The Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, is torn between life and death after being extremely seriously injured this Wednesday by shots from an attacker who was arrested at the same place of the events, in the town of Handlová, about 150 kilometers northeast of the capital, Bratislava. The prime minister “has been shot multiple times and his life is currently in danger,” the Slovak Government reported, specifying that he was transferred by helicopter to the town of Banská Bystrica, about 65 kilometers from Handlová. Fico, 59, suffered injuries to his abdomen, legs and arms, according to the Slovak newspaper Denník N.

The attacker, a 71-year-old man from the town of Levice, shot the politician at point-blank range in front of the House of Culture in Handlová, where Fico had met with members of his coalition government. The president was greeting a small group of citizens outside, one of them carrying an anti-government banner, when several shots were fired. The prime minister was hit by the blast and fell to the ground, after which his security team rushed him into a vehicle. The area was evacuated and cordoned off.

Robert Fico, a populist social democrat, has been a dominant political figure in this Central European country of 5.4 million inhabitants for the last twenty years. He returned to power by winning the elections last October, after having previously governed in two periods (2006-2010 and 2012-2018), during which he became more anti-Western and pro-Russian. His current coalition government has aligned Slovakia with neighboring Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán maintains constant tension with Brussels over disputes over the rule of law and leans toward Moscow more than Kyiv.

According to local Markiza television, the alleged perpetrator of the shooting is Juraj Cintula, author of books of poetry and former employee of a private security company, who regularly criticizes Fico on his political blog. His son has confirmed that he has a gun license and denied rumors suggesting Cintula was a patient at a psychiatric hospital. His motivations are being investigated.

The outgoing President of the Republic, Zuzana Caputová, condemned the attack: “I am shocked. “I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength at this critical time to recover from this brutal and irresponsible attack.” Caputová, a liberal and environmentalist, gave up running for a second term in the presidential elections last April due to harsh verbal attacks from Robert Fico. Her term as head of state ends on June 15. The winner of those elections and therefore president-elect, Peter Pellegrini, whose party is part of Fico’s government coalition, said that “an assassination attempt on one of the highest constitutional officials is an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy. ”.

After the attack, the government parties accused the opposition of exacerbating division in the country. The vice president of Parliament, Lubos Blaha, confirmed the shooting and postponed the parliamentary session until further notice. “This is your fault,” Blaha, a member of Smer-SSD, Fico’s party, snapped at the opposition deputies, who responded with shouts and boos, according to the Slovak agency TASR. The far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) accused “the opposition of hate” of having “bloody hands.”

Fico’s coalition government is made up of his social democratic party Smer-SSD, and two partners: Hlas – a nominally social democratic but more centrist and liberal split from Smer – and the ultranationalist SNS. This Executive has cut off the shipment of weapons to Ukraine, has dismantled one of the anti-corruption agencies and has announced a reform plan for public radio and television that, according to its detractors, seeks to tighten control over public media.

European leaders have dismayedly condemned the assassination attempt on the Slovak prime minister. “These acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good,” published the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen on the social network of June. Expressing their condemnation were, among other heads of government: the German Olaf Scholz, the Spanish Pedro Sánchez, the Italian Giorgia Meloni, the British Rishi Sunak, the Austrian Karl Nehammer and the Estonian Kaja Kallas. Also the presidents of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, condemned the attack.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to President Caputová saying that “this is a horrible crime that cannot have any justification,” and praised Fico as “a brave person and a man with a strong personality.”