Direction – Social Democracy

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Direction – Slovak Social Democracy
Smer – slovenská sociálna demokracia
LeaderRobert Fico
Deputy Leaders
General SecretaryMarián Saloň
FounderRobert Fico
Founded8 November 1999 (1999-11-08)
Split fromParty of the Democratic Left
HeadquartersSúmračná 3263/25, 82102 Bratislava
Youth wingYoung Social Democrats
Membership (2022)Increase 13,095[1]
Political positionCentre-left[9] to left-wing[10][11]
European affiliationParty of European Socialists (suspended)[12]
International affiliation
European Parliament groupNon-Inscrits[13]
  •   Red
  •   Navy blue
Slogan"Stability, order and social security" (2023)[14]
National Council
42 / 150
European Parliament
2 / 14
Regional governors[15]
1 / 8
Regional deputies[a][15]
50 / 419
516 / 2,904
Local councillors[a][15]
2,364 / 20,462

Direction – Social Democracy (Slovak: Smer – sociálna demokracia), stylized as DIRECTION – Slovak Social Democracy (Slovak: SMER – slovenská sociálna demokracia),[16][17] also commonly referred to as Smer, is a social democratic, left-wing nationalist and left-wing populist[18][19][20] political party in Slovakia led by the incumbent prime minister Robert Fico.[21]

Founded by Fico in 1999 as a split from the post-communist Party of the Democratic Left, Smer initially defined itself as the Third Way party.[22] It adopted the epithet Social Democracy after merging with several minor center-left parties in 2005.[23] It dominated Slovak politics from 2006 to 2020, leading two coalition governments (2006–2010, 2016–2020) and one single-party government (2012–2016). During its 12 years in charge it continued the European integration of Slovakia, lifted some economic-liberal reforms of the previous center-right governments and introduced various social welfare measures.[24] Smer-led governments have been associated with several political corruption scandals, and have been accused by opponents to have resulted in a deterioration of the rule of law in Slovakia.[25][26][27][28][29]

Since the 2020 parliamentary election – its return to the opposition, Slovak authorities have been investigating wide-ranging cases of political corruption involving a number of Smer politicians and high-ranking officials linked to the party.[30][31][32] At the party congress in July 2020, following a major internal split (which resulted in the founding of the Hlas party), Fico announced a shift to "the rustic social democracy that perceives the specifics of Slovak reality".[33][34] Post-2020 Smer holds stances that have been described as nationalist, populist and Russophilic.[35][36][37][38][39][40][41]

In 2023, Smer won the parliamentary elections with 22.94% of the votes. Fico promised to end military aid to Ukraine.[42]


Foundation and early years (1999–2006)[edit]

Originally named Direction (Slovak: Smer), the party was founded on 8 November 1999, emerging as a breakaway from the post-Communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ), the successor of the original Communist Party of Slovakia and the governing party from 1998 to 2002. Under Robert Fico, at the time one of the most popular politicians in the country, it quickly became one of the most popular parties in Slovakia, while the SDĽ experienced a constant decrease within popularity. In the 2002 Slovak parliamentary election, its first formal election period, it became the third-largest party in the National Council of the Slovak Republic, with 25 of 150 seats. In 2003, it changed its formal name to Direction (Third Way) (Slovak: Smer (tretia cesta))[43] and Party of Civic Understanding merged into the party.

In 2005, the party absorbed the SDĽ and the Social Democratic Alternative, a small social democratic party that split from the original SDĽ somewhat later than Direction did, in addition to the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia. Founded in 1990, the party became known for the leadership of Alexander Dubček, and Direction adopted the epithet Social Democracy. Following the party's victory in 2006, Smer entered into a coalition with the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) and was readmitted into the Party of European Socialists (PES) in 2008. It later formed another coalition with the SNS in 2016.

Government (2006–2010)[edit]

In the 2006 Slovak parliamentary election, the party won 29.1% of the popular vote and 50 of 150 seats. Following that election, Smer formed a coalition government with the People's Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the SNS,[44] an extremist nationalist party.[45][46][47]

On 12 October 2006, the party was temporarily suspended from membership in the PES.[48] The resolution to suspend the party referred specifically to the PES Declaration "For a modern, pluralist and tolerant Europe", adopted in Berlin by the PES congress in 2001, which states that "all PES parties adhere to the following principles ... [and] to refrain from any form of political alliance or co-operation at all levels with any political party which incites or attempts to stir up racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred." In The Slovak Spectator, the PES chairman Poul Nyrup Rasmussen commented: "Most of our members stood solidly behind our values, according to which forming a coalition with the extreme right is unacceptable."[49] The party was readmitted on 14 February 2008 after its chairman Fico and SNS leader Jan Slota pledged in a letter to respect European values, human rights, and all ethnic minorities.[50]

Opposition (2010–2012)[edit]

Party logo from 2005 to 2019, which was used in several combined red, orange or green versions.

Although the party won the most votes in the 2010 Slovak parliamentary election, with a lead of 20% over the second-place Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ),[51] they had not been able to form a government because of losses sustained by their coalition partners. Their result, 34.8%, gave them 62 of 150 seats in the National Council, but the HZDS failed to cross the 5% threshold, losing all their seats, and the SNS was reduced to nine seats. The four opposition centre-right parties (the Christian Democratic Movement, Freedom and Solidarity, Bridge, and SDKÚ) were able to form a new government.[52]

Government (2012–2020)[edit]

Party logo from 2019 to 2021

In the 2012 Slovak parliamentary election, Smer won 44.4% of the votes and became the largest party in the National Council, with an absolute majority of 83 seats (out of 150).[53] Fico's Second Cabinet was the first single-party government in Slovakia since 1993. In the 2014 European Parliament election in Slovakia, Smer came in first place nationally, receiving 24.09% of the vote and electing four Members of the European Parliament.[54]

Despite suffering a significant loss in support as a result of strikes by teachers and nurses earlier in the year,[55] Smer won the 5 March 2016 parliamentary election with 28.3% of the vote and 49 of 150 seats, and subsequently formed Fico's Third Cabinet in a coalition government with Bridge, Network, and the Slovak National Party. Prime Minister Fico resigned in the wake of the political crisis following the murder of Ján Kuciak and was replaced by Peter Pellegrini, with the same majority. However, Fico remained leader of Smer.[citation needed]

Opposition (2020–2023)[edit]

The party managed to score 18.29% in the 2020 Slovak parliamentary election, which was 2 to 3 percent more than the latest polls showed, but it was still a decrease of 10% compared to previous elections. The party occupied 38 seats in parliament. Pellegrini, the chairman of the Fico parliamentary group, became the vice-chairman of the National Council for the Opposition on the basis of post-election negotiations.[citation needed] In May 2020, two deputies for Smer (Ján Podmanický and Marián Kéry) founded a value policy platform with deputies from KDŽP, elected as a candidate of the Kotlebists – People's Party Our Slovakia. Because of this, Pellegrini sharply criticized them, while Fico defended Podmanický. In May 2020, Podmanický also left the Smer parliamentary group after criticism from his own ranks.[citation needed]

As early as April 2020, party vice-chairman Pellegrini announced his ambition to run for party chairman as Smer's most popular politician, winning 170,000 more votes than the chairman. Fico reacted strongly, saying that he did not intend to resign and wanted to remain at the head of the party, while Pellegrini gradually began to tighten his criticism of Fico and the party's situation. Pellegrini criticized the fact that the party's presidency had not met since the election and the date of the parliament was unknown. Pellegrini demanded that the assembly be held as soon as possible, while Fico insisted that the nomination assembly take place only at a ceremonial assembly in December 2020.[citation needed]

At a June 2020 press conference in Banská Bystrica, Pellegrini announced that he would resign as Vice-Chairman of Smer and leave the party in the near future. He also outlined the establishment of a new party, Voice – Social Democracy (Hlas), which he said should be social democratic, but refuse to be liberal. Around that time, Fico had already offered Pellegrini the position of party chairman, provided that he maintained his influence in the party, an offer which was rejected by Pellegrini. In the first FOCUS survey, 21.4% of respondents said they would vote for the new Pellegrini party, while those saying they would vote for the original Smer remained at 9.6%. At a press conference one week following the announcement of Pellegrini's departure, another 10 deputies announced they would leave the party, including Vice-Presidents Peter Žiga and Richard Raši, Bureau member Denisa Saková and long-standing deputies and party members. At the same time, together with Pellegrini, they announced the creation of a new social-democratic party at the press conference, which they would join. Political scientist Grigory Mesezhnikov postulated that after the departure of the Pellegrini group, the Smer could move further to the left into the spectrum of the radical to communist left.[citation needed]

2023 parliamentary election[edit]

Smer won the 2023 Slovak parliamentary election with 22.95% of the vote and 42 seats in parliament as Robert Fico was given a mandate to form a government by President Zuzana Čaputová on 2 October 2023.[56] Despite this, Fico will need to form a coalition to rule, with the only foreseeable path for gaining allies being a notable deduction in the party's rhetoric.[57] Possible coalition partners include former allies in Voice – Social Democracy, whose leader Peter Pellegrini succeeded Fico after his 2018 resignation. However, Pellegrini called a possible coalition "not ideal but that doesn't mean such a coalition can't be created." Despite this Fico would still be short of forming a government and would have to court a third party, likely the Slovak National Party.[58]

Fico has promised to cut all aid to Ukraine as a result of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, and has promised to block Ukrainian ascension to NATO should the subject be broached under his tenure. Fico has also stated that the Ukrainian government is run by neo-Nazis.[58] The current president of Slovakia Zuzana Čaputová has stated that she is against any new military aid to Ukraine.[59]

Ideology and policies[edit]

Economic policy[edit]

Smer advocates economically left-wing policies.[citation needed]

Foreign policy[edit]

Smer claims to support Slovakia's membership in the European Union and NATO but is often accused of holding Russophilic and Eurosceptic stances on foreign policy. The party expresses strong anti-Western, especially anti-American sentiment, often distancing itself from Western narratives.[60][61][62]

Regarding the Russo-Ukrainian War, Smer calls for an end to military aid to Ukraine as well as to sanctions against Russia. It interprets the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a proxy war between the US and Russia, with the latter "dealing with threats to its national interests". The party declares that the conflict was provoked in 2014 by "the extermination of citizens of Russian nationality by Ukrainian fascists".[63][64][65]

In its foreign policy manifesto, Smer calls for understanding with countries "with a form of government other than parliamentary democracy", referring to China and Vietnam.[66] During his premiership, party's leader Robert Fico praised the political systems of both countries, describing the Slovak one as clumsy and uncompetitive in comparison.[67] In 2007, Fico made an official state visit to the then leader of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, "discussing the fight against world imperialism" (citing Fico).[68]

Social policy[edit]

The party holds strongly conservative views on social issues with a record of anti-LGBT,[7][8] anti-Romani,[69][70] Islamophobic[71][72] and anti-immigration statements. It proclaims its strong opposition to liberalism and progressivism, advocating traditional family values and running for the patriotic electorate.[73][74] Party's leading politicians spread disinformation and conspiracy narratives, including antisemitic George Soros conspiracy theories.[75][76]


Like most parties in Slovakia, Smer relies heavily on public party funding. The party received the following amount in public funding (as a share of total funding in percent):[77]

  • 2006: 4,750 million euros (94.48%)
  • 2007: 1,653 million euros (78.42%)
  • 2008: 1,653 million euros (81.55%)
  • 2009: 1,652 million euros (59.10%)
  • 2010: 6,853 million euros (85.02%)
  • 2011: 2,711 million euros (88.56%)
  • 2012: 11,143 million euros (97.88%)
  • 2013: 3,691 million euros (94.04%)



The party is associated with several corruption cases in Slovakia. During the 12 years during which it held power, the media reported on more than 30 alleged corruption cases.[78][79]

As no corruption case has yet been proven in court, and no conviction resulting from a party member's complicity in corruption cases been attained, the party strongly rejects the fact that it has a number of corruption scandals. Its chairman Fico usually points to the cases of his opponents when asked about specific corruption cases. More than once, Fico verbally attacked the media or the journalist himself who asked these questions.[80][81] Some prominent members of Smer, in response to the corruption cases, especially in the 2010s, have admitted that it is a thing of the past and that they made mistakes, while denying that corruption in the state was high.[82]

Election results[edit]

National Council[edit]

Election Leader Votes % Rank Seats +/– Status
2002 Robert Fico 387,100
25 / 150
2006 671,185
50 / 150
Increase 25 Smer–SNSHZDS
2010 880,111
62 / 150
Increase 12 Opposition
2012 1,134,280
83 / 150
Increase 21 Smer
2016 737,481
49 / 150
Decrease 34 Smer–SNSBridgeNetwork
2020 Peter Pellegrini[b] 527,172
38 / 150
Decrease 11 Opposition
2023 Robert Fico 681,017
42 / 150
Increase 4 Smer–HlasSNS[83]

European Parliament[edit]

Election Leader Votes % Rank Seats +/– Group
2004 Monika Beňová 118,535
3 / 14
2009 Boris Zala 264,722
5 / 13
Increase 2
2014 Maroš Šefčovič 135,089
4 / 13
Decrease 1
2019 Monika Beňová 154,996
3 / 14
Decrease 1


Election Candidate 1st round 2nd round
Votes % Rank Votes % Rank
2004 Endorsed
Ivan Gašparovič
2nd 1,079,592
2009 Endorsed
Ivan Gašparovič
1st 1,234,787
2014 Robert Fico 531,919
1st 893,841
2019 Endorsed
Maroš Šefčovič
2nd 752,403

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Also with coalitions.
  2. ^ Peter Pellegrini served as the electoral leader at the top of the party list, while Robert Fico served as the party chairman.
  3. ^ Although Maroš Šefčovič was officially an independent, his campaign was funded by the party.


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External links[edit]