Slovakia assassination attempt and Georgia upheaval – Deepening divides in Europe exacerbated by Ukraine-Russia war

Prime Minister Robert Fico (Wikimedia Commons)

Two recent events – the attempted assassination of Slovakia’s prime minister and the mass protests over the ‘Russian law’ introduced by the Georgian government – have increased political tensions in both countries and are indictive of ever-deepening divides within Europe.

The 27-month long war in Ukraine, which has seen recent Russian military advances, has vastly exacerbated ethnic, national, political, and military tensions within and between European states.

The attempted killing of Prime Minister Robert Fico shocked Slovaks and reverberated across the continent. This happened just weeks before elections to the European parliament, which are expected to see big gains for the populist and nationalist right.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president, and other commentators referred to the attempt on Fico’s life as another ‘Franz Ferdinand moment’. The killing of the Austro-Hungarian archduke in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914 is widely regarded as the catalyst that triggered World War One. While this is clearly an exaggeration, it is undoubtedly the case that Europe today is increasingly polarised politically, economically and militarily, with a major war taking place between Russia and Ukraine, supported by rival global powers, costing up to 500,000 lives, so far. With the attempt on Fico’s life, the New York Times asks: “How far Europeans are willing to go to wage war against themselves as extreme political polarization stalks their societies.”

The alleged shooter, a former coalmine worker, who tried to assassinate Fico, was at first described as a “lone wolf” who has an erratic political history and has in the recent period supported Ukraine in the current war with Russia. The Slovak interior ministry later said that the attacker may not have acted alone. Whatever the motives behind the attack, they are indicative of an extremely polarised society.

Fico began his political life as a Communist Party member before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Slovakia was part of the former Czechoslovakia. The restoration of capitalism in Czechoslovakia and across the region saw a layer of privileged Stalinist bureaucrats-turned capitalist oligarchs loot the state-owned economy and enormously enrich themselves while the mass of the population saw their living standards dramatically decline.

Under Fico’s leadership, his new party, Direction-Social Democracy (Smer), moved in a right-wing, nationalist direction. During last year’s general elections, Fico espoused an anti-EU, anti-Ukraine, anti-immigration, and anti-LGBTQ+ rights line. Fico faces strong opposition in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava but has support beyond in deindustrialised and poorer rural areas. Fico, like right-wing populist nationalist politicians across the continent, cynically plays on fears that immigrants are ‘taking’ local jobs and homes and breaking local services and infrastructure. (It is estimated that 5.1 million immigrants entered the EU in 2022, more than double the year before.)

Fico began his fourth term as prime minister last October, with his Smer party leading a three-way coalition. He has criticised EU sanctions against Moscow and advocated a “negotiated settlement” to the war in Ukraine, echoing Putin’s call. Like his ally Viktor Orban, the populist nationalist prime minister of Hungary, the Slovak prime minister has taken steps to muzzle the media, legal institutions, and other bodies critical of his rule. Fico has accused the state broadcaster, RTVS, of a “liberal bias” against his government and having a pro-EU agenda.

The attempt on Fico’s life has only deepened the country’s sharp divisions, with the interior minister warning that “we are on the doorstep of a civil war”.


This fear of widespread civil conflict is also present in Georgia where, despite months of mass protests that were met violently by police, the ruling Georgian Dream party adopted a bill – the “foreign agents’ law” – which obliges media and ‘civil groups’ that receive foreign funding to register with the government.

Opponents of the bill have derided it as ‘the Russian bill’, given its similarities to legislation introduced by Putin’s government to crack down on opposition groups and NGOs. It is expected that Georgia’s president will refuse to sign off the bill and that it will come back to the government to have a final vote. If so, Brussels has threatened to freeze Georgia’s membership bid to the EU.

Georgia, in the south Caucasus, was the first ex-Eastern Bloc country to witness a ‘colour’ revolution in November 2003. Protests over disputed parliamentary elections led to the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet Union foreign minister. The pro-capitalist, pro-western opposition leaders, however, provided no way forward for the impoverished masses. A US-trained politician, Mikheil Saakashvili, won elections and was celebrated by the west, increasing tensions within Georgia and with Putin’s Russia. Since a short war with Russia over the breakaway South Ossetia area in 2008, Russian troops have occupied about twenty per cent of Georgian territory. As Saakashvili’s rule became ever more repressive and corrupt, his support fell. In 2012, an umbrella coalition, Georgian Dream, bankrolled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made billions in post-Stalinist Russia, won power.

The Georgian Dream government has tried to balance between developing good relations with Russia while also still publicly maintaining an ambition to join the EU and NATO. Some polls show support for EU membership among Georgians as high as 80% – no doubt as working people are desperate to escape low wages and poverty. At the same time, the Georgian Dream government plays on social conservatism, especially in rural areas, denouncing the EU’s ‘social values’. As part of its nationalist propaganda, the Georgian Dream government is rewriting history, and even statues celebrating Stalin, who was born in Georgia, have appeared throughout the country.

Last year, the Georgian Dream government backed down to large street protests and Brussels criticisms over the ‘foreign agents law’ or ‘the Russian Bill’. However, the Georgian government seems determined to pass the latest version of the law, especially as it faces elections in October.

The CWI stated at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and other Stalinist states in Eastern Europe that capitalist restoration would not bring peace and prosperity, as the pro-capitalist ideologues promised. Instead, the market economy has led to wars, worsening ethnic and national tensions, impoverishment of the masses, and brutal class exploitation. The various political factions representing competing oligarchs and outside powers’ interests have shown repeatedly that they offer no way forward for working people across the region; they are dragging the region towards ever more impoverishment and internecine conflict and wars.

The building of mass workers’ organisations, including genuinely independent trade unions, and political parties with socialist policies, is an urgent task in Slovakia, Georgia and across the region. In that way, workers can collaborate across national and ethnic divisions in the struggle for full democratic rights, decent jobs, education, health and public transport, linked to the fight for an end to the disaster of gangster capitalist rule and interference by rival imperialisms. A federation of democratic socialist societies would take the major planks of the economy into democratic public ownership for the benefit of the many, transforming lives, and ending division and conflict.


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May 2024