Following a series of street blockades in Bratislava and other cities, Prime Minister Robert Fico gave in to truckers’ demands for lower fuel taxes. The excise tax on diesel fuel will ddrop 9 cents to €0.391 per litre by the end of January, effectively lowering the price of diesel from €1.14 to €1.01 per litre, Fico said after meeting with representatives of employers, unions, hauliers, the Slovnaft refinery and the Finance and Transportation Ministries. More than 100 trucks blocked one of Bratislava’s main thoroughfares for five days and more than two dozen truckers drove slowly through towns in the Trenčín region, flashing their lights and honking their horns. The action paralysed a 12-kilometre stretch of road between the towns of Púchov and Považská Bystrica.
Immediately after caving in, Mr. Fico attacked the protesters’ backers in the opposition and the media. “Inciting people to break the law is a road to hell that the government rejects,” he said after meeting with President Ivan Gašparovič and Parliament Speaker Pavol Paška. Mr. Fico called it unacceptable for politicians and journalists to directly support illegal activities, saying this undermines democracy.
Meanwhile, Slovak opposition parties are demanding the dismissal of Transportation Minister Ľubomír Vážny, accusing him of misleading the public last week when saying that the electronic toll system was running well and the whole system was excellent.
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The truckers’ blockade was the first open, broadly backed, nationwide protest against the Fico government and the administration was not prepared for it. Slovakia managed to avoid anti-government protests longer than any other country in the region since the financial crisis struck, but demonstrations finally came. As soon as the PM realized the blockade had broad support, he flinched and fell back on his hackneyed diatribes against the media and the opposition.
Meanwhile, the coalition is showing cracks. Now that relations between Fico’s Smer party and the right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS) have gone south, Smer’s relationship with its other partner, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is also getting worse. HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar said the coalition is “politically dysfunctional” because Smer did not consult its junior partners on how to handle the truckers’ blockade. The HZDS learned about the government’s decision on the excise tax from the papers.
The opposition is naturally playing up the scandal, but it remains to be seen whether they can benefit from it. Opposition parties appear unable to cooperate and seem to be focusing on their own issues (see next item). However, there may be more to come: The blockade may be the first in a series of protests as other interest groups try to pressure the government ahead of elections due next June.