Slovakia ahead of the parliamentary elections: End of military support for Ukraine?

After months of political turmoil, the Slovaks will decide on a new parliament in the upcoming early elections in September. The new government could align Slovakia with the Russia-friendly states in Central Europe. Daniel Martínek analyses the election scenarios and their implications in the region. 

It is hard to imagine a more challenging time to govern than what former Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič experienced. The Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the related migration, as well as inflation and energy crises have certainly contributed significantly to the downfall of his governing coalition, which was formed after the 2020 parliamentary elections. However, the main cause of instability and the potential collapse of the government stemmed not only from all these crises but also from a series of personal hostilities between the leaders of the coalition parties. The vote of no confidence and the gradual withdrawal of coalition partners and their ministers eventually culminated in the establishment of an expert government in June of this year. It is intended to lead the country until the early elections scheduled for 30 September. 

Four opposition parties, amidst three years of internal and inter-party conflicts, have pledged to establish a stable government. According to current opinion polls, Slovak citizens are inclined to believe in this commitment, especially as all the former governing parties are grappling to surpass the five per cent electoral threshold. Robert Fico, the former long-serving prime minister and leader of the left-wing nationalist party SMER-SSD, currently holds the highest approval rating (20 per cent as per July polls). His party promises experience and order, with a particular focus on countering the liberal “Progressive Slovakia” party led by Michal Šimečka, which, according to current polls, might secure second place with around 16 per cent of the vote. 

Rise of political defectors 

Behind them in third place (at 11 per cent) are the defectors from the SMER-SSD party, who have been organising themselves under the leadership of Petr Pellegrini, the successor to Fico as prime minister (2018-2020), within the party “HLAS – Social Democracy” (HLAS-SD) since 2020. Although party members attempted to distance themselves from the corrupt and mafia-associated SMER party in response to the lost elections three years ago, many Slovaks still view them as partly responsible for the decline of the rule of law and the erosion of democratic institutions during the years of the SMER government. 

Since 2021, former members of the “People’s Party Our Slovakia” have also joined the “Republic” movement. According to current election forecasts, the national-conservative party led by Milan Uhrík can expect to secure around 10 per cent of the vote, which means that seats in the parliament – whether within the governing coalition or the opposition – are guaranteed for them. Although the four party leaders swiftly ruled out cooperation with one or another party upon media inquiry, various post-election scenarios for collaboration are conceivable at this point. However, one thing is certain: the majorities in the new parliament will significantly hinge on which small parties surpass the five per cent threshold and thereby become the “kingmakers” after the election. 

Scenarios: Return of old suspects and their controversial mafia-like politics? 

If the “Bulgarian” scenario – meaning the impossibility of coalition formation and recurring snap elections – does not occur, and the victorious parties reach an agreement, two directions of post-election development can be anticipated. The future government could form from a coalition of the parties “HLAS-SD” and “Progressive Slovakia”, alongside the participation of smaller parties such as “KDH” (Christian Democratic Movement), “SaS” (Freedom and Solidarity), and “Sme Rodina” (We Are a Family). A clear pro-European and pro-Atlantic foreign policy direction, coupled with continued efforts to combat corruption, enhance judicial independence, and build trust in governmental institutions, would be expected in such a case for the upcoming electoral cycle. 

Another post-election scenario might not appear as promising to proponents of the EU project and transatlantic cooperation. This year’s election could mean the return of experienced Prime Minister Robert Fico and his party SMER-SSD, which, despite its willingness to form a coalition with its social-democratic offshoot party HLAS-SD, possesses limited coalition potential. This could compel Fico’s party not only to partner with the HLAS-SD party but also to join forces with the nationalist “Republic” party, labelled as radical and extremist by some experts. By forming a coalition alongside the SNS party (Slovak National Party), these four parties could even secure an absolute majority in the parliament. The revival of the SMER-SSD party is viewed by many as a resurgence of party members associated with corruption and controversial political practices. After a three-year hiatus, a revival of a mafia-like political culture could be on the horizon. The end of this culture was the hope of many protesters during the mass demonstrations triggered by the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in 2018, which rallied against the government. 

Pro-Western liberals versus pro-Russian conservatives  

Dissatisfaction with current Slovak domestic and foreign policy, deteriorating living conditions due to ongoing crises and the war in Ukraine, as well as frustration with the conflict-ridden government of the past three years are leading significant portions of the Slovak population to support parties that offer simple – often populist and radical – solutions. This explains the current high popularity of the SMER-SSD party as a symbol of corruption, as well as the extremist, strongly nationalist Republic party. 

Such a government coalition would not only deal a heavy blow to the development of liberal democracy in the country, but with the involvement of the Republic party, Slovakia could follow the ideological path of the Hungarian Fidesz party or the Polish PiS party. Equally important, however, is that these elections are also of fundamental importance at the regional and European level. In the event of Fico’s return as prime minister, which will depend on the support of the Republic movement led by Uhrík, in addition to a strongly EU-sceptic and anti-Western foreign policy, an end to Slovak military support for Ukraine is to be expected. This development would be supplemented by a clear rejection of EU sanctions against Russia and the restoration of friendly relations with the Russian Federation. Both party leaders do not hide their support for Orbán’s style of neutrality and have even become some of the biggest disseminators of pro-Russian propaganda in the country, as evidenced by Uhrík’s speeches and Fico’s social media activities. 

Decreasing support for Ukraine? 

These increasing pro-Russian narratives and sympathies are not unique to Slovakia. They can be observed across nearly all European countries, as evidenced by the growing support for parties like the FPÖ in Austria or the AfD in certain German states. While the Republic party, unlike the SMER-SSD party, consistently questions Slovakia’s membership in the EU and NATO, the country will likely remain firmly anchored in Euro-Atlantic structures even after the election. 

However, an entirely different dynamic could emerge in Central Europe following the elections, where Slovakia, by discontinuing its military support for Ukraine, might align with the ranks of so-called neutral states, like Hungary or Austria. Ultimately, this could also signify a realignment of forces within the currently geopolitically inactive Visegrád Group. As a result, two camps would emerge: those actively providing military and humanitarian support to Ukraine (Czech Republic, Poland) and those refusing to provide arms to the beleaguered state while aiming to maintain close relations with Moscow (Hungary, Slovakia). Such a development could contribute to even greater dysfunctionality within this once-significant Central European cooperation format. 

The original version of the article (in German) has been published at Eastblog of the University of Vienna and in the daily newspaper DerStandard.  



Global Fragility: An uncertain future


Continuing support for Ukraine, resilience of Europe in the face of war and mitigating the global consequences of the conflict in a global dialogue were three overarching themes of GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum that took place on 29-31 May 2023 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

In light of the ongoing war in Ukraine and its consequences felt across, rebuilding stability, keeping unity and re-establishing links in Europe is more important than ever before. GLOBSEC Forum was designed to provide platform and create synergies among different stakeholders to respond to the challenges of today and foremost tomorrow.

The IDM was a content partner of the Forum and contributed to a high level exclusive thematic dinner “Echoes of War: Unraveling Global Consequences of the War in Ukraine”. What is more, Sebastian Schäffer, the IDM’s Managing Director was a panellist at timely side event: “The

European Political Community as an Inclusive Forum for Dialogue: Is this Enough?” co-organized by GLOBSEC and the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). Finally, Director Schäffer took part in the activities related to GLOBSEC Danube Tech Valley Initiative.

The Implications of President Joe Biden’s Visit to Warsaw: national and regional perspectives  

President Joe Biden is coming to Poland this week, almost exactly one year after the Russian invasion in Ukraine started. On 21 February Biden was also in Kyiv on a surprise visit, for which he used Rzeszów in Poland to transfer to Ukraine. But the visit, despite being symbolic, has some domestic and regional implications. 


According to the information available today, in Poland President Biden (POTUS) will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of the ruling camp (including the Polish President, Andrzej Duda), make a public address to the Poles (at the symbolic place near the Royal Castle in Warsaw), and take part in the meeting of the so-called Bucharest Nine, a group of nine NATO countries in Eastern Europe. Just as it happened on 26 March 2022, the upcoming visit will focus on security issues, and its underlying theme will be the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 


Biden will be the first US president to visit Poland again in less than a year after the previous one, although Barack Obama visited Poland three times: in 2011, 2014, and 2016. Poland was chosen as a destination for the POTUS visit because it has become a hub for international support for Ukraine. Nowadays Poland is a territory through which Western supplies are entering Ukraine, be they humanitarian or military. Moreover, the country is important as it received one of the biggest numbers of refugees (around 950 thousands so far) among EU countries and in the region. Apart from Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are hosting significant numbers of refugees, but they are significantly lower: 432 thousands and 147 thousands respectively. 


Poland is also one of the most hawkish countries in Europe as regards Russia on the international stage. It has proposed far reaching sanctions and other measures that NATO/EU allies could implement (such as the transfer of MIG-29s). Along with the Baltic republics, Poland was also one of the biggest and most active proponents of the EU membership candidate status for Ukraine.  


The visit is not free from certain controversies, however. Many Poles as well as commentators in the West do not like the fact that Biden will probably strategically turn a blind eye to the policies of Poland’s ruling government that deteriorate the rule of law and democracy at home. The visit will strengthen the image of PiS as a party that has a special relationship with the US, while the country positions itself on the margins of the EU. In fact, Mr Biden once criticised Poland, listing it alongside Belarus and Hungary as examples of “the rise of totalitarian regimes in the world.” By contrast, ahead of Mr Biden’s visit, White House spokesman John Kirby rightly applauded Warsaw for being “a strident ally and a tremendous supporter of Ukraine.”  


In short, the PiS government will be able to present themselves as those who improved Poland’s position in the alliance, and this in turn would play in the government’s favour during the election year. It is important for the PiS government to present the relations with the US as better than ever before because the politicians of the Polish right want to be seen by the domestic audience as world leaders. President Biden’s second visit to Poland in less than a year will only strengthen this view. 


In the region, Poland is already perceived as a country that has a leading role in supporting Ukraine. Moreover, while Poland perceives itself as a natural leader in Central Europe, this is not the view of countries like the Czech Republic or the Baltic States. The backsliding of democracy at home does not strengthen Warsaw’s role in the region.  


One of the important platforms for regional cooperation – the Visegrad Group – is already struggling to speak with a coherent voice on a Ukraine policy as Hungarian policy has drifted away from Polish, Czech and Slovak approaches. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are also distancing themselves from Hungary and Poland at the EU level, and are more and more interested in engaging with Austria in the Slavkov/Austerliz format. Warsaw is also a supporter of the Three Seas Initiative, a platform of cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe, supported by the US, but which is not so popular, for example in Slovakia. The only platform through which Poland can showcase its leadership is the Bucharest Nine, which became the vehicle of regional governments to demonstrate their interest in helping Ukraine. We should not expect many changes in internal dynamics in this grouping given President Biden’s presence in Warsaw. But without Warsaw reversing the backsliding of the rule of law and democracy at home, Poland will not be seen by other countries in the region as a “leader” in Central Europe. 


In a public speech, Biden intends to express his thanks to Polish society for the universal, direct support for refugees and humanitarian aid sent to Ukraine. This is, of course, a praiseworthy attitude, but it is rather the society itself that should be credited for extending a helping hand to Ukrainians. The Polish government’s record is more mixed in this respect. Recognition from the US president will allow the authorities to dismiss accusations of inhumane treatment of migrants on the border with Belarus.  


When it comes to the region, President Biden’s visit to Warsaw underlines that fact that NATO’s eastern flank has finally found its voice as it proved to be right about Russia’s intention towards Ukraine in the past. However, as Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told Politico, Western countries are still “much stronger” on the economic and military front” and they have the financial capacity to help Ukraine.  


In short, this visit is important and symbolic but fraught with national and regional sensitivities. 

In the Eye of the Storm: Political Turmoil in Slovakia

On 15 December 2022, the Slovak parliament voted on a motion of no confidence for the government led by Eduard Heger of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO). Even though there is no clear answer yet what exactly will happen next, it is very likely that the next parliamentary elections, scheduled originally for February-March 2024, will happen one year earlier. Whether the voters cast their ballot earlier or as originally planned, Slovakia awaits a period of political instability as the political parties will strive to quickly end it. Despite turbulence on national scene, is very likely that Bratislava will continue its European and pro-Atlantic orientation. Finally, Slovakia, next to Estonia, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus will be the fifth country in Central and Eastern Europe to hold parliamentary election in 2023.  


The fall of the government in Slovakia has been in the making for some time already. Struggling with multiple crises and persistent domestic political instability connected to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the outgoing government had a hard time fulfilling its electoral promises to settle accounts after the long-standing rule of the left and to clean up state institutions. One can say that the conflicts within the coalition (especially between head of OL’aNO and the Freedom and Solidarity Party, SaS) characterised the entire period of government. The tensions reached their peak after the decision of then Prime Minister Igor Matovič (OĽaNO) to purchase Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccines. The political reshuffle in March 2021, when PM Matovič was consequently forced to step down as the prime minister (to become the minister of finance), did not help to save the government in the long term. The loss of majority and the formation of a minority government in September 2022 (after the ministers from the SaS party left the government after Matovič’s refusal to leave the government) was the beginning of the end of the OL’aNO-led government. 

The motion of no-confidence was pulled by MPs from two opposition parties, the liberal (SaS) and the HLAS-SD(Voice) – the Social Democracy party. In the end, 78 out of 102 present MPs voted in favour. The outgoing government leaves the unapproved state budget for 2023 (which was supposed to be the cornerstone for the much-needed financial assistance to families and companies during the ongoing energy crisis), the underfunded healthcare system and the management of migration waves. All of these represent huge challenges for the new government.  

The future paths of political instability 

There are three possible future scenarios. First, the government remains in office until regular elections in 2024 (the least likely as these caretaker governments have limited powers). Second, President Čaputová entrusts the formation of a caretaker government to another politician or expert (not likely but technically possible). Third, snap elections take place in the first half of 2023 (most probable). For the last scenario to happen, it would be necessary to pass the amendments to the constitution first, which could be decided simultaneously with a referendum on amending the constitution that is scheduled for 21 January 2023. 

The president, the speaker of the parliament, and the opposition (i.e. social democratic parties HLAS-SD (led by Peter Pellegrini) and SMER-SD (led by Robert Fico)) are the most in favour of snap elections (to happen between April and June 2023). It is exactly these two parties from the opposition that lead the current opinion polls with estimated support of around 20 and 16 percent respectively. In short, as of today, the chances of victory for the social democrats, who were in power before OĽaNO, are high. However, if HLAS-SD would want to form a coalition with SMER-SD, it would have to find two other coalition partners, which would again make the eventual formation and governance much more difficult. 

What kind of foreign policy under a new(old) government? 

Slovakia, after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, has been among the most vocal supporters of Kyiv. It has done so by providing military and humanitarian aid to Kyiv, and by hosting Ukrainian refugees at home. The President of Slovakia was also involved in the promotion of Ukraine’s bid for the EU among EU Member States. Bratislava also approved the presence of NATO soldiers in Slovakia, in a framework of enhanced forward presence. In short, since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Slovakia opted for altering its policy of avoiding antagonising Russia. Many fear that a victory for the Social Democrats may change this course.  

According to Eurobarometer, a public opinion poll conducted in the autumn of this year revealed that only every second Slovak supports the actions the European Union is undertaking in the framework of aid to Ukraine. It is the rather negative perception of Ukrainian support that will be fertile ground for Fico’s SMER-SD party, which has already expressed itself many times in a very critical manner towards both Matovič’s and the EU’s support for Ukraine. The Slovaks have traditionally, among EU Member States, had one of the friendliest attitudes towards both Russia and the Kremlin’s policy. For example, 37% of respondents see Russia as one of Slovakia most important strategic partners, and according to the latest edition of GLOBSEC Trends 2022 Slovaks are also one of the most vulnerable countries to conspiracy theories in the region, with 54% subscribing to them, according to the same study. This anti-EU, Russia-friendly stance, in the event of a victory for the Social Democrats, could mean regional convergence with the EU-conflicting foreign policy line followed by the Hungarian party FIDESZ, which has long been in dispute with the EU regarding its position on the war in Ukraine.  

Even though there may be some changes in priorities and approaches, in general we should not expect major changes in Slovakia’s foreign and EU policy. Most likely, to avoid contradictions among Slovakia’s political forces, Bratislava will continue with its tradition of signing a joint statement on foreign policy at the beginning of new term between the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament, emphasising that the EU and NATO membership is the best path for a successful and prosperous country. In short, despite political turmoil and a threat of pro-Russian politicians coming to power next year, it is very likely that Slovakia will continue to be a constructive, predictable and reliable partner both in the European Union and on the global stage. 

Kinga Brudzińska
Daniel Martínek 

Danubius Awards 2022

Danubius Award 2022 to the Bulgarian scientist Prof. Dr. Diana Mishkova, Danubius Mid-Career Award to Ukrainian scientist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tamara Martsenyuk and Danubius Young Scientist Awards to 13 promising researchers from the Danube region. 

The “Danubius Award” 2022 goes to Bulgarian Prof. Dr. Diana Mishkova, History Professor and Director of the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) in Sofia, Bulgaria. With her work focusing on modern and contemporary history of Eastern Europe, the modernization of South-Eastern Europe, European societies, and European peripheries as well as national identities, she has contributed profoundly to research on the Balkans. She is o the funding director of CAS Sofia, that is supported by numerous international sponsors, such as the Wissenschaftkolleg Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study Berlin). Prof. Dr. Mishkova has already received several awards for her scientific work and is involved in different international projects – currently in the Horizon 2020 project “PREVEX – Preventing Violent Extremism in the Balkans”.

Ukrainian scientist Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tamara Martsenyuk has been awarded the “Danubius Mid-Career Award” 2022. She is an Associate Professor at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. In her studies, she focuses on gender research, social inequality issues, gender policies, social movements, and empowerment. In addition to numerous stays abroad and the participation in international research projects, she also brings her expertise to national policy forums and NGOs. Her research is currently focusing on the topic “Women’s involvement in Russia’s War against Ukraine”. 

In addition, 13 young scientists from the Danube Region will be awarded with the Danubius Young Scientist Award 2022 for their scientific work.

By presenting these Awards, the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Research (BMBWF) is contributing to the implementation of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region (EUSDR) adopted by the European Council in 2011. Through the awarding of outstanding scientific achievements, the Danube region is made visible as a research area and the perception of its multidisciplinary challenges and potentials is strengthened.

“The Danube Region provides many opportunities for cross-border and regional cooperation among universities as well as research organizations. And there are, indeed, plenty of common challenges along the Danube and beyond which we need to jointly address and develop solutions for Federal Minister for Education, Science and Research Prof. Martin Polaschek pointed out on the occasion of the award ceremony on 10 November 2022 at the University of Maribor.

“The role of scientists and researchers has changed profoundly in the last decade. On the one hand, scientists and researchers are in a high demand to deliver fast results and provide evidence for critical policy decisions, and they have become indispensable in explaining and communicating the current knowledge available. On the other hand, we see a worrying rise in skepticism towards science and research as well as towards democracy in general, which creates a wide range of problems for and in our societies. We need to work together to counter this skepticism, and I am confident that all of you present and especially the awardees of today can and will contribute with their work towards demonstrating and communicating the relevance of science and research“, Polaschek continued.

The award ceremony in Maribor took place in the presence of Barbara Weitgruber, Head of the Department from the BMBWF, and Friedrich Faulhammer, Chairman of the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM).

In her introduction, Barbara Weitgruber highlighted the solidarity with Ukraine as partner country of the EUSDR: “We will continue our support to the Ukrainian researchers, who have come or aim of coming in the EU, as well as to those remained in Ukraine. In addition to that, we hope for an early beginning of the reconstructions, and we are getting ready for appropriate support measures”. 

Friedrich Faulhammer added: “I am really pleased that once again we are working together with the Ministry for Education, Science and Research to honor scientists, who are significantly contributing to the development of knowledge and understanding within the Danube region in their various fields of research. This year, I am particularly pleased that we can also highlight the scientific work of Ukrainian female researchers, as they are currently forced to work under the conditions caused by the unjustified Russian attack on their country”.

The “Danubius Award” was established in 2011 to honor researchers who have outstandingly dealt with the Danube Region in their academic or artistic work. The prize is granted every year on a rotating basis for achievements in the humanities, cultural and social sciences (2022) or in life sciences and is endowed with € 5,000.

The “Danubius Mid-Career Award” is endowed with € 2,200 and has been awarded since 2017 to researchers who are from 5 to a maximum of 15 years after their last formal scientific degree or have equivalent scientific experience. The prize winners were selected by an independent jury of experts chaired by Univ. Prof. Dr. Stefan M. Newerkla (University of Vienna).

Since 2014, special young talent awards, the “Danubius Young Scientist Awards” have also been awarded. The prize, which is open to all disciplines, highlights the scientific work and talent of young researchers and increases the visibility of the excellence of the research community in the Danube Region. In this way, the prizes also contribute to the fact that young scientists deal with the river and the region in a variety of ways. The young talent prizes are endowed with € 1.350, per award winner. The selection was made by an international jury of experts, whereby the candidates for the award were nominated by their respective scientific institutions. 

Austria  Daniela Apaydin  
Bosnia and Herzegovina  Marko Djukanović  
Croatia  Jelena Kranjec Orlović  
Czech Republic  Adela Grimes  
Germany  Jan Schmitt  
Hungary  Blanka Bartos  
Moldova  Nicolae Arnaut  
Montenegro  Miloš Brajović  
Romania  Mihaela Cudalbeanu 
Serbia  Zorana Miletić  
Slovakia  Tibor Zsigmond  
Slovenia  Žane Temova Rakuša  
Ukraine  Illia Diahovchenko  

Watch the Award ceremony below