Robert Fico (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈrobert ˈfitso]; born 15 September 1964) is a Slovak politician who has been Prime Minister of Slovakia since 4 April 2012; previously he was Prime Minister from 4 July 2006 to 8 July 2010. He has been the leader of the Direction – Social Democracy (SMER-SD) party since 1999. First elected to Parliament in 1992 (whilst within Czechoslovakia), he was later appointed to the Council of Europe. Following his party's victory in the 2006 parliamentary election, he formed the first Fico Cabinet.
While later in opposition, Fico again sat as a member of parliament, effectively as leader of the opposition. Following a motion of confidence against the Iveta Radičová cabinet, Fico was re-appointed as Prime Minister after leading SMER-SD to a landslide election victory in the 2012 parliamentary election, winning 83 seats and forming a government with an absolute majority in Parliament, the first such since 1989.
In 2013, Fico officially declared his candidacy for the 2014 presidential election, but he lost to Andrej Kiska in the second round of voting on 29 March 2014.
Fico was born on 15 September 1964, in the town of Topoľčany in the southwestern Nitra Region. His father, Ľudovit Fico, was a forklift operator, and his mother, Emilie Ficová, worked in a shoe store. He has two siblings, a brother Ladislav who is a construction entrepreneur and a fourteen years younger sister Lucia Chabadová, who is a prosecutor. He grew up and lived with his family in the village of Hrusovany, until the age of six, when they moved to the nearby town of Topoľčany.
Fico has described his childhood ambitions as wanting either to become a politician, sports reporter or an archeologist. After completing elementary school, he enrolled in the local Gymnasium of Topoľčany, graduating in the summer of 1982. Later the same year he enrolled in the Law Faculty of the Comenius University in Bratislava, in what was then Czechoslovakia. His teachers were impressed with him, and one of his teachers from university, the future prime minister Jozef Moravcik, described him as "ambitious, very confident and very involved in discussions". He graduated as juris doctor in 1986 specializing in criminal law.
After graduating from university, he completed his mandatory military service as an assistant military investigator, stationed in the (now-Czech) town of Janovice between 1986 and 1987. He later worked for the Institute of State and Law of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, as well as with the Justice Ministry until 1992. During this period he wrote and completed his PhD degree, with a thesis on "The death penalty in Czechoslovakia". In 2002 he completed his postgraduate study, earning him the title of associate professor.
Early political career
Fico joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1987, having applied in 1984. After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and the collapse of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Fico joined the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), a successor of the Communist Party of Slovakia. He was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1992. 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 1998 he was elected deputy chairman of the party. Later the same year, Fico ran for the post of general prosecutor, but his party endorsed another candidate instead, arguing Fico was too young.
In the 1998 elections that saw the fall of the government of Vladimír Mečiar, Fico received the biggest number of preferential votes among his party colleagues. A year later, when support for the SDĽ dropped below the threshold required to get into parliament, he left the party, saying he was disappointed with the way the government worked. Fico acted as an independent MP until the 2002 elections.
As early as in the autumn of 1998, a four-person group consisting of Fico, his associate Frantisek Határ, political strategist Fedor Flasik, and media executive Monika Flašíková-Beňová had begun to discuss and lay plans for launching a new political party on the left. These plans were driven by the falling popularity of the existing parties, and the rising popularity of Fico.
Almost immediately after leaving SDĽ, the group founded Direction – Social Democracy (SMER), which Fico first labelled a party of the third way, with himself as leader. Fico established himself as an opposition politician criticizing the unpopular reforms of the right-wing government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. In order to keep SMER from repeating the fate of his previous party, Fico introduced a strict set of regulations for his new party, called the "clean hands" policy. The rules stipulated that no one with ties from the previous communist regime or people who had background with other political parties was allowed to hold party office. This created a new generation of politicians uninvolved in previous corruption scandals; among them was Flaskova-Benová, Robert Kalinak and Pavol Paška. Another rule was that all party chapters on the regional and local levels were to be 100% financially self-sufficient, and all financial donations were to be made public to the media.
Between 2002 and 2006 Smer was the main opposition party in the Slovak parliament. In 2004, it merged with nearly all the leftist parties active on the Slovak political scene, including its parent party SDĽ, becoming the dominant single political party in Slovakia.
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-Roma 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.
2010 parliamentary election
Before the 2010 elections, Fico's party 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. Former Minister of Justice Daniel Lipsic 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.
2012 parliamentary election
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 1993.
2016 parliamentary election
His party won the 2016 parliamentary elections, amassing most of the seats, however failed to win the majority. On 7 March 2016, President of Slovakia Andrej Kiska invited each elected party, with the exception of Kotleba – People's Party Our Slovakia, for post-election talks. Fico was given the first opportunity by the President to form a stable coalition. On 17 March, incumbent Fico informed president Andrej Kiska that he would form a four-party government coalition, including Smer–SD, the Slovak National Party, Most–Híd and Network, which together held 85 of the 150 seats.
2014 presidential election
On 18 December 2013, Fico officially announced his candidature for the upcoming presidential election, in 2014. “I understand my candidacy as a service to Slovakia,” Fico said on December 18. He argued that he did not see his candidacy as an adventure, an escape or an attempt to culminate his political career. His campaign ran under the motto “Ready for Slovakia”. On 9 January 2014, the Slovak Parliament, under Speaker Pavol Paška, officially approved the candidatures of Fico and 14 other candidates.
However, Fico was defeated by the independent candidate Andrej Kiska by a wide margin (approximately 59% – 41%) in the second round of voting on 29 March 2014.
A large part of Fico's election victory in 2006 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 large 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.
Some of the reforms Fico introduced were to establish standards in how many times employees may be kept on as temporary workers instead of being given permanent contracts. Under the 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.
At the start of his second term as prime minister in 2012, Fico introduced a new "Labour Code", which granted entitlement to a lay-off notice period as well as severance pay, reduced overtime, making layoffs more expensive for employers, shorter temporary work contracts and more power for trade unions. In addition, it curbed the ‘chaining’ of fixed-term employment contracts, whereby currently it is possible to extend a fixed-term employment contract three times over three years. The Code was revised in 2014 when it introduced severe restrictions of the work on agreement performed outside regular employment. Under the latest revision, employers will be able to conclude agreements with employees for 12 months only.
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.
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 foreign relations with Europe, Fico's government has faced controversies due to their affiliation with internationally isolated parties of Vladimír Mečiar and Jan Slota. Under his leadership however, Slovakia entered the Eurozone in 2009, and Fico himself in a speech to the Oxford Union praised Slovakia's entry into the European Union as a "success story". Fico opposed the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, which he called a "major mistake", as a result of which Slovakia has not recognised Kosovo as a sovereign state.
Responding to the 2013 Euromaidan protests in Ukraine, Fico declared that "EU is no religious obligation" as well as that the EU was “so in love with itself” that it is convinced there is no better alternative to it in the world. He subsequently condemned the use of violence, but acknowledged that it was an internal affair in Ukraine.
Fico rejected European Commission's plan to distribute refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa among EU member states, saying: "As long as I am prime minister, mandatory quotas will not be implemented on Slovak territory". He has subsequently sought to associate refugees and Muslims with terrorism, claiming that "thousands of terrorists and Islamic State fighters are entering Europe with migrants" and stating that "We monitor every single Muslim in Slovakia". In May 2016, he stated that Slovakia will not accept "one single Muslim" migrant into the country, weeks before the country was scheduled to take over the presidency of EU. He further stated "When I say something now, maybe it will seem strange, but I’m sorry, Islam has no place in Slovakia. I think it is the duty of politicians to talk about these things very clearly and openly. I do not wish there were tens of thousands of Muslims."
Commenting on Brexit in November 2016, he stated that it isn't clear what United Kingdom wanted, adding that it "must suffer" more than the 27 countries who will remain in the bloc. He also stated that UK will not be allowed to make EU workers "second-class citizens" while still receiving the benefits of the single market. In light of election of Donald Trump, he commented that it might spur Europe to bolster its military.
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, breaking with a trend since the elections of 1998 where Slovakia aligned itself towards NATO and the West.
After coming to power in 2006 he declared that Slovakia’s relations with Russia would improve after eight years of “neglect”. Fico referred to "Slavonic solidarity,” which was a central theme of the Slovak National Awakening in the 1850s. On April 4, 2008, during a visit by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, Fico said: "In Slovakia, there have been efforts to deliberately ignore Slavonic solidarity.“ Slovakia modernised Russian MiG-fighters in Russia and did not buy new jets from the West. Additionally Fico accused Georgia of provoking Russia when attacking South Ossetia in the 2008 Russia–Georgia war. Under his premiership, the Slovak foreign ministry rejected the Crimean referendum which incorporated Crimea into Russia. Fico himself, however, remained silent on the issue. Regarding the EU sanctions against Russia in 2014, Fico denounced them as "senseless", and a "threat to the Slovak economy".
Tension between Slovakia and Hungary, unstable from the past, was inflamed in 2006 following the parliamentary election and Fico's decision to include nationalist Ján Slota and his Slovak National Party into his governing coalition. Slota was known for his fierce anti-Hungarian rhetoric, including that "Hungarians are a tumor on the Slovak nation that needs to be immediately removed." In the wake of the election several incidents occurred which further inflamed nationalist sentiment on both sides, including the alleged beating of a Hungarian woman in South Slovakia. Fico reacted by condemning the extremism, but rebuked the Hungarian government by declaring "The Slovak government doesn’t need to be called on to strike against extremism". The row heated up again in September 2007, when Fico's government introduced a law making the Benes decrees inviolable, this was in response to demands from ethnic Hungarian politicians that compensations should be made to persons affected by the decrees.
In May 2008, Fico labelled Hungary a potential threat during a speech commemorating the 161st anniversary of the day that Slovaks demanded national equality with other nations within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Fico used the anniversary to openly criticise the political situation in Hungary and warn about the influence it might have on Slovakia. Especially he warned against the Hungarian right-wing politician Viktor Orbán, and his party Fidesz, which he called an "extreme nationalist party". Since then, however, relations between the two countries have slightly improved.
Fico was a vocal opponent of the one-time planned construction of new U.S. anti-ballistic missile and radar systems in military bases in neighbouring Czech Republic and Poland and one of his first steps upon taking office was a military pullout from Iraq. In November 2013, Fico visited the U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington D.C, where they spoke about the US-Slovak partnership, which is “based on shared democratic values and principles”, after which he affirmed the strategic partnership between the two countries.
Relationship with 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. In 2009, Fico repeatedly described the Slovak press as a “new opposition force” that was biased and was harming national and state interests. Fico also accused the press of failing to “stand behind the common people”.
Fico has upheld a long-running boycott of one of the major Slovak daily newspapers, SME. According to Fico, the boycott will last until it apologises for what he calls lies they published about him in the past, going as far as boycotting the main presidential debate prior to the 2014 presidential election, as it was co-hosted by SME. As of March 2014 the boycott is still in place.
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.
In July 2012 Fico declared "Eternal Peace" between him and the Slovak press. He also stated his desire to change his attitude towards the media, saying “I think it is enough” and that he does not plan any further lawsuits against media outlets except in extraordinary situations. Fico further said: "You have to spend an incredible amount of energy on it [lawsuits], it means several years of conflict, one conflict takes usually five or six years [to resolve],” adding that lawsuits involve “legal fees, paying a lawyer, everything around that". In November 2016, he termed journalists questioning him about allegations of public procurement rules during Slovakia's EU presidency, as "dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes". He also accused the accusations of being a targeted attack to smear the country's presidency of EU.
Fico is married to Svetlana Ficová (née Svobodová), a lawyer and associate professor from Žilina. They were classmates while both were studying law at the Comenius University in Bratislava, and they married in 1988. They have one son together, Michal, who is currently enrolled at the University of Economics in Bratislava. In addition to his native Slovak, Fico speaks fluent Czech, English and Russian.
Fico has rarely discussed in public his religious life. In his application to join the Communist Party in 1984, Fico stated that he was "strictly atheistic", as was required in order to be accepted. According to the testimonial from college added to the application, he had "scientific Marxist-Leninist worldview" and "no problems with religion matters".
In a promotional video during presidential election campaign in 2014, Fico said he grew up in a Roman Catholic family and that he considers himself a catholic. He discussed his baptism, holy communion, confirmation and how the catholic faith had impacted his childhood. He stated "Perhaps if I am to do my profile in relation to the Catholic Church, I would end up better off than any PM of the KDH (the Christian Democratic Movement)". He also described growing up with his grandfather, a man who "very strictly respected the rules of standard Christian life" and it profoundly impacted him. However, historian and former researcher of Nation's Memory Institute Patrik Dubovský consider it being "manipulative with public", because "confirmation was in direct conflict with Communist Party membership, which political programme was based on atheism". As Dubovský stated, especially after Charta 77 incident religiously active people were severely persecuted.
During televised debate he refused to answer television presenter's question, whether he is a Christian (Catholic) or an Atheist, and told he consider it a private matter. Regarding his baptism, holy communion and confirmation, Fico stated that he was baptised as an infant and the holy communion with the confirmation followed after, as it was with every child who grew up in the village.
Alleged extramarital affair
In August 2010, Fico was photographed around midnight in a gay bar in downtown Bratislava together with a woman, who was later revealed to be 25-year-old Jana Halászová, a secretary at the Smer-SD party headquarters. It was later revealed that Halászová had been given extensive privileges, including her own parking space in the Parliament car park, without being a member. Halászová had also bought a luxurious car worth around €30,000 and bought a new flat without a mortgage in August 2012 in a neighbourhood where a one-room flat costs approximately €100,000, despite being a secretary without education. In addition, both her sister and step-mother had recently been given jobs within various ministries.
In August 2013, Fico was photographed while embracing and kissing his now-secretary Halászová, after taking her for a private dinner at a chateau in Čereňany, 160 kilometres from Bratislava. The photos created another round of speculation about the true nature of their relationship as well as whether or not he had used public funds to pay for the dinner. A month later, the tabloid 7 Plus reported that Fico and Halászová had been photographed together in a luxury restaurant while vacationing together in the Croatian town of Opatija. In response to this latest story, Fico filed a defamation lawsuit against 7 Plus magazine.