Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Slovakia Elects Pro-Putin Left-Wing President

Nicholas Zalewski
President elect Peter Pellegrini pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin during Pellegrini’s first visit to Russia as Slovak Prime Minister in 2019. Source: Kremlin

In Slovakia, the second round of the Presidential election just took place Saturday, April 5th. The nation ended up voting for Peter Pellegrini, who received 53.26 percent of the votes. While the role carries few powers and is more ceremonial in nature, it still signals the current political climate in Slovakia. The nation was able to choose between Peter Pellegrini, the pro-Russian candidate and Ivan Korčok, the pro-West candidate. Korčok is an independent candidate with no party affiliation while Pellegrini belongs to Hlas-SD (Voice-social democracy) which is a left-wing party. This election has been closely watched as while Poland and Hungary became infamous for being the two most troublesome EU member states, but Slovakia has joined them at times to be part of the rogue three. 

While experts have primarily been concerned about the far-right, this election shows that threats from the left-wing need to be taken seriously as well. As a result of this election, Slovakia will continue to move towards Putin and strain its relationship with the West and the European Union. This reality complicates the European Union Parliament election later this year as not only is there concern for how the far-right parties will do, there is concern about how pro-Putin left-wing politicians may perform as well in the election. Both Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Smer political party and Hlas-SD membership suspended to the Socialists and Democrats alliance in the European Parliament after they formed a ruling coalition in Slovakia with the assistance of the Slovak National Party, a far-right wing party. This move may seem surprising before people become aware of the horseshoe theory, where the far-left and far-right have similarities. While media has not necessarily labeled Smer and Hlas-SD as far-left, their position of being pro-Russian is not currently a mainstream political position amongst moderate left wing political parties in Europe.

Map showing the results from the first round of the 2024 Presidential election in Slovakia. Source: @Slovakiaelects on X

First Round Of The Election

In the first round, Korčok received 42.5 percent of votes, meanwhile Peter Pellegrini received 37 percent. Korčok was notably the top candidate in Bratislava and Kolšice, the two most populous Slovak cities. Similar to elections in other European nations, if a candidate does not win a majority of the votes in the first round, the two candidates who received the most votes move on to the second round. Štefan Harabin came in third place with almost 12 percent and is also pro-Russian. For those familiar with Slovakian history, it is no secret that Slovakia is close with Czechia, and is traditionally the destination of the first foreign trip of the Slovak president. Harabin however stated he would visit Russia first because Czechia supports “fascist” Ukraine. Czechia Prime Minister Petr Fiala suspended intergovernmental cooperation with Slovakia over Prime Minister Robert Fico’s support of Russia. Fico claims he simply supports peace while Czechia supports continuing the war. This is not necessarily surprising given his past. Harabin was a member of the Communist party in Czechoslovakia until 1989 and was a judge who helped support the Communist regime. As Russia appears to attempt to return to the old days of the Soviet Union, Harabin appears to yearn for the past as well. Due to the pro-Russian sentiments of both Pellegrini and Harabin, this made the second round a difficult one for Korčok as it seemed like he would have great difficulty gaining support from anyone who voted for Harabin. 

Why The Support For Russia? 

The support of Russia from Slovaks seems confusing, particularly due to the fact that Slovakia shares a 96-kilometer border (60 miles) with Ukraine. Despite being neighbors with Ukraine, many Slovaks still paradoxically support Russia. This is in part due to support for Russia amongst the older generations. Part of this may be a result of unequal economic development in Slovakia. While wages have undeniably increased in the nation since it has joined the European Union, poverty is still unevenly distributed in Slovakia. As can be seen by the image below, many of the Slovak districts where that voted for Pellegrini in the first round of the election were considered to be more deprived districts a decade ago. Due to an elevated poverty rate in these districts, voters may be less convinced that their participation in the European Union and adoption of the euro has been beneficial.

Poverty level in Slovak Districts in 2014. Source: ResearchGate

Another potential mitigating factor is that Slovaks are the most likely people in Europe to believe conspiracy theories. 54 percent of the population in Slovakia fall prey to conspiracy theories. Monika Kompaníková, a Slovak writer, overheard elderly Slovak women discussing how the Progressive Slovakia party would sell children to transvestites. Despite believing in conspiracy theories, the nation elected Robert Fico as the Prime Minister, only five years after he was ousted from office. 

Slovakia unfortunately goes through waves of moving close to the West and moving towards Russia. In the 1990s, Slovakia was wary of the West yet has become the only member state of the Visegrad Group (which consists of Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) to adopt the euro currency in 2009. Once again, Slovakia is moving closer to Russia. In the past this would be less problematic but due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Slovakia will be viewed as a traitor by the West and the European Union.


While this election does not have significant political consequences for Slovakia, it represents a worrying shift in opinion amongst European voters. Slovakia has made tremendous progress since its accession to the European Union, yet a large share of voters are under the impression that the nation should move towards Russia. Simultaneously, its relationships with nations in the EU are weakened. This would have disastrous consequences for Slovakia and potentially undo years of progress. Slovakia needs to break out of the vicious cycle of moving between the West and Russia, at least until Russia finds itself under more democratic leadership and stops its invasion of Ukraine. The European Union also has to realize that it must do more to address threats from left wing political parties such as Smer and Hlas-SD which in reality may be able to be labelled as far-left due to their leaders appearing to reminisce about the Soviet Union and continued support of Vladimir Putin despite his invasion of Ukraine.


Please Read More For More Information: 

Rohac, Dalibor. “Slovakia’s presidential runoff is a contest between the West and Russia”. Politico. 4 April 2024.

Zachová, Aneta., and Silenská, Natália. “Fico says Czechia has ‘interest’ in supporting Ukraine war, after Prague burns bridge”. Euractiv. 7 March 2024.

Benazzo, Simone. “Being pro-Russian in Slovakia is something else.” Tomáš Strážay, expert on Slovak geopolitics”. 24 May 2021.

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Let’s Tune In To The EU…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 5 min