Positions and influence of the radical-nationalist and right-wing extremist forces in Europe and prospects for their future activities are not only the topic of lively public debate (especially in the context of the ongoing economic and financial crisis), but also the subject of the detailed expert research.
Social factors of right-wing extremist politics
On the one hand, discussions about the tools and methods which radical right groups employ to strengthen their influence in society, focus mainly on the results achieved by these groups in elections (local, regional, general or European) and on the policies that they strive to implement in various areas (social security, migration, education, etc.). On the other hand, expert research of the prerequisites for success of the radical forces addresses identification of variety of factors (historical, socio-cultural, ethno-demographic) and especially of people’s views on the existent social problems, particularly in the context of rivalry between different political forces – moderate or radical. Based on an analysis of the public views, the researchers try to define the extent of people’s readiness to support political activities through which the right-wing extremist forces seek to assert their influence in individual countries.
Similarly to elsewhere, in Slovakia a set of social pre-conditions exists that creates the context of activities of the extreme right. The universal, common pre-conditions include particularly factors related to the transformation of the society and its effects on lives of large segments of the population. People who, for various reasons, had been unable to adapt to the new social conditions after the fall of the communist regime and the introduction of market economy, may perceive the “quick” and “easy” solutions offered by the extremist nationalist politicians as worthy their sympathy and support. There are also specific factors encouraging extremist politics in Slovakia that derive from peculiarities of the historical development of the country. They include traditions of authoritarian nationalist politics from the interwar period and ideological heritage of pro-Nazi collaborationist regime that existed in Slovakia during World War II. The country’s multi-ethnic composition of the population offer to nationalistically oriented forces an opportunity to use the so-called “ethnic” card for voters’ mobilization. Long-term problems associated with the situation of the Roma minority, especially in the areas where Roma and non-Roma citizens live in close neighborhood create the breeding ground for anti-Roma racial prejudice, discriminatory sentiments and practices. These problems serve the extremist groups as justification of their radical stances and proposals gaining certain support from the part of local population. Slovakia’s accession to the EU increased the degree of its openness and led to a growing numbers of immigrants from geographical areas with different cultural and religious characteristics. That encourages radicals and extremists to spread their isolationist xenophobic agenda.
All aforementioned factors influence the voting behavior and political attitudes of the public, its views on the development and organization of the society, and shape its long-lasting value orientations.
Slovak index DEREX
The DEREX index is one of analytical methods for identification of the extent of potential support to extremist political activities. A think-tank Political Capital developed DEREX in four consecutive biannual cycles: in 2004–2005, 2006–2007, 2008– 2009 and 2010–2011.
Slovakia experienced remarkable developments during these cycles. In the most recent research (2010–2011) it returned to the “starting” position from 2004–2005 when the overall DEREX value reached 10.8%; in 2004–2005 the index was 10.4% (see table 1).
Table 1. DEREX scores – Slovakia
Source: European Social Survey, 2011.
The findings of the DEREX survey in 2010–2011 mean that approximately 11% of Slovakia’s population today represents potential supporters of the right-wing extremist forces. In the overall ranking among all surveyed European countries Slovakiais on the 6th to 9th places (along with Portugal, Croatia and Hungary). It is quite high ranking: the aforementioned quartet of states was overtaken only by five other countries (including four EU member states): Greece with its incredible 33%, Ukraine with 19%, Bulgaria 18%, Lithuania 13% and Cyprus with 12%. Slovakia thus left behind all other surveyed EU countries, plus Switzerland and Norway.
In surveys conducted in 2006–2007 and 2008–2009, however, Slovakia’s index oscillated around 6.1% and 6.6% respectively. A question arises within this context about what could have caused that in these years the index indicating the extent of the potential support to right-wing extremist politics significantly decreased, while after 2010 it has raised again to its original value?
In seeking the answers it should be noted that value of DEREX is generated by processing a number of indicators. It is a result of the different, often contradictory trends in particular areas of inquiry.
Slovakia offers just an example of such controversial development. In 2006–2010 Slovakia was governed by the national-populist coalition comprised of Smer-SD (Direction–Social Democracy), Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) that inflamed the nationalist discourse. Individual government parties de facto competed with each other in taking the more radical anti-minority (especially anti-Hungarian) positions both in the rhetoric and in terms of practical policies. At that time Slovakia’s DEREX fell to 6%.
Is it possible to offer a rational explanation to the decline in the readiness for potential support to the right-wing extremism in the atmosphere of the strong nationalism? Deeper analysis shows that it is possible and the rational explanation for such strange phenomenon does exist.
What influenced the change in DEREX in Slovakia
Decline of DEREX in 2006–2009 was caused by a significant – almost 50% – drop in anti-establishment attitudes (from 30% to 15% and 17% respectively), and by a significant drop in the category of fears, distrust and pessimism (from 25% to 17% and 18% respectively). However, in this period an increase was noted in the category of prejudices and welfare chauvinism – from 27% to 33% and in the support to right-wing value orientations – from 19% to 29% (see chart 1).
Chart 1. DEREX scores – Slovakia
Source: European Social Survey, 2011.
Comparison of dynamism of particular categories (as well as the value of DEREX per se) during 2004–2011 shows a worrying trend of strong and stable (even rising) support to the value factors (e.g. social prejudices and chauvinism) and to a certain type of approaches to the organization of the society (calling for strong social order, respect for traditions etc.) that strongly influence the political preferences in the population. Decline in the category of anti-establishment attitudes and in that of fears, distrust and pessimism in 2006–2009 has a simple explanation: supporters of Smer-SD, LS-HZDS and SNS, among which the nationalistically oriented voters are represented in higher degree (compared to an average), finally after 8 years of the rule of moderate center-right parties, “appreciated” their party’s participation in the government by increasing their confidence to the institutions dominated by this party (parliament, government, president). In the previous years this part of electorate felt deprived, alienated from the power. Due to disagreement with pro-market liberal socio-economic reforms, advocated by the center-right parties, voters of the national populist parties manifested their distrust to social order and democratic institutions. The results of the 2006 parliamentary elections changed the situation in a sense that voters of these parties moderated their critical attitude to democratic values and the functioning of democratic institutions as the representatives of center-right parties did not lead these institutions anymore. This attitude of the electorate decreased the overall level of anti-establishment attitudes and the extent of fears and social pessimism. The change has resulted in the overall decline of DEREX. Moreover, for SNS voters their own demand for radical nationalist politics was de facto fulfilled in 2006–2010 by the participation of their party in the government and by implementation of its nationalist policies in the fields of education, minority issues, interpretation of national history, etc. After the defeat of the national-populist grouping in the 2010 parliamentary elections and the subsequent formation of the conservative-liberal coalition of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) – Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) – Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) – Bridge party (Most-Hid), the distrust of the voters of the national-populist parties in democratic institutions increased and the sentiment against the political establishment strengthened. Compared to the last years the rate of pessimism and fear also increased. All this led in 2011 to the rise of DEREX to the pre 2006 level.
Based on the evaluation of the findings of DEREX survey it can be argued that certain pattern exists that affects the inclination of the population in Slovakia to potential support to politics that are close to radical nationalist and right-wing extremist scene. It is a kind of mutual “counter-balancing” of two trends:
- situational (according to the ongoing development of party politics and electoral performance of individual parties) changes in trust in the institutions and in the extent of social pessimism,
- long-term trends of deepening prejudices, anti-immigration sentiments and authoritarian values.
Such “counter-balancing” is, of course, purely statistical and ultimately does not neutralize the undesirable authoritarian and xenophobic sentiments and ideas. Such situation is likely to persist as long as the supporters of political parties (in this case, especially the voters of Smer-SD and other formations close to it) derive their trust in the democratic order and democratic institutions from the very fact that the representatives of these parties work either in the government or in the opposition.
The extremists’ offer – how long will it be so weak?
In 2011, Slovakia took pretty high places in all tested categories of the DEREX project having shown an increase in each category. In the category of prejudices and welfare chauvinism Slovakia assumed 6th place. In the category of fear and pessimism it was ranked on the 5th, in the category of right-wing orientation values the 3rd – 4th place along with Greece. In the category of anti-establishment attitudes Slovakia was placed on the 8th among 26 surveyed European countries. That was not a very encouraging result either.
Data from the DEREX project confirmed that Slovakia is among those EU countries where the demand for right-wing extremist politics represents a significant factor of the overall political development. Public demand for such politics is not at all negligible. It covers almost 11% of the population. Fortunately, the offer from the extremist political actors does not fully correspond to this demand.
The radical nationalist SNS failed to qualify into the parliament in the 2012 elections. A lot of the SNS voters were attracted by the left-oriented state-interventionist and paternalist Smer-SD whose “national” agenda seemed to be more credible to these voters than that of the SNS. Yet the public support to the the SNS, measured in opinion polls, was oscillating in the first half of 2013 just below the 5 percent of electoral threshold. That gives SNS some chance for political comeback. The extremist Peoples Party – Our Slovakia, the political offshoot of the notorious Slovak Togetherness association, slightly improved its electoral results in recent years (1.33% in 2010, 1.58% in 2012). However it is failing yet to convince its potential supporters that just this party is a genuine keeper of the “national” agenda. Its intellectual and professional potential as well as their mental characteristics remain fixed somewhere at the level of street thug gangs manifesting their malicious antisemitic, racist, homophobic and xenophobic instincts at anti-Roma rallies, through physical assaults against the participants at LGBT events or through anonymous web chats.
Nevertheless a question arises about how long will such situation in Slovakia last, when the significant part of the potential voters of the extremist parties is effectively addressed by the less radical, mainstream nationalist political forces. Deepening of the social and economic problems, continuing the political turbulences around situation with Roma minority, the public fatigue from the old, established parties and nourishing the racist discourse in public life can act in favor of extremists who have prepared long ago their own recipes of the “quick” and “easy” solutions: to abolish social benefits for the Roma, to expel all foreigners from Slovakia, to introduce the discriminatory measures against homosexuals, to close the country to the outside world, to leave the EU and NATO, to establish corporatist political system instead of the democratic one. The practical implementation of all these (and other similar) “solutions” proposed by the extremists should have adverse effect on the country’s development. The mainstream democratic parties should therefore seek ways of real neutralization of the factors working in favor of the right-wing extremists and their radical-nationalist rhetoric. These parties would attempt to increase the level of unconditional trust in democratic institutions and to reduce the nationalist and racial prejudices in their own voter environment.