Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová has filed a lawsuit against Robert Fico, the leader of the main opposition party and former prime minister, for spreading lies and inciting hatred against her, her office announced on Wednesday. The legal action comes amid rising tensions before a parliamentary election on September 30, which could have significant implications for the country’s foreign policy.
Čaputová, a progressive politician who won the 2019 presidential election on an anti-corruption platform, has been a frequent target of Fico’s SMER-SSD party, which tops the polls. Fico has accused Čaputová, without providing any evidence, of being a puppet of the United States and the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and of supporting interests that are harmful to Slovakia.
“The president is aware that as a public figure she is obliged to take a higher level of criticism … but she is not obliged to put up with escalating public bullying and unwarranted accusations,” Čaputová’s office said in a statement. “She considers such rhetoric without a factual basis to be a deliberate abuse of freedom of speech in order to incite hatred towards a person.”
Čaputová said earlier this year that she and her family had received death threats following Fico’s allegations. She also announced in June that she would not seek a second term as president next year, disappointing many progressives in Slovakia and across Europe.
Čaputová has been a strong advocate of European integration, minority rights, and support for neighboring Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. She is the most popular Slovak politician, according to polls.
Fico, who served as prime minister three times between 2006 and 2018, has pledged to defend national interests, end military assistance for Ukraine, and oppose any sanctions on Russia that could hurt Slovakia. He has also called on the government to start border checks to stop the influx of migrants crossing from Hungary to Western Europe.
On Monday, Fico got involved in a brawl with a rival politician and his supporters, trading punches and kicks after he crashed an outdoor campaign event. The incident underscored the increasingly bad-tempered nature of the political struggle in Slovakia.
The election on September 30 will pit Fico’s SMER-SSD party against the Progressive Slovakia party, which is running second in the polls. Observers say that both parties could form a coalition government, but a victory for Fico could lead to a sharp shift in Slovakia’s foreign policy and undermine European Union support for Ukraine.