Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been left in a life-threatening condition after being shot by an unidentified assailant on Wednesday

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been left in a life-threatening condition after being shot by an assailant on Wednesday.

The 59-year-old took power for the fourth time last October. In that time, he has turned the country’s foreign policy towards more pro-Russian views and pledged to stop military support for Ukraine.

He has also initiated reforms of criminal law and the media, which have raised concerns over weakening the rule of law.

During a three-decade career, Fico has skilfully weaved between pro-European mainstream and nationalistic anti-Brussels and anti-American positions.

He has done this while showing a willingness to change course depending on public opinion or changed political realities – but not without controversy.

In 2022, he was charged with organised crime offences and faced questions after an investigative journalist – who was working on a story about the activities of the Italian mafia in his country and their links to people close to Fico – was shot dead in 2018.

The murders of Ján Kuciak, 28, and his fiancée Martina Kušnirová brought down Fico’s government at the time. However, the 2022 organised crime charges were later dropped and he went on to be re-elected in 2023.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been left in a life-threatening condition after being shot by an unidentified assailant on Wednesday

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been left in a life-threatening condition after being shot by an unidentified assailant on Wednesday

As well as his current stint as premier, Fico also headed the government in 2006-10 and 2012-18, but he has embraced more extreme positions over the past four years.

These include strident criticisms of western allies, pledges to stop military support for Kyiv, opposition to sanctions on Russia and threats to veto any future NATO membership invite for Ukraine.

Ruffling feathers in the UK, he also once said Britain must ‘suffer’ for Brexit.

His coalition halted Slovak official shipments of weapons for Ukraine and he has spoken about what he called western influence in the war which only led to Slavic nations killing each other.

Fico has remained steady throughout his career, however, on promises to protect living standards of those left behind in a country where conditions for many are only slowly catching up to western Europe.

Many of his supporters hold relatively fond memories of a communist-era past.

‘Fico is a technician of power, by far the best in Slovakia. He does not have a counterpart at the moment,’ said sociologist Michal Vasecka, from the Bratislava Policy Institute.

‘Fico is always following opinion polls, understands what is happening’ in society.

His campaign call of ‘Not a single round’ for Ukraine appealed to voters in the nation of 5.5 million where only a minority in the NATO member country believe Russia is at fault for the Ukraine war, which was started by Vladimir Putin in 2022.

Fico, who analysts see inspired by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, has said he has Slovak interests at heart and wants the war to end.

Robert Fico (pictured centre) being carried away by security officials into a car after he was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, following a Slovak government meeting

Robert Fico (pictured centre) being carried away by security officials into a car after he was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, following a Slovak government meeting

Security officers move Slovak PM Robert Fico in a car after a shooting incident, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024

Security officers move Slovak PM Robert Fico in a car after a shooting incident, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024

Police arrest a man after Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Police arrest a man after Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet’s away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is seen being transported from a helicopter by medics to the hospital in Banska Bystrica, where he is to be treated after he had been shot 'multiple times'

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is seen being transported from a helicopter by medics to the hospital in Banska Bystrica, where he is to be treated after he had been shot ‘multiple times’

Western allies and Ukraine say halting military aid to Kyiv would only help Russia.

‘We see Viktor Orban as one of those European politicians who do not fear to openly defend the interests of Hungary and Hungarian people,’ Fico told Reuters in emailed responses last year.

‘He puts them in the first place. And that should be the role of an elected politician, to look after the interests of his voters and his country.’

Born to a working-class family, Fico graduated with a law degree in 1986 and joined the then-ruling Communist party.

After the 1989 fall of Communist rule, he worked as a government lawyer, won a seat in parliament under the renamed Communist party, and represented Slovakia at the European Court for Human Rights.

Fico has run SMER-Social Democracy party since 1999 after establishing it to oppose the reformist centre-right cabinet.

He parlayed dissatisfaction with liberal economic reforms into his first election victory in 2006.

But he also kept the nation on course to adopt the euro in 2009 despite forming a government with nationalists.

His second cabinet won after another centre-right coalition broke up two years later, and a tough stance against migrants helped him win re-election in 2016.

After that win, he declared he wanted Slovakia as part of the EU’s core with France and Germany.

Fico’s political fortunes faded in 2018 when journalist Jan Kuciak, who was investigating high-level graft, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were killed by a contract killer.

This fuelled mass protests against graft and Fico was forced to resign. SMER lost power in a 2020 election to parties pledging to weed out corruption, and his party split.

Fico arrives for a cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024 - hours before he was shot

Fico arrives for a cabinet’s away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia, Wednesday, May 15, 2024 – hours before he was shot

Polling under 10%, Fico once sought to address voter fears during the coronavirus pandemic when he slammed government health measures.

‘He became the most prominent political representative of a movement against face masks or vaccination,’ said political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov.

At the same time he a tapped into dissatisfaction with bickering in the ruling government and raised doubts with its pro-western course, chiming with pro-Russian narratives on social networks that had spread across Slovakia.

Fico also swatted away accusations of graft that have dogged his party during his political career. He was charged with criminal conspiracy in 2022 to use police and tax information on political foes – charges he denied and which were later dropped.

The Prime Minister is now fighting for his life after being shot in the stomach and arm by a ’71-year-old assassin’, according to reports.

The attacker was bundled to the ground by cops as he attempted to flee.

Fico was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, following a Slovak government meeting while he greeted adoring crowds.

The gunfire took place in front of the House of Culture, before a man, who according to Pluska news site is Juraj C, was quickly pounced upon and detained by security officials. Fico, meanwhile, was whisked away for medical attention by his detail.

A witness told Slovakian news site Dennik , that Fico had left the building to greet people who had gathered to catch a glimpse of him before ‘several shots were fired’.

Harrowing footage of the near-fatal scenes shows the prime minister stumbling to the ground as his security team dashed to pick up his body.

He was then bundled into the back of a car, which sped away from the scene. 

Slovak television showed footage of a middle-aged man in jeans being handcuffed on the ground. Separate images from public television RTVS showed a person on a stretcher being taken out of a helicopter and wheeled into a hospital.

Outgoing Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told reporters that ‘police have detained the attacker’.

‘I am shocked, we are all shocked by the terrible and heinous attack,’ she added.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives prior to the start of a EU leaders Summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 26, 2023 (file photo)

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico arrives prior to the start of a EU leaders Summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on October 26, 2023 (file photo)

‘Today, after the government meeting in Handlova, there was an assassination attempt’ on Fico, the government said in a post on social media.

‘He is currently being transported by helicopter to Banska Bystrica in a life-threatening condition, because it would take too long to get to Bratislava due to the necessity of an acute intervention,’ the government’s statement added.

Handlova local hospital director Marta Eckhardtova said “Fico was brought into our hospital and he was treated at our vascular surgery clinic”.

She was unable to describe his injuries.

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