asp?c=A091230_221811_sk_domace_p29. Retrieved 12 October 2011.
- "Fico slams media over coverage". The Slovak Spectator. 14 April 2008. http://www.spectator.sk/articles/view/31401/2/fico_slams_media_over_coverage.html.