Eryk Kielak: Most of the inhabitants of Slovakia would welcome the victory of Russia, not Ukraine – this is the result of the survey “How are you, Slovakia?” conducted by researchers from MNFORCE, Seesame and the Slovak Academy of Sciences, referred to by the dennikn.sk portal. What do these pro-Russian sentiments among Slovaks result from?
Dr. Łukasz Lewkowicz: It is not a big surprise for me. I have been analyzing Slovak-Russian relations for many years and it seems to me that this is a result of the fact that Slovakia has long been an important area of Russian penetration. Both by the secret services, politicians and pro-Russian propaganda spread by “alternative” media. This is due to various factors, including ideological ones. The ideology of Pan-Slavism – close relations – has long been popular in Slovakia Russia with the Slavic states in Central Europe. These ideological relationships began in the 19th century, but are still popular among parts of the Slovak political elite and society.
And what is attractive to Russia in Slovakia?
Russia’s great interest in Slovakia results from its geopolitical location. It is a country located on the eastern flank FOR THIS and European Union, at the same time bordering with Ukraine. This small country is heavily dependent on Russian hydrocarbons. Since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in February 2022, the Slovak authorities began to take intensive measures to diversify gas and oil supplies, but the dependence is still high.
The MNFORCE survey shows a large disproportion in support depending on the political parties. 67 percent voters of the OLa’NO party support a decisive victory for Ukraine. Similarly with PS or SaS voters. But on the other hand, more than 50 percent of supporters of the Republic, Smer or L’SNS. he wants Russia to win. So what role does this conflict play in the country’s politics?
The center-right OLa’NO party, which currently rules, is firmly in favor of Ukraine’s victory in the war. This is also in line with Slovakia’s current official foreign and defense policy. Since the beginning of Russia’s aggression, the Slovak government and President Zuzana Caputová have supported Ukraine. Already in February this year. stated that the aggressor is Russia, which has broken international law and is committing war crimes. From the very beginning, the government has supported the Ukrainian side militarily and humanely. He also undertakes a number of activities to increase the security of Slovakia, including closing websites with pro-Russian propaganda. Earlier this year, people from the world of science, the media and the Slovak special services were also detained, accused of collaborating with the military intelligence service of the GRU.
What about the opposition?
We currently have large political and social divisions in Slovakia. The largest opposition party, Smer, by Robert Fico, is definitely pro-Russian. It promotes the narrative that Slovakia should remain a neutral state towards the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and limit itself to humanitarian aid, but certainly not to provide military support to Ukraine. This is a similar narrative to that used by Viktor Orban on Hungary. Besides, opposition politicians often refer to this example.
There is also the extreme right and parties such as Republika and L’SNS. The former now has relatively high support and is above the electoral threshold, according to recent opinion polls. Both of these parties have a similar rhetoric to the leftist Smer. They also talk about neutrality and not to get involved in helping the Ukrainian side. There is also a great reluctance towards it FOR THIS and Of the United States. Moreover, far-right politicians promote pro-Russian propaganda through their social media accounts. So in Slovakia we now have a somewhat exotic pro-Russian alliance between the left and the extreme right.
There are also “middle” parties with neutral views, such as Rodin’s Sme and the leftist Hlas. Public opinion polls clearly indicate that if the parliamentary elections were held today, the left would probably win, i.e. Hlas, Smer, do parliament the Republic would also come in. It is possible that these three parties would come to terms with each other and form new coalition government. Then the new foreign and defense policy of Slovakia would undoubtedly be a big challenge. Would this state continue to support Ukraine, or would it pursue a policy of neutrality and limit military cooperation with the US?
Is this pro-Russian turn a novelty in Slovak politics or an effect of the persistent ideology of Pan-Slavism?
It should be recalled that after 2014 the Slovak government pursued an ambivalent policy towards Ukraine. Of course, sanctions were introduced, as was the whole of the EU. However, the then Prime Minister Fico repeatedly stated that it was “not our war”, “we should not get involved in it”, “this is a geopolitical conflict between the US and Russia”. Slovakia was also opposed to the placement of the American anti-missile shield in Poland and Czechia. The then rulers also had an ambiguous position regarding the conflict in Georgia in 2008. This is a certain continuation of Smer’s policy. For now, this is only rhetoric. It is difficult to say what would have happened if the opposition politicians had really come to power.
Research shows that supporters of these parties expect this from them.
Yes. They literally say they would like Russia to win. That says something about these voters. After all, a political party is a certain emanation of its constituents and vice versa. We have feedback in this regard. Previously, a similar popular topic used politically by the left and extreme right was the pandemic restrictions COVID-19. Anyway, the survey also shows the correlation between anti-vaccine propaganda and pro-Russian propaganda.
The approach to the war in Ukraine among Slovaks varies not only according to whom they vote for, but also where they live. The Bratislava region strongly supports Ukraine’s victory, but the Nitra and Presov countries definitely want Russia to win. What is the result of such differentiation?
The Bratislava Region is the region that unequivocally supported the victory of Ukraine. This can be explained by the fact that it is the richest region of Slovakia and one of the richest regions in the European Union in terms of the level of economic development. The pro-Ukrainian liberal parties also have relatively high support there. Among these pro-Russian areas, the Nitra region is puzzling and surprising because it is located in the more developed western part of Slovakia, and the question remains, what was the reason for such sentiments?
The Prešov Region is situated in the east of Slovakia, the less economically developed part of the country. In this case, economic issues could have been decisive – the high level of unemployment and the crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine. The feeling of being threatened by closeness cannot be ruled out either border with Ukraine.
In the central regions, however, a neutral approach prevails: neither for Ukraine nor for Russia, but this is also a signal that in these countries of central Slovakia there was no strong support for the Ukrainian side. You can see that the electorates of the left-wing and extreme-right parties have high support there.
It seems to me that such attitudes often depend precisely on economic development, the level of unemployment and how inhabitants have been affected by the problems of inflation, high prices and high energy prices.
So do you think that material benefits support Russia for the less wealthy Slovaks?
This can be understood to some extent. Of course, there are more factors that can determine pro-Russian social attitudes, including the aforementioned pan-Slavism and Russophilia of some elites and society. It should be added that Slovaks generally have no negative historical experiences with Russia. An important political myth in Slovakia is the 1944 Slovak National Uprising supported by Soviet partisans.
However, the most important nowadays are economic issues and the ongoing crisis. For some people, this support for the Russians does not result strictly from geopolitical beliefs and support for politics Vladimir Putinbut rather out of a desire to end the war as soon as possible. In their opinion, the end of the conflict will end economic crisis in the country, then relations with Russia and Ukraine will be settled, and energy prices and inflation will start to fall. Such thinking may guide the part of society that declared support for the Russian victory.
The study also took into account the education correlation. The lower the education level, the more people would like Russia to win, and vice versa. But as I said, this is not due to the geopolitical beliefs of the respondents, but rather to the current economic situation and what is going on in their wallets. Moreover, less educated people are more exposed to pro-Russian propaganda in “alternative” media.
The MNFORCE survey shows that the majority of votes of support for Russia are among people in their 30s. Do you have any theory why relatively young people have such support?
I expected that those 60+ groups that might have had some experience before 1989 would be clearly pro-Russian (longing for communism) or anti-Russian (remembering the entry of the Warsaw Pact troops to Czechoslovakia in 1968). Probably the point is that the generation of 30-year-olds has no experience of their own with communism. He does not remember the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet army. This is a generation that was born in a free country and they do not associate Russia with a threat. Moreover, the group of 30-year-olds is used to stabilization and a good standard of living. I believe that the support given to Russia by these people is very disturbing.