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SLOVAKIA: How Pellegrini turned fear, alleged coup and lies into presidential win in two weeks

7. Apr 2024 at 22:46

Peter Pellegrini, the disciple of PM Robert Fico who likes luxury, was helped in the campaign by Hungary’s state media and the coalition. Related: Pellegrini’s win I How Pellegrini won I Terenzani’s column I Foreign media I Balogová’s opinion I Polls I Runoff voting begins

Peter Dlhopolec editor-in-chief

Courtesy of Spectator Slovakia [website: https://spectator.sme.sk]

di Emanuele G. - lunedì 8 aprile 2024 - 818 letture

After the first round of the Slovak presidential election two weeks ago, Peter Pellegrini, who came second in the race, said that he wouldn’t lead an aggressive campaign and attack his rival Ivan Korčok, who came in first.

Pellegrini, Speaker of Parliament and leader of the coalition party Hlas, added that he’d never influence certain groups of the population just to become president.

“I’ve never done such politics, I’ll never do it,” he stated on March 23.

Two days later, on March 25, Matúš Šutaj Eštok, the interior minister of Hlas, unexpectedly announced that the Security Council would convene an emergency meeting to discuss the situation of a high-risk and dangerous individual from Tajikistan who is being kept in a police facility in Sečovce, a town situated outside Košice. Pellegrini, who isn’t a member of the Security Council, and Prime Minister and Smer party leader Robert Fico attended the meeting, which was reportedly held in response to the recent Moscow terrorist attack, in which a group of Tajik men opened fire in a local concert hall, and France’s decision to raise the terrorism alert level. The premier unusually allowed the minister to report the outcomes of the meeting.

“The man wouldn’t have arrived in Slovakia had the country not been in chaos in 2022,” Šutaj Eštok said, suggesting that Korčok was co-responsible for the alleged chaos and the foreigner’s presence in the country.

When today’s opposition ruled Slovakia, the former diplomat had been serving as foreign minister for almost two years, from 2020 to 2022.

Pellegrini’s minister characterised the Tajik, who is believed to have permanent residence in Ukraine and was detained in Slovakia pursuant to an international arrest warrant issued by Tajikistan shortly after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as a terrorist with ties to the Islamic State group. Šutaj Eštok also claimed that there might be a sleeper terrorist cell in Slovakia. He then announced an increase in police patrols in busy areas, but the terrorism alert level wasn’t raised.

“We have made a decision to monitor the situation over the next two weeks,” the interior minister then stated.

The minister’s announcement came shortly after Pellegrini, who was widely favoured in the polls, was defeated by Korčok, a pro-Western politician, by a margin of 5.5 percentage points in the first election round on March 23. Around that time, the second round was already known to be held in two weeks, on April 6, at which point the monitoring of the situation was coincidentally expected to end.

Two weeks after the minister’s statement, the opposition insists that there is no proof that the man is the terrorist.

“It was scaremongering. Of course, it was engineered to coincide with the election date,” Sloboda a Solidarita MP Juraj Krúpa said on April 3, after the defence and security parliamentary committee meeting ended.

The Tajik’s name is believed to be Amriddin Holmurodov, an activist and critic of Tajikistan’s authoritarian regime. After the Slovak Supreme Court dismissed a request to send the man back to Tajikistan in January of this year, he was released. With his asylum application declined by Slovakia, he allegedly obtained temporary refuge and escaped to Germany. But in March, he was deported to Slovakia and placed in Sečovce again, waiting to be deported to Ukraine in July.

In the meantime, the minister keeps arguing that the Tajik is a terrorist, referring to information from “one foreign intelligence agency”. The Interior Ministry declined to say whether it was the Tajik one. Also, on April 3, Šutaj Eštok said that there was another suspected terrorist in the country two years ago.

The presidential campaign prior to the first round lacked major topics and seemed boring and invisible, but observers agree that the campaign ahead of the second round was markedly different. Due to Easter, a widely celebrated Christian holiday in Slovakia, and the three-day moratorium, which started on April 4 and ended on April 6, the two remaining candidates didn’t have much time to campaign in a race that was expected to be close. While Pellegrini and the ruling coalition launched a smear campaign against Korčok, the ex-diplomat organised public gatherings around the country and fended off the verbal attacks via social media. Observers, including the Denník N daily’s political commentator Martin M. Šimečka warned during the first election night of potentially harsher attacks coming from the Pellegrini camp.

“Fico and Pellegrini are masters at exploiting fear,” Šimečka said. Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok attends the defence and security parliamentary committee meeting on March 26, 2023.

“Befehl” from Germany and France

Pellegrini, a pro-Western politician who increasingly used the “Slovakia must not acquiesce to Brussels and Washington” narrative in his campaign to win over nationalist and anti-NATO voters, already employed the scaremongering strategy during one of the very few televised debates prior to the first round. He asserted that if the right to veto in the areas such as foreign and security policy were abolished in the EU, France and Germany would likely issue a “befehl” (command) for Slovakia to dispatch 2,000 fully-armed soldiers to the Ukrainian frontline.

“Done. Nobody asks us for our opinion,” Pellegrini said.

In one of the final interviews before the second round, Pellegrini exploited fear again. He claimed to have seen how people in Sweden were given leaflets explaining what to do in case of war. The Guardian published the story five years ago.

Oddly, Pellegrini has talked about making Slovakia peaceful and calm for months.

[the story continues by subscription]

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