Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD)

Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD). Smer is currently Slovakia’s dominant party, controlling a majority of seats in the national parliament.

A left-populist party, Smer emerged from a split in the Party of the Democratic Left (PDL), the successor of Slovak’s branch of the Czechoslovak communists. The PDL had been in a controversial anti-Meciar coalition with centre-right parties, and lost support due to that coalition’s liberalising zeal. Smer quickly became the dominant force on Slovakia’s centre-left, and the PDL eventually merged into it.

Smer’s popularity has always been entwined with that of its leader and founder, Robert Fico, and the party is left-populist in orientation with relatively centre-left views on socio-economic policy but much more nationalist and socially conservative views elsewhere.

Questions have been raised about Fico’s democratic credentials, with Fico accused of authoritarian leanings. Fico has become increasingly nationalistic. In February Fico declared that Slovakia had been “established for Slovaks, not for minorities”, though he later claimed that this was misinterpreted. He has also raised the ire of the country’s Roma community (officially 2% but estimated as up to 9%), with plans for boarding schools for Roma schoolchildren. Fico dismissed critics of these plans as “human rights angels”.

Fico and his party also have socially conservative views about homosexuality.

During his first term in power, between 2006 and 2010, Fico formed a coalition that included the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS). In fairness to Fico this does not seem to be due to any particular fondness for the SNS itself but rather because he lacked alternative coalition partners. Smer was temporarily suspended from membership of the Party of European Socialists for this act, though it was allowed back in 2008.

The party maintains centre-left views on the economy. Fico has largely continued with economic liberalisation in power, but is a big spending premier. His initial reaction to the 2008-9 financial crisis was not austerity but rather to increase state benefits. He now pursues austerity, but only grudgingly out of necessity. He has been a critic of EU sponsored austerity in the Eurozone.

Smer is basically pro-European, but Fico, as a master strategist, is not beyond trying to use Eurosceptic rhetoric when it suits him.

Smer is a member of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. Like most Eastern European parties, it is very loyal to the group despite apparent ideological dissidence between it and Western European parties. Smer votes with the S&D 98.6% of the time, seventh highest in the group.