Disinformation, Hate, and Polarization: The Attack on Slovakia’s Prime Minister

May 22, 2024
Matus Trubac  —  Research Intern

Since October 2023, CEP has reported on extremist non-state actors in Russia, a central element of the violent transnational right-wing extremist milieu, in a series of blog entries. Given the significance of the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Robert Fico, a special entry in this series explores its context and the perpetrator’s potential connections to the extremist milieu. This entry will also explore how Russian disinformation campaigns are attempting to misuse the attack.

The May 15, 2024, attack on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico does not signal the emergence of extremist, violence-oriented non-state groups in Slovakia. Based on current evidence, the attacker apparently acted alone and had no known ties to active organizations. However, the shooting was likely enabled by increasingly polarized and combative political discourse, rampant disinformation, and attacks on liberal democracy—developments present not only in Slovakia but across Europe. Hate speech is a common element in Slovakia’s politics, so if there is one lesson to learn from this attack, it is that its leaders should set an example of how to engage in political dialogue to reduce tensions.

In the first assassination attempt of a European leader in more than 20 years, Prime Minister Fico was shot while greeting people outside of a cultural community center in the small town of Handlova, north-east of Bratislava. He was rushed to the hospital in a life-threatening condition. The suspected shooter is a 71-year-old Slovak man named Juraj Cintula. Although reportedly not a formal member, Cintula associated with the now-defunct pro-Russian Slovak extremist group Slovenski Branci (SB) in the past, particularly in 2016.

According to Peter Švrček, a former SB leader, Cintula met with the organization only briefly eight years ago. However, Cintula lauded SB on Facebook for their zeal and ability to act independently from the state, claiming that the group sought to protect Slovakia from waves of migrants. Cintula, an amateur poet, has authored works expressing racist and xenophobic views towards Slovakia’s Romani community. Cintula is a former security guard and was reportedly assaulted while on duty, but the incident does not appear to have motivated the shooting. In a video leaked after his arrest, Cintula instead explains his actions by accusing the government of attempting to suppress the media. 

Cintula's friends, family, and neighbors describe him as a "man of action" who readily translated his political views into practice. However, according to his neighbors in the town of Levice, he never expressed radical political opinions. A particularly puzzling part of Cintula’s background is his attempt to co-found a pacifist advocacy group eight years ago. In posts on Facebook, Cintula proclaims, “Let us be discontent, but not violent!” and bemoans a Europe that is witnessing growing “militarization, extremism, neo Nazism, and anarchy.” Yet, in other posts Cintula expresses views often shared by right-wing extremists, arguing that Europe is being flooded by migrants and that a plutocratic cabal rules the world.

Additionally, some international media outlets have mistakenly labeled Cintula as a left-wing extremist, potentially because online translator tools translate Cintula’s hometown of Levice, as “left.” Cintula was also a member of a literary club called “Rainbow,” mistakenly connected to the LGBTQ community by some media outlets. Cintula’s conflicting background and the confusion surrounding it have already been exploited by those both critical and supportive of Slovakia’s incumbent government, who often predicate their arguments on selectively chosen information from the shooter’s past.

Immediately after announcing the attack in parliament, the current vice-chairman of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, Ľuboš Blaha, addressed the opposing coalition, saying, “This is your work.” Various Slovak MPs are politically capitalizing on the attack, with some having labeled their opposition as extremist. Slovakia’s ruling coalition in parliament has conflated the calming of society with the cessation of any critique of the ruling government, and such censorship is unlikely to foster the conditions necessary to avert further violence. The key factor here will be Fico’s response to the attack following his recovery.

Meanwhile, Russian state-run media launched a massive disinformation campaign across Telegram and X, blaming the attack on Ukraine. The bot accounts involved in this campaign are connected to Russia’s Doppelgänger network, which is also used to spread disinformation about the ongoing war in Gaza. Considering that most of the posts linking the assassination to Ukraine are in English, the intended audience is likely international. However, disinformation is becoming a staple feature of Slovakia’s political landscape—during its 2023 parliamentary elections, deepfake audio recordings emerged online claiming Fico’s opposition was trying to buy votes.

According to currently available information, it is likely that Cintula operated as a lone perpetrator, although the Slovak government is investigating whether he had an accomplice, given his Facebook history was deleted two hours after the incident. Nonetheless, Cintula’s attack is likely not directly connected to any coherent extremist ideology or organized group, even though the shooting is merely the latest in a series of politically motivated incidents involving actual or threatened violence in Slovakia. In early May, thousands of Slovak public institutions, including schools, banks and shopping centers received electronic bomb threats. The emails originated from addresses with Russian domains, but expressed Islamic extremism, calling for violence against “all enemies of Allah.” Furthermore, in 2022, a radicalized teenager shot dead two people outside the Tepláreň gay bar in Bratislava, an apparent hate crime. The shooter, nineteen-year-old Juraj Krajčík, was active on Twitter, where he frequently posted racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and antisemitic content, in addition to calling for violence. Before the attack, he posted a link to an online manifesto, in which he espouses the ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory, which postulates that non-white peoples are demographically and culturally replacing ethnic white populations in Europe and North America. Experts from the Accelerationism Research Consortium analyzed Krajčík’s manifesto and argued that it may have been co-authored by an older extremist based in the United States.

Unfortunately, the attack on Fico is also not an isolated case of violence against European public officials. Two members of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party were targeted in separate attacks this month and required treatment in hospital. Furthermore, two right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians were assaulted in Stuttgart last week, suffering minor injuries. Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk reported receiving a death threat on X following the attack on Fico.

Nonetheless, it bears mentioning that Slovakia is currently not home to any influential extremist groups. The attempted assassination of Fico may be described as a black swan event, unprecedented and likely to affect Slovakia’s political landscape permanently. The attack is bound to exacerbate political polarization in Slovakia; the divisive and heated political climate in the country is poised to create a fertile breeding ground for extremists and individuals or groups capable of politically motivated violence. The attack is a matter of national security, and as long as such matters are heavily politicized—Slovakia’s ministers keep blaming the attack on the media and the opposition—the root of the problem is at risk of not being addressed. The current tensions in the country will remain vulnerable for exploitation by hostile actors, be it state-led or non-state extremist and terrorist groups.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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