Written by 3:47 pm Editorials

Political violence has no place in Europe in 2024

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot on Wednesday. The motives of the arrested perpetrator are still unclear. The attack has rightly been severely condemned throughout Europe, across all national and party lines.

The populist-nationalist prime minister won his elections at the end of September last year. Since then he has faced a lot of criticism for polarizing politics in the Central European country by expressing his admiration for Russian President Putin. He also takes an example from the illiberal Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and, like him, tries to expand state control over the media.

The coming days will be very important to prevent this cowardly attack from leading to civil unrest between its supporters and opponents. Slovakia’s acting parliament speaker, Peter Ziga, has already warned that it is “the result of the division of Slovak society into two irreconcilable camps.”

Peter Pellegrini, the elected president and an ally of Fico, already urged his supporters to calm down. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but there are plenty of ways to express our disagreements democratically and legally.” Opposition leader Michal Simecka of Progressive Slovakia also “unequivocally and strongly” condemned any violence.

But Lubos Blaha, the pro-Russian interim speaker of parliament, blamed the “media and progressives” — this kind of reaction is obviously disturbing. It shows the great risk that extremists, or foreign trolls on social media, will use the attack to further inflame tensions among the population. It is therefore a good thing that all other EU member states are also supporting the Slovaks in conducting a calm debate today.

Political violence must have no place in the EU in 2024. We must learn from history that we can never take this lightly. The assassination attempt on Pim Fortuyn in 2002 has led to a hardening of the public debate in the Netherlands to this day. Partly due to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians today. The unsolved assassinations of US President John F. Kennedy (1963) and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (1986) each in their own way changed the course of the Cold War. The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian ultranationalist even led to the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

Just like 110 years ago, nerves are on edge everywhere in Europe. There are the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. In the run-up to the next elections, harsh words are being said about the political course of member states and the EU. But we owe it to the previous and future generations of this unique European peace project to keep violence out of the debates. Whether you are left or right, pro-European or Eurosceptic, whatever color you are: only with serious dialogue will we meet the enormous challenges of the 21st century.

Last modified: June 9, 2024