When assessing the results of important elections in a foreign country, domestic experts and politicians often address their possible impact on the relationship between the two nations. That is undoubtedly an important context in the case of the recent German parliamentary elections as considered through a Slovak lens, since relations with Germany mean a great deal to this Central European country in terms of its economic development. The fact is, however, that in Slovak commentaries devoted to pre- and post-election developments in Germany, the question of Slovak-German bilateral relations appeared (and appears) to be a back-burner aspect. Other topics, in particular the policy of the future German government towards the EU and the US, as well as the prospects for development on the German political scene in the light of the displacements that occurred as a result of the elections, resonate more in the domestic media in Slovakia
Typical Slovak-German relations
Unlike practically all of its Visegrad neighbors, Slovakia has not changed its relations with Germany for years, relations which it is no exaggeration to call friendly and which do not depend on the party composition of their governments. Whether center-left or center-right parties govern in Berlin or Bratislava, whether conservative, liberal or socialist politicians are at the head of government cabinets, the relations between the two countries are fixed, stable, and free of undesirable fluctuations. These relationships are the least affected by different political conjunctures. Even in situations marked by different attitudes of Slovak and German government officials on some issues of the EU's internal functioning (for example, on the issue of migration to Europe), there are no tensions between Germany and Slovakia that would lead to open disputes or conflicts.
In this sense, Slovak-German bilateral relations are advantageously different from Polish-German, Hungarian-German and Czech-German relations, where in the past (and nowadays) problems have arisen (and still do), with changes in the ruling coalitions in the other Visegrad countries sometimes having a dramatic impact on their relations with Germany - as an example we can refer to the attitude of the current Polish governing party, Law and Justice, requesting additional war reparations in Germany at a level that was literally breathtakingly high. There are also examples of turbulence in Czech-German and Hungarian-German relations both in the past and today. Nothing of the sort has been recorded in Slovak-German relations since the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic in 1993.
Main themes of Slovak commentaries
One of the main motifs among Slovak observers commenting on pre-election developments in Germany was establishing the stability of the existing distribution of political forces there and the continuity in the domestic and foreign policies of official Berlin. Based on opinion polls that signaled a significant difference between the CDU/CSU’s and SPD’s electoral support, Slovak commentators estimated that Angela Merkel would also remain in office for a fourth term. They considered what color composition the future federal government would have - black-red, black-yellow or black-yellow-green ("Jamaican"). They considered the entry into the Bundestag of the right-populist nationalist AfD to be a fait accompli. The ongoing election campaign was called "boring", as these commentators seemed to know the answers to the main election questions in advance.
Finally, the choices were made, with a few deviations from the predicted results, but the tone of the comments published in the Slovak media a few days after the German results were announced changed radically – the tone was much more urgent, political boredom was mentioned no longer, and predictions of different complications and difficulties were absent. At the same time the commentators were attracted to the reactions of Slovak politicians to the German outcome, which, however, were more about the profiles and values of those politicians than they were about analyzing the position of the situation in Germany. Once again it had been demonstrated how different the post-election reality is from its virtual form prior to elections.
Three concrete facts attracted the greatest attention of Slovak commentators: The factual victory (albeit with a significant loss compared to the elections in 2013) of the CDU/CSU headed by Angela Merkel, the defeat of the SPD headed by its new leader Martin Schulz, and the significant gain by the AfD to the position of the third-strongest political force in Germany.
Right-wing extremism is the focus of attention
What especially resonated in Slovakia was the success of the right-wing AfD in Germany, which earned almost 13 percent of the votes cast. In the Slovak Parliament, together with the democratic parties, the neo-Nazi National Party Our Slovakia (LSNS) is currently seated, led by a known anti-Semite and sympathizer of the collaborationist fascist Slovak state from 1939 to 1945, Marián Kotleba (this party won 8 percent of the vote in the 2016 elections. For the ideological cadres of the LSNS to appear in the Bundestag in the guise of the AfD is quite a boost to them. On the other hand, for the opponents of the Slovak fascists, Angela Merkel's pledge to stand against the AfD in the Bundestag, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the democratic laws of the German state, may be a somewhat encouraging promise.
At present, the Slovak Supreme Court is addressing the prosecutor general's suggestion to dissolve Kotleba's LSNS for violation of the constitution and other laws. The firm stance of Angela Merkel and other German Democrats against the right-wing radicals could give more courage to the Slovak fighters against fascism. It might also encourage representatives of the state institutions who maintain the constitutional order of the country to deliver a more convincing performance on combating the dangers of right-wing extremism.
Slovak politicians’ responses
The reactions of leading Slovak politicians to the results of the German elections were telling. President Andrej Kiska called Angela Merkel's overall success "an important outcome for stability and security in Europe". Prime Minister Robert Fico, who in recent months has been vehemently espousing the idea of a "core of the EU" created alongside Germany and France, congratulated Angela Merkel on the victory and said "It is very good that there will be a standard, democratic, continuous government, because a pro-European orientation is essential." Fico has speculated that "the old-new German Federal Chancellor A. Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will jointly push for greater EU integration, especially within the eurozone," adding that "the interest of Slovakia is, of course, to be involved, and actively so, in the process of making key decisions on the future of the EU". The Slovak Prime Minister also added that he "also respects the outcome for the Social Democratic Party and wishes Martin Schulz only the best in the opposition role finally decided for the party."
However, Fico's party colleague, MP Ľuboš Blaha, who was engaged in the Communist Party of Slovakia as a foreign policy secretary a few years ago and is known for his strong anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and pro-Russian attitudes, subjected the SPD, the official German partner of Slovakia’s Smer-SD, to overwhelming criticism from a radical-leftist position: "The German elections have been catastrophic for the left, not because it puts little emphasis on its love for liberal values, but because it has long forgotten that the main theme of the left has to be economic justice. Working people, not the liberal bourgeoisie! It seems that the SPD is not enough in favor of that. In four years they will fall to 10 percent. If they do not begin to address the fears of the poor and working people about globalization, capitalism, Americanization, and imperialistic wars, they will be exactly like the Social Democrats in the Weimar Republic: Until then, they will ignore the workers until the last one throws the election to the right." In the meantime, liberal, pro-Western-oriented Slovak commentators accused the SPD and its leader Martin Schulz of the opposite - that the course of the party on matters of foreign and security policy is too biased against the United States.
Richard Sulik, the leader of Slovakia’s strongest opposition party, the SaS, has made an ideological move from liberal to libertarian in recent years and has left the ALDE faction in the European Parliament to join the ECRP faction, where the AfD has been active for some time. He glossed the German election results as follows: "Angela Merkel was anticipated to win, but she has done so with the worst results in the postwar era. Her CDU party lost more than 8 percent, just as much as the new AfD gained. Among the AfD voters there are also a million former CDU voters - that’s the bill for a million migrants."
Sulík grew up in Germany because his parents emigrated there in the 1980s. When the refugee crisis was coming to a head in Europe, he took part in debates on the most-watched German television channels, where he opposed the arrival of migrants and Islam, de facto supported the AfD, and attacked Angela Merkel. He predicted a total electoral debacle for the Chancellor and her departure from politics with a lawsuit around her neck over the alleged abuse of power he asserted she had committed by opening Germany to refugees. Sulik's statements, testifying to his erroneous judgment, were cited by many Slovak media after the election results with sarcasm. The SaS leader, therefore, seems to have attempted to redefine the importance of Merkel's victory in terms of her loss of a large number of votes in favor of the AfD.
Slovakia in Europe, Europe in Slovakia
All the other major Slovak parties (Most-Híd, Christian Democratic Movement, Civic Conservative Party, Slovak Civic Coalition, and the emerging party Together - Civic Democracy) underlined in their reactions that the result of the German elections meant that any governing coalition - whether CDU/CSU-FDP-Greens or CDU/CSU-SPD - would be a pro-European coalition.
The fact that the European context of the German election results was perceived by Slovak figures much more frequently than all other contexts, including the context of bilateral Slovak-German relations, proves how deeply the idea of European integration has been enshrined in Slovakia and how firmly Slovakia has become an EU Member State. That is quite an encouraging finding.