On June 15, 2014, businessman and philanthropist Andrej Kiska was inaugurated as the fourth president of independent Slovakia. Unlike his three predecessors, Kiska never joined the Communist Party and has not been a member of any political party. Kiska is the first Slovak president who was elected as an independent candidate, without party support. Although he was virtually unknown when he entered the race in the fall of 2012, Kiska managed to quickly gain name recognition thanks to an extensive billboard campaign. He came in second place in the first round of the presidential election in mid-March and defeated current Prime Minister Robert Fico by a large margin in the second-round run-off two weeks later.
Kiska was born in Poprad in 1963 and graduated from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava. In 1990, Kiska moved to the United States for 18 months, working at various jobs before returning to Slovakia to pursue a business career. He started by dealing with jewelry imports. In 1996, Kiska co-founded Triangel and Quatro, the first consumer lending firms to appear on the Slovak market. In recognition of his business activities, Kiska won the 2006 Manager of the Year award from the Trend economic weekly. He sold his shares in those businesses in 2005 to the bank Vseobecná úverová banka (VUB) for more than EUR 10 million.
After selling his businesses, Kiska turned to philanthropy. In 2006, he co-founded the charitable organization Dobrý anjel [Good Angel], which helps financially strapped families in Slovakia and the Czech Republic whose children suffer from serious health conditions. Kiska received the Slovak Crystal Wing Award in 2011 for his achievements in philanthropy.
During the presidential election campaign, Kiska’s lack of political experience appeared to be a key bonus in garnering popular support. Criticizing politicians who do not fulfill their promises, Kiska argued that a person with real-life experience should serve as head of state. He emphasized that he understands the real challenges that Slovaks face and knows how to resolve social issues. Kiska’s campaign was neither aggressive nor confrontational, providing a contrast with that of Fico. Instead, he highlighted his independence and promised to restore people’s confidence in the state. Slovak voters were not swayed by Fico’s claims that Kiska was connected to the Church of Scientology and that his former businesses exploited the poor by offering overpriced loans, allegations that Kiska denied. Many Slovaks worried that if Fico had won the presidency, too much power would have been concentrated in the hands of his party, Smer [Direction].
In his inaugural address, Kiska criticized the culture of corruption and the overall negative political atmosphere, adding that the “public sphere is now dominated by selfishness, nepotism, political affiliation, strong elbows, and cynicism.” In an effort to be a “people’s president,” Kiska’s guests for his inaugural lunch included those in need of help, such as senior citizens, orphans, and the homeless. Kiska also stressed that he wanted to invite people who help others and a number of prominent NGO activists were included, some of whom have been shunned by Fico and his allies. Politicians were noticeably absent from the list. During the campaign, Kiska promised to dedicate his entire salary of EUR 5,376 per month to families in need. On 25 July, the presidential website provided details on the 10 families selected by charity organizations as the beneficiaries of his first salary.
Although the president in Slovakia does not have significant powers, Kiska can mobilize public opinion and provide a check on the parliament, where Smer controls a majority of seats. In regard to foreign policy, Kiska is an Atlanticist and is strongly pro-EU and NATO