Slovak PM blames shooting on opposition's 'hatred'

Screenshot from a Facebook video posted by Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico
Robert Fico made his first statement since the assassination attempt in a Facebook video [Reuters]

Three weeks after Robert Fico was gunned down in central Slovakia, he’s made a full-throated return to political life - on the eve of the European elections.

In a Facebook video apparently recorded at home in Bratislava, the Slovakian prime minister laid the blame for the attack on Slovakia’s liberal opposition, the "anti-government media" and foreign-funded NGOs for creating a climate of hatred and intolerance that made the shooting possible.

Mr Fico, who was critically injured on 15 May after being shot multiple times in the abdomen, said he forgave his attacker - identified by prosecutors as 71-year-old Juraj C – and bore no hatred towards him.

However, he said his assailant was an “activist of the Slovak opposition”.

The man, who faces a lengthy prison sentence for attempted murder, was a “messenger of the evil and political hatred” whipped up by Slovakia’s “unsuccessful and frustrated” opposition, Mr Fico said.

Opposition parties - in particular the liberal Progressive Slovakia, which is neck-and-neck with Mr Fico’s left-populist Smer party ahead of the European Parliament elections - have condemned the shooting and have categorically rejected all links with the attacker.

Mr Fico, who has served as prime minister for more than 10 of the last 18 years, returned to power last October at the head of a populist-nationalist coalition.

Slovakia has become increasingly polarised in recent months and the attack has only deepened tensions.

A person is detained after shooting incident of Slovak PM Robert Fico
The suspect in Mr Fico's shooting was arrested after the incident in the town of Handlova on 15 May [Reuters]

In a video evidently recorded in the corridor of a police station hours after the attack in the central town of Handlova, the suspect – described as a poet and author - said he had been motivated by opposition to Mr Fico’s policies, including the abolition of public broadcaster RTVS.

Footage also emerged showing him at several anti-government demonstrations.

However, older videos showed the man addressing a meeting of a far-right Slovak paramilitary organisation, so there is lingering confusion over his political beliefs.

Mr Fico, appearing well and dressed in a crisp white and blue patterned shirt, said if all went well he would be able to return to work at the end of June.

He appealed to the "anti-government media" - especially those outlets he said were co-owned by companies linked to US philanthropist George Soros as well as foreign-funded NGOs and the opposition - not to downplay the reasons for the assassination attempt.

He had warned for months, he said, that the likelihood of an attack on a government official was “approaching certainty".

The attack had taken place, he said, in an atmosphere where the opposition was exploiting the fact that the collective West was trying to force through a “single acceptable foreign policy”, notably on Ukraine, and riding roughshod over smaller nations that were trying to embark on a sovereign path of their own.

Mr Fico opposes military aid to Kyiv and says Vladimir Putin has been "wrongly demonised" by the West.

The opposition’s “violent or hateful excesses” against a democratically-elected government had been met with silence by international organisations, he said, simply because opposition views were in line with Western policy on Ukraine.

This was the atmosphere in which the assassination attempt had taken place, he said.

“I should be full of anger, hatred and revenge,” Mr Fico said.

“[But] I would like to express my belief that all the pain I have gone through and am still going through will serve something good."