Introducing Europe’s Slovak Strongman
Imagine if a candidate for the upcoming United States presidential election were the mafia don of one of New York’s Five Families. Imagine if the don were popular enough to win the election. Imagine if his first order of business was to go after those who previously crossed him.
Such a scenario would be unusual to say the least. But a similar one played out in a young democracy belonging to both the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This country is Slovakia. The man Slovaks voted into office is Robert Fico.
As far as European politicians go, Fico may not be a household name. Slovakia, with a population of roughly 5.5 million and an economy smaller than Mississippi’s, doesn’t make outside news too often. But Slovakia’s election signals a historic geopolitical shift—not only in Europe but in the whole world.
Fico was Slovakia’s prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018. He leads Smer, a leftist-populist party descended from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Despite leading a party on the left, some of Fico’s policies are characteristic of the right in most other countries. He has pushed to keep Slovakia ethnically homogeneous and free of Islamic immigration. “Islam has no place in Slovakia,” he said in 2016. “I do not wish there were tens of thousands of Muslims [in the country].” He fought against EU mandatory quotas of refugees. After his time in office, during the covid-19 crisis, he was the face of Slovakia’s anti-vax movement.
Many rural Slovakians appreciate Fico as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise progressive Europe. But unlike Europe’s other populist firebrands, Fico comes with some interesting baggage. He has very public links to organized crime.
Last year, Slovakia’s National Crime Agency claimed Fico founded a “criminal organization” within the halls of power in Bratislava. According to Slovakian prosecutors, Fico weaponized police and tax agencies to attack political rivals. Some of Fico’s associates were arrested and later acquitted of charges. But prosecutors convicted over 40 people connected to Fico’s government. This included judges and intelligence officers. Fico himself was protected by parliamentary immunity.
There is also stronger evidence to suggest Fico was literally working with the mafia.
Fico has links to the ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian mafia group. According to a Europol report from 2013, “The ‘Ndrangheta holds a dominant position in the cocaine market in Europe, and is involved in many other criminal fields, including weapons trafficking, fraud, rigging of public tenders, corruption, intimidation, extortion and environmental crime.” During his second stint in office, Fico hired Mária Trošková, a former model, as his chief adviser. Trošková had little political experience and was a puzzling choice for such a senior role. But she used to be business partners with Antonino Valada, a ‘Ndrangheta member extradited to Italy in 2018 on drug trafficking charges.
That Fico would choose somebody with this background as his chief adviser is curious to say the least.
Slovakia got a good look at how entrenched the ‘Ndrangheta was in government that same year. An investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, was examining links between ‘Ndrangheta and Fico’s government. He uncovered evidence that ‘Ndrangheta was smuggling weapons to Italy through Slovakia. Kuciak also wrote articles claiming Fico’s government was helping them embezzle EU funds allocated for agricultural purposes.
On Feb. 21, 2018, Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were assassinated by ‘Ndrangheta in connection to his investigating their links with the government. Both were only 27 years old.
The murder shook Slovakia. Although Fico denied any involvement, many Slovakians didn’t believe him. Tens of thousands protested in the capital demanding his resignation. Fico resigned that year.
Five years isn’t that long. Slovakians hadn’t forgotten all this when they voted for a new government on September 30. Smer won the most votes, and Fico’s new government gained parliamentary approval on November 21.
Now that he is prime minister again, what are Fico’s first priorities?
Top of the list is cutting off military aid to Ukraine. Since Russia’s 2022 invasion, Slovakia’s government has sent Ukraine military aid worth over $718 million. Fico has stated that while humanitarian aid will continue, he will cut off military aid completely. He also said he would not support new Russian sanctions at the EU level. Fico previously had close relations with Russia and said the solution to the Ukraine war must be diplomatic (read, Russia needs a piece of the pie in any peace deal).
Under the banner of emptying overcrowded prisons, Fico has also promised to shorten jail time for those convicted of corruption. He suspended several influential investigators who have previously uncovered corruption in Smer’s earlier governments. Meanwhile, a Smer member of Parliament and former police force president is in legal trouble for running organized crime from within the police.
Slovakia is getting an oligarch bent on “legalizing” corruption. He is a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and willing to make a deal with him over Ukraine. He has deep connections to the Italian mafia and may even be involved in murdering a journalist.
In short, he’s the kind of person ready to become Slovakia’s king.
Slovakia is a small country on Europe’s eastern edge that was recently ruled by a Communist dictatorship. Government corruption is evidently part of “business as usual.” Some may wonder what the big deal is. The big deal is this: Slovakia is a member of the EU and nato, and Fico will influence both. Fico now has veto power over important decisions. Other member states will have to work with him to get things done.
Fico’s rise also mirrors the rise of anti-establishment movements all over Europe. Italy, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands all had recent elections where populist parties did well enough to participate in government. Most of these movements aren’t led by figures as controversial as Fico. But if Slovakians are willing to vote in a man who might have journalist blood on his hands, how many other Europeans are willing to do the same?
Many people’s perception of Europe is that of a modern world of glass and steel skyscrapers, human rights and multiculturalism—everything men like Fico stand against. People could claim that countries like Slovakia are taking Europe down a new path. But they’re not. They’re taking Europe down an old path.
The Bible has a lot to say about this transformation of Europe. Revelation 13 is a prophecy of a “beast,” a biblical symbol for an empire (see Daniel 7). This beast is a great war-making power (Revelation 13:4, 10). It is a vast realm, extending its rule and influence “over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations” (verse 7). It persecutes and even kills those not in line with its program (verse 7, 15). It has the audacity to challenge God Himself (verses 5-6). Putting Revelation 13 together with related prophecies shows this beast is the Roman Empire.
Ancient Rome fell long ago. In biblical terminology, it was “wounded to death” (verse 3). What does this have to do with today?
Verse 3 continues: “[A]nd his deadly wound was healed.”
Revelation 17 continues the story. A beast is pictured here too. But unlike the previous beast, this one is ridden by a woman (verse 3), biblical symbol for a church (2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Ephesians 5:22-32). This is speaking of an empire to rise from the ashes of old Rome with religious power behind it: the Holy Roman Empire.
This beast has seven heads and 10 horns (Revelation 17:3). The Bible interprets the heads as seven consecutive incarnations of this empire (verses 9-10). History records six of these resurrections, led by bloody tyrants like Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler.
That means there is one more to come.
The 10 horns are 10 kings—10 individual dictators in Europe—who pool their resources to form the last resurrection of the beast (verses 12-14).
We wrote in our January 2018 Trumpet issue:
[H]owever these events [in Eastern Europe] play out, we see clear movements toward something that looks remarkably like what biblical prophecy describes. Countries across Europe want strongmen. Men with personal charisma and personal power are taking office. Voters are willing to hand these men unprecedented authority—to make them “kings.” And these men want to combine into a regional grouping of like-minded leaders.
The identities of all of these kings aren’t fully known, but someone like Fico is a good candidate. Either way, it won’t be long before this beast surfaces in its entirety for all to see.
To learn more, read “Introducing Europe’s Eastern Strongmen.”