Robert Fico and the Return of Europe’s Ghosts

Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Robert Fico and the Return of Europe’s Ghosts

What the Slovakian prime minister’s near-assassination means for Europe.

An authoritarian East European leader assassinated by a Kremlin-connected figure sounds like a story that belongs in the previous century. But that is what Slovakia almost faced yesterday.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, after a cabinet meeting in the town of Handlová, was greeting well-wishers when 71-year-old Juraj Cintula shot at him five times with a handgun. One bullet hit his abdomen; another hit his hand. Security immediately apprehended Cintula while Fico was rushed by helicopter to a nearby hospital. His condition was so serious that his Facebook page was updated to “the next few hours will decide” if he would survive the shooting. Since then, his condition has apparently become more stable but is still critical.

Police formally charged Cintula today. Cintula is a self-proclaimed pacifist who founded a political party called the Movement Against Violence. In 2016, while promoting the party, he wrote: “Violence is often a reaction of people as a form of expression of ordinary discontent at the state of things. Let’s be dissatisfied, but not violent!” He is also a poet and part of the Association of Slovak Writers.

As a former security guard, he legally owned the pistol he used to shoot Fico. For a supposed pacifist, he has some interesting associations. He was photographed at least once attending a meeting of the Slovak Conscripts (SB), a pro-Russia militia allegedly founded by the special forces of Russian military intelligence. Some SB members reportedly fight for Russia. SB attributes a quote to Cintula praising the organization for its “ability to act without the order of the state, which is simply incomprehensible in a passive society like ours.” The evidence linking Cintula with SB dates back to 2016, so he may have changed course since then.

In a press conference, Slovak Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said Cintula had “a clear political motivation” for the attack. “This is a lone wolf who had radicalized himself in the latest period after the presidential election,” he said. Slovak media claimed Cintula told the authorities he planned the attack several days before but didn’t intend to kill Fico. (How he expected five shots at close range to keep Fico alive isn’t yet certain.)

Cintula is a strange person to almost kill a world leader. But as Eštok elaborated, his motives were political. And as shocking as the shooting was, digging into the political circumstances shows Europe may be in for an even wilder ride.

The 59-year-old Robert Fico was born in what was then the Soviet puppet state of Czechoslovakia. In 1986, he joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he joined the Communists’ successor party before founding his own leftist populist party, Smer, in 1999. He served as prime minister from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018 before being elected once more last autumn.

His connections with the old Soviet system are evident in his current foreign policy. Unlike most other European Union heads of government, he has a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has supported him in the Ukraine war. He campaigned last year promising to cut off all military aid to Ukraine (he has given nonlethal aid), and he has pushed against Russian sanctions at the EU level.

Putin conveyed his feelings on the shooting in a statement to Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová after the shooting:

There can be no justification for this monstrous crime. I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him survive this difficult situation. Please convey to him words of the most sincere support, as well as wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

Fico also has suspected ties with ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian mafia group. During his second stint in office, Fico hired a former ‘Ndrangheta business partner as his chief adviser. Slovak media claim Fico’s government was allowing ‘Ndrangheta to embezzle EU funds. In 2018, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered while investigating links between ‘Ndrangheta and the government. This led Fico to resign later that year. (He was voted in this time around riding a wave of Ukraine war fatigue.)

While running for office last year, under the banner of emptying overcrowded prisons, Fico promised to shorten jail time for those convicted of corruption. He has since 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.

This year Fico is pushing for an overhaul of Slovakia’s media landscape. A bill is currently in parliament to dissolve rtvs, Slovakia’s public broadcaster. Fico claims rtvs is biased against him; he wants to replace it with a new organization. rtvs’s director general claims this would allow “a political takeover of public broadcasting.” This is eerily similar to the power grab Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is making against the state broadcaster in his country.

Fico has also advocated for a “foreign agent bill” meant to go after nongovernmental organizations funded from abroad. Russia and other countries have used such laws to snuff out civil rights groups, and some worry Slovakia’s bill could do the same.

But back to the presidential election Eštok mentioned: Slovakia has a prime minister and a president. The president is a mostly ceremonial figurehead, while the prime minister sets most policy. But the president has a few powers. Čaputová has been Slovakia’s president since 2019. But in March, the Slovak electorate chose her successor: Peter Pellegrini, a former prime minister and close ally of Fico. Some saw Čaputová as the last check left on Fico’s power. This check will soon expire.

After Cintula’s arrest, a video began circulating online of him answering questions in a corridor before the shooting. “I don’t agree with the government’s policy,” he was recorded as saying. “They are liquidating the media.”

Fico is no Hitler. He was voted in democratically, and he was voted out democratically. His government responded to his near assassination by increasing security around politicians of all parties rather than immediate crackdowns and purges.

But he has an authoritarian streak. And Slovakia isn’t the only country in this scenario. Whether carried out by governments on the right or left, Hungary, Poland and other places are struggling under the weight of democratic backsliding. Meanwhile, Germany and Austria are facing increasingly popular neo-Nazi parties that have legitimate shots at forming governments. Italy is led by the successor party to Benito Mussolini’s fascists.

After World War ii and later the fall of communism, European leaders decided to put aside their differences and forge a new Europe. This new Europe would be a Europe of democracy, human rights and commitment to freedom. It would be an experiment to undo totalitarianism for good. It would be a modern Europe of glass and steel cities, a robust economy and free governments from Portugal to the old Soviet Union.

This vision for Europe, however, is crumbling. Men like Cintula can see that and are scared. What is their solution? Attempted murder.

Europe is becoming increasingly polarized. Both right-wing and left-wing leaders are demonized by the other side as “destroying democracy.” Fico’s near-assassination sets an extremely dangerous precedent. If shooting him is the only way to stop him, what does that mean for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen or any other controversial politician?

On the flip side, how will these powers respond? Will this attempted assassination push them to increase policing? Will we see civil liberties erode even further? Will this be a budding autocrat’s Reichstag-fire type event, causing him to crack down on the opposition?

It’s too early to tell. But Europe is in a bad place right now. And its future looks ugly.

The Trumpet has long expected Europe to take this sort of turn because of a prophecy in Revelation 17. Verse 3 introduces a “beast,” a vicious, demonic-looking creature with seven heads and 10 horns. In Bible prophecy, a beast is a symbol of an empire (see Daniel 7). Combined with other prophecies, the identity of the beast is revealed as the Roman Empire.

Rome fell hundreds of years ago. What does this have to do with today?

A related prophecy in Revelation 13:3, also describing a seven-headed, 10-horned beast, explains: “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed ….” Rome fell under the barbarian hordes, but this wound was healed.

Revelation 17 is actually speaking of seven consecutive resurrections of the Roman Empire. Verse 10 elaborates: “And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.” The wound was healed when Justinian, leader of the Eastern Roman Empire, kicked out the barbarians and reestablished the empire from east to west.

Starting from Justinian, history records six such resurrections. Powerful tyrants like Charlemagne and Napoleon headed them. But the prophecy records seven total heads. That means there is still one to come. “[A]nd when he cometh,” the Apostle John wrote, “he must continue a short space.”

The Trumpet expects this seventh head to form in modern Europe. This Europe will be a war-making power (Revelation 13:4). It will execute those who disagree with it (Revelation 17:6).

In short, it will be a return to Europe’s old ghosts.

How long it will take for Europe to fully transform remains to be seen. But Fico’s near-assassination foreshadows Europe’s dark days ahead.

To learn more, request a free copy of Who or What Is the Prophetic Beast?, by Herbert W. Armstrong.