Robert Fico was just doing what he usually does, especially in a part of the country that voted for him. But minutes after Slovakia’s prime minister emerged from a meeting to mingle with supporters in the town of Handlova, he was being rushed to the hospital with bullet wounds.

The attempted assassination by a 71-year-old pensioner and poet has left the country in shock. It also quickly turned the spotlight on the inflammatory politics that have become so prevalent in Europe since the coronavirus pandemic and turbocharged by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The Russia-friendly Fico, 59, returned to power last year with promises such as increasing state handouts and halting arms shipments to Ukraine. Like nationalist Hungarian ally Viktor Orban next door, he sought to exploit divisions over LGBTQ rights, gender issues and immigrants — and depict the European Union and NGOs as enemies of the state.