BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia was haunted by ghosts of its past Sunday as far-right militants who have donned Nazi-style uniforms won seats in parliament for the first time.
The People’s Party-Our Slovakia group, led by Marian Kotleba, who is a regional governor and has organized marches against the Roma minority, took 8 percent of the vote, nearly three times what polls had predicted.
As the European Union faces its worst refugee crisis since World War II from war-torn Syria and beyond, support for far-right politicians in central Europe has been on the rise.
Analysts say the Slovakian far right capitalized on the anti-
immigration rhetoric from members of most mainstream parties, including Prime Minister Robert Fico, who won the election but may find it hard to form a new government.
Kotleba’s success comes as a shock to many.
“Kotleba ran openly fascist candidates on his slate,” said Igor Matovic, chairman of Ordinary People, the third-strongest party.
Members of Kotleba’s former “Slovak brotherhood” party, dressed in black uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi-era Hlinka guard, first appeared at rallies commemorating the 1939-1945 Slovak State led by Catholic priest Jozef Tiso, who allowed tens of thousands of Slovak Jews to be deported to Nazi death camps. The party was disbanded in 2006.
Kotleba has since founded a new party, changed his uniform for a blazer and replaced war rallies with anti-Roma, anti-
immigration and anti-corruption rhetoric.
Today, his party rejects any links with Nazi ideology and focuses on criticism of the European Union and NATO.
“We are not fascists nor neo-Nazis, although we might appear extremist compared to other lukewarm parties,” said one of its newly elected lawmakers, Milan Uhrik.
Opinion surveys show that Kotleba’s party was the most popular among first-time voters, winning 23 percent support among them.
His criticism of same-sex partnerships courts social conservatives, while his frequent visits to poor regions far from the glitzy capital, Bratislava, win local votes.
The former high school teacher has been charged several times with disseminating racist propaganda but has been acquitted or had the charges dismissed.
Kotleba won a surprising landslide victory two years ago and became governor of the Banska Bystrica region in central Slovakia.
With 14 lawmakers in a 150-seat parliament, the People’s Party will not have much say in national politics — other parties say they will not cooperate with it — but it will gain much more visibility on the national stage.