Robert Fico: Slovakia’s PM in life-threatening condition after being shot multiple times


Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico was in a life-threatening condition in hospital Wednesday after he was shot multiple times in an assassination attempt.

The shooting took place after an off-site government meeting in the central Slovak town of Handlova. The suspected gunman was among a small crowd of people waiting to greet the prime minister on the street outside the cultural center, where the meeting took place, local media reported.

Footage from the scene shows the injured prime minister being bundled into a vehicle by his staff, before it speeds away with him inside. Fico was taken to a local hospital and then transferred by helicopter to a major trauma center about 20 miles (30 kilometers) away in Banska Bystrica.

A statement posted on Fico’s official Facebook page and his party’s website called the attack “an assassination attempt.”

“He was shot multiple times and is currently in a life-threatening condition. The next few hours will be decisive,” the statement said. No one else was injured in the attack, according to Slovak Labor Minister Erik Tomáš.

Fico is the most powerful lawmaker in Slovakia. Unlike the president, whose role has limited scope, the prime minister holds rank as the decision-making head of government.

The official statement said the PM was taken to Banska Bystrica instead of the capital city of Bratislava because “an acute intervention” was necessary. Handlova is about two hours’ drive from the capital Bratislava.

Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová said the suspected gunman was detained by the police. She said law enforcement agencies will release more information when they can and asked the public not to spread unconfirmed rumors. A video from the scene showed a man on the floor being detained by several officials.

Čaputová condemned what she called a “brutal and reckless” attack on the 59-year-old politician. “I’m shocked. I wish Roberto Fico all the strength in this critical moment to recover from the attack,” Čaputová wrote on Facebook. Speaking at a news conference later in the afternoon, she said the attack was “an attack on democracy as well.”

Following the shooting, Slovakia’s interior minister Matúš Šutaj-Eštok said the country is “experiencing the worst day of its democracy.”

“For the first time in the 31 years of our democratic sovereign republic, someone has decided to express a political opinion not in an election but with a gun on the street,” he wrote on Facebook.

Opposition lawmaker Maria Kolikova described the assault as “an attack on the internal security” of Slovakia.

An eyewitness who was at the scene where Fico was shot said the attack felt like a “nightmare” after hearing three “quick” shots, fired one after the other as if you were to “throw a firecracker on the ground.”

“I heard three shots, it was quick one by one like if you throw a firecracker on the ground,” eyewitness Lubica Valkova told Reuters, adding that “he (Fico) fell next to the barrier.”

“I think it is a nightmare, I’ll tell you I think I will not wake up from this,” the 66-year-old said. “That this is not possible to happen in Slovakia.”

Valkova said she had been waiting a long time to shake Fico’s hand and was taking pictures of him when he walked out of the building in Handlova.

“At this moment we heard something like a bang, we thought someone made a joke and threw a firecracker on the ground, that was my first reaction,” Valkova recalled.

The Slovak resident told Reuters she had been waiting from 10 a.m. local time. She claimed police did not search people who were waiting at the event, adding that “we could have shown our empty hands.”

In what was a stunning comeback for the controversial politician, Fico won a third term as Slovakian prime minister last October after running a campaign that criticized western support for Ukraine. Fico had pledged an immediate end to Slovak military support for Ukraine and promised to block Ukraine’s NATO ambitions in what would upend Slovakia’s staunch backing for Ukraine.

Ahead of the election, Fico made no secret of his sympathies towards the Kremlin and blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for provoking Vladimir Putin into launching the invasion, repeating the false narrative Russia’s president has used to justify his invasion.

While in opposition, Fico became a close ally of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, especially when it came to criticism of the European Union.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico attends a European Council summit in Brussels, on April 18, 2024.

Fico previously served as Slovakia’s prime minister for more than a decade, first between 2006 and 2010 and then again from 2012 to 2018. He was forced to resign in March 2018 after weeks of mass protests over the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. Kuciak reported on corruption among the country’s elite, including people directly connected to Fico and his party SMER.

World leaders immediately condemned the attack.

Russian ambassador to Slovakia Igor Bratcikov condemned the “brutal assassination attempt” in a letter addressed to Fico, calling for the “perpetrators” to be punished.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, tweeted: “I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico. Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good. My thoughts are with PM Fico, his family.”

And Hungarian Prime Minister Orban added: “I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico. We pray for his health and quick recovery! God bless him and his country!”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed “solidarity with the people of Slovakia” following the “appalling” assault on Fico.

“We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring partner state’s head of government. Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere,” he posted on X.

US President Joe Biden said he was “alarmed” by the attempted assassination of Fico, calling it a “horrific act of violence.”

“Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia,” he said in a statement.

This story has been updated with additional developments.


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