kisilowski8_ Zuzana GogovaGetty Images_fico Zuzana Gogova/Getty Images

Can National Reconciliation Defeat Populism?

For the US, Slovakia's general election may produce another unreliable allied government. But instead of turning a blind eye to such allies, as President Joe Biden has been doing with Poland, or confronting them with an uncompromising stance, the US should spearhead efforts to help mend flawed democracies.

VIENNA/WARSAW – Pro-Russian populist Robert Fico’s strong showing in Slovakia’s election could lead to another fracture in the Western-led coalition to counter Vladimir Putin’s imperialism. Already, cracks have been emerging in the erstwhile close alliance between Ukraine and Poland in the run-up to the Polish elections on October 15. With Hungary ruled by Viktor Orbán, a reliable Putin ally, US President Joe Biden may soon need to contend not only with Donald Trump’s camp of pro-Russian Republicans, but also with the governments of three of Ukraine’s four NATO neighbors going rogue in favor of the Kremlin.

Authoritarian populists make for unreliable allies. But instead of turning a blind eye to populist shenanigans, as the Biden administration has been doing with Poland, or risking important relationships by assuming an uncompromising stance, the US should spearhead efforts to help mend flawed democracies in allied countries through processes of national reconciliation and creative power sharing.

While Hungary’s position toward Ukraine has been consistently hostile, Slovakia’s support has, until now, been substantial, with the country donating its entire fleet of retired Soviet-era fighter jets, as well as air defense systems, to its eastern neighbor. Should Fico form the next government, Slovak policy may resemble the recent cascade of anti-Ukrainian moves from Poland’s populist government, which have included embargoing Ukraine’s grain and ending donations of Polish military equipment.

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