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Direction – Social Democracy

Direction – Social Democracy
Smer – sociálna demokracia
LeaderRobert Fico
Deputy Leaders
See list
General SecretaryMarián Saloň
FounderRobert Fico
Founded8 November 1999 (1999-11-08)
Split fromParty of the Democratic Left
HeadquartersSúmračná 3263/25, 82102 Bratislava
Youth wingYoung Social Democrats
Membership (2022)Increase 13,095[1]
Political positionCentre-left[11] to left-wing[12][13]
European affiliationParty of European Socialists (suspended)[14]
International affiliation
European Parliament groupNon-Inscrits[15]
  •   Red
  •   Navy blue
Slogan"Stability, order and social security" (2023)[16]
National Council
42 / 150
European Parliament
2 / 14
Regional governors[17]
1 / 8
Regional deputies[a][17]
50 / 419
516 / 2,904
Local councillors[a][17]
2,364 / 20,462

Direction – Social Democracy (Slovak: Smer – sociálna demokracia), also commonly referred to as Smer, is a left-wing nationalist political party in Slovakia led by the incumbent prime minister Robert Fico.[18]

Founded by Fico in 1999 as a split from the post-communist Party of the Democratic Left, Smer initially defined itself as the Third Way party.[19] It adopted the epithet Social Democracy after merging with several minor center-left parties in 2005.[20] It dominated Slovak politics from 2006 to 2020, leading two coalition governments (2006–2010, 2016–2020) and one single-party government (2012–2016). During its 12 years in charge it continued the European integration of Slovakia, lifted some economic-liberal reforms of the previous center-right governments and introduced various social welfare measures.[21] Smer-led governments have been associated with numerous political corruption scandals, and have been accused by opponents to have resulted in a deterioration of the rule of law in Slovakia.[22][23][24][25][26]

Since the 2020 parliamentary election – Smer's return to the opposition, Slovak authorities have been investigating a number of corruption-related crimes involving multiple Smer politicians and individuals reportedly linked to the party, with a total of 42 of them being convicted.[27][28][29][30][31] At the party congress in July 2020, following a major internal split (which resulted in the founding of the Hlas party), Fico announced a shift to "the rustic social democracy that perceives the specifics of Slovak reality".[32][33] Post-2020 Smer holds stances that have been described as nationalist, populist and Russophilic.[34][35][36][37][38][39][40]

In 2023, Smer won the parliamentary election with 23% of the vote and 42 seats in the National Council and subsequently formed the Fourth cabinet of Robert Fico.[41]


Foundation and early years (1999–2006)

Originally named Direction (Slovak: Smer), the party was founded on 8 November 1999, emerging as a breakaway from the post-Communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), the successor of the original Communist Party of Slovakia and the governing party from 1998 to 2002. Under Robert Fico, at the time one of the most popular politicians in the country, it quickly became one of the most popular parties in Slovakia, while the SDĽ experienced a constant decrease within popularity. In the 2002 Slovak parliamentary election, its first formal election period, it became the third-largest party in the National Council of the Slovak Republic, with 25 of 150 seats. In 2003, it changed its formal name to Direction (Third Way) (Slovak: Smer (tretia cesta))[42] and Party of Civic Understanding merged into the party.

In 2005, the party absorbed the SDĽ and the Social Democratic Alternative, a small social democratic party that split from the original SDĽ somewhat later than Direction did, in addition to the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia. Founded in 1990, the party became known for the leadership of Alexander Dubček, and Direction adopted the epithet Social Democracy. Following the party's victory in 2006, Smer entered into a coalition with the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) and was readmitted into the Party of European Socialists (PES) in 2008. It later formed another coalition with the SNS in 2016.

Government (2006–2010)

In the 2006 Slovak parliamentary election, the party won 29.1% of the popular vote and 50 of 150 seats. Following that election, Smer formed a coalition government with the People's Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the SNS,[43] an extremist nationalist party.[44][27][45]

On 12 October 2006, the party was temporarily suspended from membership in the PES.[46] The resolution to suspend the party referred specifically to the PES Declaration "For a modern, pluralist and tolerant Europe", adopted in Berlin by the PES congress in 2001, which states that "all PES parties adhere to the following principles ... [and] to refrain from any form of political alliance or co-operation at all levels with any political party which incites or attempts to stir up racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred." In The Slovak Spectator, the PES chairman Poul Nyrup Rasmussen commented: "Most of our members stood solidly behind our values, according to which forming a coalition with the extreme right is unacceptable."[47] The party was readmitted on 14 February 2008 after its chairman Fico and SNS leader Jan Slota pledged in a letter to respect European values, human rights, and all ethnic minorities.[48]

Opposition (2010–2012)

Party logo, 2005–2019

Although the party won the most votes in the 2010 Slovak parliamentary election, with a lead of 20% over the second-place Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ),[49] they had not been able to form a government because of losses sustained by their coalition partners. Their result, 34.8%, gave them 62 of 150 seats in the National Council, but the HZDS failed to cross the 5% threshold, losing all their seats, and the SNS was reduced to nine seats. The four opposition centre-right parties (the Christian Democratic Movement, Freedom and Solidarity, Bridge, and SDKÚ) were able to form a new government.[50]

Government (2012–2020)

Party logo, 2019–2021

In the 2012 Slovak parliamentary election, Smer won 44.4% of the votes and became the largest party in the National Council, with an absolute majority of 83 seats (out of 150).[51] Fico's Second Cabinet was the first single-party government in Slovakia since 1993. In the 2014 European Parliament election in Slovakia, Smer came in first place nationally, receiving 24.09% of the vote and electing four Members of the European Parliament.[52]

Despite suffering a significant loss in support as a result of strikes by teachers and nurses earlier in the year,[53] Smer won the 5 March 2016 parliamentary election with 28.3% of the vote and 49 of 150 seats, and subsequently formed Fico's Third Cabinet in a coalition government with Bridge, Network, and the Slovak National Party. Prime Minister Fico resigned in the wake of the political crisis following the murder of Ján Kuciak and was replaced by Peter Pellegrini, with the same majority. However, Fico remained leader of Smer.[citation needed]

Opposition (2020–2023)

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The party managed to score 18.29% in the 2020 Slovak parliamentary election, which was 2 to 3 percent more than the latest polls showed, but it was still a decrease of 10% compared to previous elections. The party occupied 38 seats in parliament. Pellegrini, the chairman of the Fico parliamentary group, became the vice-chairman of the National Council for the Opposition on the basis of post-election negotiations.[citation needed] In May 2020, two deputies for Smer (Ján Podmanický and Marián Kéry) founded a value policy platform with deputies from KDŽP, elected as a candidate of the Kotlebists – People's Party Our Slovakia. Because of this, Pellegrini sharply criticized them, while Fico defended Podmanický. In May 2020, Podmanický also left the Smer parliamentary group after criticism from his own ranks.[citation needed]

As early as April 2020, party vice-chairman Pellegrini announced his ambition to run for party chairman as Smer's most popular politician, winning 170,000 more votes than the chairman. Fico reacted strongly, saying that he did not intend to resign and wanted to remain at the head of the party, while Pellegrini gradually began to tighten his criticism of Fico and the party's situation. Pellegrini criticized the fact that the party's presidency had not met since the election and the date of the parliament was unknown. Pellegrini demanded that the assembly be held as soon as possible, while Fico insisted that the nomination assembly take place only at a ceremonial assembly in December 2020.[citation needed]

At a June 2020 press conference in Banská Bystrica, Pellegrini announced that he would resign as Vice-Chairman of Smer and leave the party in the near future. He also outlined the establishment of a new party, Voice – Social Democracy (Hlas), which he said should be social democratic, but refuse to be liberal. Around that time, Fico had already offered Pellegrini the position of party chairman, provided that he maintained his influence in the party, an offer which was rejected by Pellegrini. In the first FOCUS survey, 21.4% of respondents said they would vote for the new Pellegrini party, while those saying they would vote for the original Smer remained at 9.6%. At a press conference one week following the announcement of Pellegrini's departure, another 10 deputies announced they would leave the party, including Vice-Presidents Peter Žiga and Richard Raši, Bureau member Denisa Saková and long-standing deputies and party members. At the same time, together with Pellegrini, they announced the creation of a new social-democratic party at the press conference, which they would join. Political scientist Grigory Mesezhnikov postulated that after the departure of the Pellegrini group, the Smer could move further to the left into the spectrum of the radical to communist left.[citation needed]

Government (2023–present)

As Smer won the parliamentary election held on 30 September 2023 with 23% of the vote and 42 seats in the National Council, Robert Fico, the party's leader was given a mandate to form a government.[54] The Fourth cabinet of Robert Fico comprising Smer, Voice – Social Democracy (Hlas) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) sworn in on 25 October 2023.

Foreign policy

Fico has promised to cut all aid to Ukraine as a result of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, and has promised to block Ukrainian accession to NATO should the subject be broached under his tenure. Fico has also stated that the Ukrainian government is run by neo-Nazis.[55]

Legal reforms

Meeting of the Slovak delegation with the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, 27 November 2023

In December 2023, the Fourth Cabinet of Robert Fico introduced an amendment to the Criminal Code. The government proposed that the bill be debated in a fast-track legislative procedure, arguing that the status quo leads to human rights violations. The amendment included scrapping the Special Prosecutor's Office dealing with high-level corruption and lowering penalties for financial crimes. The fast-track legislative procedure faced widespread criticism from the parliamentary opposition, President Zuzana Čaputová, the European Commission and non-governmental organizations, resulting in a weeks-long opposition parliamentary obstruction and a series of demonstrations.[56]

Critics have raised questions about potential conflicts of interest within the government coalition. They have noted that various individuals with perceived affiliations to the government, alongside accused members of the coalition parties, including the bill's rapporteur, MP Tibor Gašpar of Smer, could be directly affected by the proposed lowering of penalties. Additionally, their cases are overseen by the Special Prosecutor's Office, which the amendment would abolish. The coalition government introduced the amendment, citing the need to shift towards a rehabilitative approach to justice, update the criminal code, and align with European Union standards. Proponent of the law, the Ministry of Justice led by Boris Susko of Smer published the brochure 'Overview of Violations of the Principles of the Rule of Law in the Years 2020–2023.'[57]

The amendment was finally approved by the National Council on 8 February 2024. The final proposal also included a reduction of the statute of limitations in rape cases from 20 to 10 years, which again caused widespread criticism from the parliamentary opposition, President Zuzana Čaputová and non-governmental organizations. The government defended the reduction of the limitation period by motivating victims to report rape earlier, possibly allowing a return to the 20-year limitation period in the next amendment after the approval of the law.[58]

President Zuzana Čaputová signed the law on 16 February, verbally clearly expressing her opposition to its content..The President argued that by signing the law instead of vetoing it, she wants to create enough time for the Constitutional Court to decide on her submission challenging the constitutionality of the law. As of February 2024, the Constitutional Court is expected to make its decision following the publication of the law in the collection of laws by the Ministry of Justice.[59]

Ideology and policies

Economic policy

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Smer advocates economically left-wing policies.[citation needed]

Foreign policy

Smer holds Russophilic and Eurosceptic stances on foreign policy; however, it claims to support Slovakia's membership in the European Union and NATO. The party expresses strong anti-Western, especially anti-American sentiment, often spreading Russian propaganda narratives.[60][61][62]

Regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War, Smer calls for an end to military aid to Ukraine as well as to sanctions against Russia. It interprets the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a proxy war between the US and Russia, with the latter "dealing with threats to its national interests". The party declares that the conflict was provoked in 2014 by "the extermination of citizens of Russian nationality by Ukrainian fascists".[63][64][65]

In its foreign policy manifesto, Smer calls for understanding with countries "with a form of government other than parliamentary democracy", referring to China and Vietnam.[66] During his premiership, party's leader Robert Fico praised the political systems of both countries, describing the Slovak one as clumsy and uncompetitive in comparison.[67] In 2007, Fico made an official state visit to the then leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, "discussing the fight against world imperialism" (citing Fico).[68]

Social policy

The party holds strongly conservative views on social issues with a record of anti-LGBT,[69][70] anti-Romani,[71][72] Islamophobic[73][74] and anti-immigration statements. It proclaims its strong opposition to liberalism and progressivism, advocating traditional family values and running for the patriotic electorate.[75][76] Party's leading politicians spread disinformations and conspiracy theories, including antisemitic George Soros conspiracy theories.[77][78]

Regarding LGBT rights, it calls for a constitutional ban on same-sex civil unions, marriages as well as adoptions. It opposes the allocation of state subsidies to LGBT rights organizations.[72] In 2022, 21 out of 27 Smer deputies in the National Council voted for a bill prohibiting the display of the rainbow flags on public buildings while the remaining 6 were absent.[79][80]

During the 2015 European migrant crisis, party's leader Robert Fico stated that the government monitors every single Muslim who is on the territory of the Slovak Republic.[81] In 2016, Fico declared that Islam has no place in Slovakia. He challenged multiculturalism and called for the preservation of the country's traditions and identity.[82] In 2021, Fico called on political scientist Jozef Lenč of the Muslim faith, commenting on Smer, not to work as a political scientist in a Christian country.[83]

In 2019, Fico expressed his sympathy for the Member of the National Council of the neo-Nazi People's Party Our Slovakia Milan Mazurek, who was convicted of the intentional crime of defaming a nation, race or belief.[84] In 2022, Smer criticized the proposal for a comprehensive compensatory social benefit for people in need, interpreting it as buying Roma votes before local and regional elections.[85] Fico's rhetoric towards the Romani people in Slovakia is considered hostile, stating that the Romani people in Slovakia drain the social system.[86][87]

In 2023, Fico called for the approval of a law concerning NGOs, according to which non-governmental organizations with foreign funding should be labeled as foreign agents.[88]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the party opposed vaccinations and restrictive measures.[89][90]

It opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention in Slovakia.[91]

Communist nostalgia

Following a major internal split in June 2020 (which resulted in the founding of the Hlas party), the party began to radicalize its rhetoric, including expressing nostalgia for the prior communist state.

The party politicians utilize slogans reminiscent of the communist era, such as "Loiterers from cafes, to fields and factories"[1] and the greeting "Greetings, comrades! Honor work!"[2]

In January 2024, Prime Minister and party chairman Robert Fico and Deputy Speaker of the National Council and party vice-chairman Ľuboš Blaha visited the grave of Gustav Husák, the last communist president of the Czechoslovakia, to pay their respects. Husák, a highly controversial figure, was one of the leading figures of the Slovak National Uprising during the Second World War, imprisoned as a bourgeois nationalist in the 1950s to emerge as a key figure in the normalization process in Czechoslovakia – a return to strict Communist Party control and the suppression of political liberalization following the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.[3]

In November 2023, Blaha replaced a portrait of President Zuzana Čaputová in his parliamentary office with a portrait of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, hanging the Flag of Europe.[4]

In his speech at the Smer-organized commemoration of the anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising in August 2023, Blaha addressed the crowd as "comrades" and stated, "The basic historical truth is that war and fascism have always come from the West and freedom and peace from the East."[5]

In December 2019, Blaha shared a photograph on Facebook depicting himself alongside Fico, with the former holding a red star bearing a hammer and sickle motif. The star was a birthday gift presented to Blaha by Fico.[6]

Legal issues

Since the 2020 parliamentary election – Smer's return to the opposition, Slovak authorities have been investigating a number of corruption-related crimes. By August 2023, a total of 42 individuals reportedly linked to the party, including policemen, prosecutors, judges, members of the Slovak intelligence agency, politicians, officials, and businessmen were convicted.[7] The party strongly rejects all charges, calling it criminalization of politics.[8] Numerous criticisms of the investigation process and the Special Prosecutor's Office were outlined in the brochure 'Overview of Violations of the Principles of the Rule of Law in the Years 2020–2023' published by the Ministry of Justice led by Boris Susko of Smer in December 2023.[9]

In March 2023, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Robert Kaliňák, who previously served as Minister of Interior, and businessman Jozef Brhel were formally indicted with bribery. Kaliňák was identified as the intermediary in a bribery scheme involving an annual sum of €200,000, purportedly arranged by Brhel for František Imrecze, who served as the President of the Financial Administration at the time. In return for the alleged bribery, Imrecze facilitated the passing of information regarding entities scheduled for corporate income tax audits and ensured the fulfillment of requirements for filling positions within the Financial Administration with specific individuals recommended by Brhel. In one instance, the Financial Administration then awarded substantial IT contracts to Michal Suchoba's company, Allexis, while Suchoba himself is now a cooperating defendant. Imrecze, also a cooperating defendant, stated that the total amount of bribes involved was €1,100,000. The indictment was also based on the statements of other high-ranking officials, now cooperating defendants: the former director of the Criminal Office of the Financial Administration, Ľudovít Makó, and the former director general of the tax and customs administration section, Daniel Čech.[10] In June 2023, the indictment was quashed by the Supreme Court citing "serious procedural errors that infringed upon the defendants' right to a fair defense".[11] In August 2023, Deputy Prosecutor General Jozef Sedlák canceled the charges for Kaliňák, while Brhel remained charged.[12]

In November 2020, Tibor Gašpar of Smer, a member of the National Council and former Police President, was formally charged with organizing a criminal group. According to the charge, the criminal group predominantly comprised of members of the police force was founded by Gašpar in collaboration with businessman Norbert Bödör in 2012. The alleged activities of the group involved serving the interests of Bödör while engaging in illegal activities such as obstructing investigations into tax evasion, extortion, bribery, and utilizing police resources and technology for their operations. Gašpar and Bödör were purportedly at the top of the three tiers hierarchical criminal group. In one instance, allegations suggested that a private company, Interstore Group, sought to evade a criminal investigation. It was alleged that their request was to be fulfilled through a €400,000 bribe distributed among the members of the group, with Gašpar receiving €90,000 through an intermediary. In November 2022, Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka canceled the charges in compliance with the proposal of Prime Minister and party chairman Robert Fico and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Robert Kaliňák. Žilinka described the charges as vague and imprecise, stating that they violated the basic principles of criminal proceedings.[13]

In December 2023, Gašpar was accused of breaching the confidentiality of oral expression and other expression of a personal nature by complicity.[14]

In April 2022, Robert Fico, Robert Kaliňák, Tibor Gašpar and Norbert Bödör were officially charged with endangering commercial, banking, postal, telecommunications and tax secrets, with Fico and Kaliňák additionally charged with organizing a criminal group and abuse of authority. Fico and Kaliňák allegedly misused state authorities and collaborated with other members of the group to illegaly acquire information aimed at discrediting political adversaries, namely the then opposition leaders Igor Matovič and Andrej Kiska. In November 2022, Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka canceled the charges in compliance with the proposal of Fico and Kaliňák.[15]

In 2021, Bernard Slobodník, a cooperating defendant who formerly served as the director of the National Financial Police Unit, testified that State Secretary of Justice Pavol Gašpar of Smer, son of Tibor Gašpar, was supposed to hand over a bribe of €60,000 in exchange for information from the investigation. An investigation into the allegation was not initiated because it was already time-barred.[16]

Monika Jankovská of Smer, former State Secretary of Justice and former member of the National Council, testified about the alleged involvement in corrupt practices within the judiciary, admitting her own criminal activity.[17]

Election results

National Council

Election Leader Votes % Rank Seats +/– Status
2002 Robert Fico 387,100
25 / 150
2006 671,185
50 / 150
Increase 25 Smer–SNSHZDS
2010 880,111
62 / 150
Increase 12 Opposition
2012 1,134,280
83 / 150
Increase 21 Smer
2016 737,481
49 / 150
Decrease 34 Smer–SNSBridgeNetwork
2020 Peter Pellegrini[b] 527,172
38 / 150
Decrease 11 Opposition
2023 Robert Fico 681,017
42 / 150
Increase 4 Smer–HlasSNS[92]

European Parliament

Election Leader Votes % Rank Seats +/– Group
2004 Monika Beňová 118,535
3 / 14
2009 Boris Zala 264,722
5 / 13
Increase 2
2014 Maroš Šefčovič 135,089
4 / 13
Decrease 1
2019 Monika Beňová 154,996
3 / 14
Decrease 1


Election Candidate 1st round 2nd round
Votes % Rank Votes % Rank
2004 Endorsed
Ivan Gašparovič
2nd 1,079,592
2009 Endorsed
Ivan Gašparovič
1st 1,234,787
2014 Robert Fico 531,919
1st 893,841
2019 Endorsed
Maroš Šefčovič
2nd 752,403
2024 Endorsed
Peter Pellegrini

See also


  1. ^ a b c Also with coalitions.
  2. ^ Peter Pellegrini served as the electoral leader at the top of the party list, while Robert Fico served as the party chairman.
  3. ^ Although Maroš Šefčovič was officially an independent, his campaign was funded by the party.


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