Internet InfoMedia toxic political culture has even some slovaks calling country a black hole
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Slovakia has long been dogged by criticism that it is prone to authoritarianism, but a frenzy of blame since an assassination attempt has heightened such concerns.

More than a quarter century has passed since the United States called Slovakia a “black hole in the center of Europe” — an island of autocratic malaise surrounded by spry new democracies. The insult, leveled in 1997 by Secretary of State Madeline Albright against a country that has since joined NATO and the European Union, still stings.

But some in the Central European nation, appalled by an attempt last week to assassinate their prime minister, Robert Fico, and the frenzy of political finger-pointing that ensued, including warnings of civil war, are wondering whether Ms. Albright was on to something.

“We are back in a black hole; I’m not sure we ever got out of it,” said Roman Kvasnica, a prominent Slovak lawyer who denounces a political culture in which threats and personal insults are routine. In his own legal work he has faced numerous threats, including a warning that he would get a “bullet in the head” from a tycoon charged with ordering the 2018 murder of an investigative journalist digging into government corruption.

Exasperated by his country’s divisive struggles to establish the rule of law and resist the temptations of strongman leadership, the lawyer displays a portrait of Vaclav Havel, an icon of democratic idealism, on the wall of his country house in western Slovakia. Mr. Havel served as the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia, the state that in 1993 split amicably into the Czech Republic and the Republic of Slovakia.

Mr. Havel, a former playwright whose writing helped bring down the Berlin Wall and who later was president of the Czech Republic, is a reminder, Mr. Kvasnica said, of the road not taken by Slovakia, which spent much of the same period under the rule of Vladimir Meciar, an early pioneer of nationalist-tinged populism and a master of stoking polarization.

Hopes that Slovak politicians might overcome their venomous feuds faded on Sunday when President-elect Peter Pellegrini announced that efforts to get opposing parties to sit down together and agree on “basic rules for decent political battles” had collapsed. Recent days, he said, showed that “some politicians simply are not able to display a basic self-reflection, even in the aftermath of such an immense tragedy.”

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