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The victim-blaming of Robert Fico

Slovakia’s populist PM has been condemned by Western media – even as he fights for his life.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics Politics World

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The attempted assassination of Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, would normally be shocking enough. Yet even more striking has been the callous and hypocritical reaction of the mainstream Western media to this contemptible act of political violence. From the moment Fico was shot on Wednesday, media coverage of the assassination attempt has mixed condemnation of the violent attack with both implicit and explicit condemnations of the victim.

In its commentary, Politico says Fico ‘has faced widespread criticism for polarising [Slovakian] politics’. It also criticises his ‘pro-Russian comments’ and his ‘push to extend state control over the media’. The term ‘polarising’ appears frequently in other media outlets, too. The Washington Post echoes this theme and notes that the ‘attack on Fico left the politically polarised Eastern European nation reeling’.

The use of the term ‘polarising’ seems to imply that, somehow, Fico bears a degree of responsibility for the attempt on his life. The suggestion is that his policies, behaviour and rhetoric have helped to create the circumstances in which political violence can flourish.

Perhaps the tone of the coverage shouldn’t surprise us. After all, Fico is despised by EU leaders and their supporters in the media because he is a populist who is keen to assert Slovakia’s national sovereignty. As such, he is smeared by the Brussels elite as ‘far right’ and a threat to the integrity of the EU. What’s more, because he disagrees with the EU’s position on Ukraine, he is frequently characterised as Putin’s man in the EU.

Alongside Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, Fico is often a thorn in Brussels’ side. Referring to Fico’s recent election, the Washington Post noted that his electoral success ‘boosted populists across Europe – from Germany and Austria to Finland’.

Essentially, because of his politics, Fico is seen by Western elites as undeserving of sympathy. The contrast in the media coverage of other recent acts of political violence could hardly be more stark. Consider the recent attacks on politicians in Germany. Earlier this month, Berlin senator Franziska Giffey was injured after being hit on the head with a bag ‘filled with hard contents’. The week before, Social Democratic MEP Matthias Ecke was hospitalised following an assault in Dresden by four young men believed to have links to the far right. In these instances, the violence has – rightly – been condemned unequivocally. Yet the media’s understandable sympathy towards Ecke and Giffey has been conspicuously absent in the coverage of the attack on Fico. This is despite the fact that he was the victim of a far more serious and violent attack. He remains in a serious condition in intensive care.

It seems that pro-EU media outlets have all alighted on the word ‘polarising’ as a way of condemning Fico without seeming overly callous. The term has become a key weapon in the political vocabulary of the Eurocracy and its media allies. Political polarisation, by definition, implies two sides becoming ever more antagonistic towards one another. Yet the term is only ever used to describe one side in the European culture war – those politicians who challenge the outlook of the dominant elites. Indeed, Fico’s critics are free to denounce him – even as he fights for his life – without being accused of being ‘polarising’.

I wonder if Juraj Cintula, the man accused of shooting Robert Fico, will ever be described as a ‘polarising’ figure.

Frank Furedi is the executive director of the think-tank, MCC-Brussels.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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