Murder of a Journalist Evokes Massive Protests in Slovakia and Prompts PM Fico’s Resignation

kuciak_bratislava_vdrakt
Archive of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung || CC 3.0

Being a journalist in Slovakia could be, without exaggeration, considered to be one of the worst jobs. Defamation, ridicule, and verbal attacks from the political elites consitute the daily bread of an average journalist. To name one example out of many: last year, PM Robert Fico called journalsts “dirty anti-Slovak sluts.”

Currently, because of this ongoing disrepectful attitudes towards journalists, PM Fico‘s allmost 20-year-long political career is about to end. After massive anti-government protests supporting the media, in which hundreds of thousands of Slovaks took part in all over Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Fico has announced his resignation. It would be very easy to think karma if the reason for these protests wasn’t a cold-bloded murder of two young people. Investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend were shot in their appartment. Kuciak was by that time working on an investigative report on tax frauds comitted by the close Fico’s advisers.

No Trust in the Police

Jan Kuciak’s specialization was financial frauds. He started his career in Slovak daily Hospodářské noviny and than pursued his investigative journalist career for online portal Aktuality.sk. Despite having had penned articles on several quite spicy affairs in Slovak politics, according to his colleagues, Kuciak was never worried about his life. Nevertheless, he had filed a criminal complaint, which had been ignored by the police for 44 days and than dissolved as “groundless.”

Which gets us to the cracks of the matter. When Kuciak and his girlfriend were murdered, Kuciak was at the time working on his last piece, uncovering  tax frauds with EU subvencies, which led to the most upper levels of Slovak politics. At least two of Fico’s closest advisers were allegedly involved in this shady business with people with close connections to Italian mafia Ndrangheta.

At the press conference, Slovak Police President Tibor Gašpar admitted that the motive behind Kuciak’s murder was most likely connected to his ongoing investigation. At the time, Kuciak used to encourage journalists to turn to the police any time they felt endangered.

Gašpar’s seemingly innocent statement caused an outrage among Slovak journalists. The relations between the security forces and journalists have been, mildly put, tense. The police never started any investigation on the affairs investigative journalists had revealed during their work. Similarly to Kuciak’s case, their criminal allegations were never taken seriously. A response to Gašpar’s appeal was dull laughter among journalists, crowned by a statement of one of them: “We do not trust you, sir.”

Thousands of People in the Streets

The era of previous Slovak PM Vladimir Meciar was the darkest time for investigative journalists. They were physically attacked, one journalist’s car was set on fire, two journalists went missing. No one knows what had happened to them until this day. Nevertheless, after Meciar’s political retirement, the situation improved. Everybody hoped that the country is stepping into new democratic and modern era.

In this context, a double-murder committed on a person simply doing his job by protecting the democracy in his country and that person’s fiance, feels like a slap in the face of everyone who believed in a brighter future for Slovakia. “After this, Slovakia turned its face away from democracy and stepped onto the path towards becoming like Putin’s Russia,” said Minister of Justice Daniel Lipšic.

The despicable brutality resulted in a mass movement of solidarity that spread across the country. Slovaks, as if they have unanimously decided to show the rest of the world that they still believe in such values as democracy, human rights, and moral decency. The first wave of peaceful demonstrations accompanied Kuciak’s funeral. People were mourning the death of the young couple, carrying transparents with Kuciak’s face or slogans saying “We will never forget” or “A bullet cannot shoot down the truth.”

However, it was the second wave of protests, which came a week later, that took place on an unprecedented scale. On Friday, in many cities (not only in Slovakia but also in the Czech Republic) thousands of people were marching in the streets demanding justice for Kuciak’s murder and chanting “Enough of Fico” or “Resign, resign”. A crowd of ca. 50,000 gathered in Bratislava, another  20,000 in Košice, 2,000 in Prague, and app. 100 in Berlin. Some schools and universities gave the students a day off so they can join the protests. Commentators described the situation as the biggest wave of prostests in Slovakia since the fall of communism in 1989.

Slovakia on the Crossroads

MGlen || CC 3.0
Slovak PM Robert Fico || MGlen || CC 3.0

As a result of these massive demonstrations as well as the political pressure from President Andrej Kiska and his coalition partners, Robert Fico has announced his resignation as the prime minister of Slovakia.

Despite his over 20-year-long political career, Fico’s decision to resign might not have been so difficult for him as it might have seemed at first glance. The rumor has it that Fico has already been slowly preparing for his retirement from the high politics. He wanted to continue his career as a judge at the highest court so this might be the reward for which Fico is willing to step down quietly.

In order to prevent the country from falling into a complete chaos, Fico accompanied his resignation with one condition. The new prime minister is to be chosen from the members of the ruling party Smer. The most probable successor is the vice president of the party, Peter Pellergrion.

Keeping the position of prime minister within the party or not, Fico’s resignation is no good news for Smer. Fico always made sure to supress any possible competition in the party, which now leaves the party without any strong candidates for leadership. His natural successor, current Minister of the Interior Robert Kaliňák, is currently too controversial of a choice due to his previous corrupt affairs. Commentators are in agreement that no matter who takes over at the helm of the party, Smer is likely to shrink to a mid-size political subject.

What is more, thare is no convincing successor party to take over the political vacuum created by Smer. At least not yet. The parties got used to their comfortable role in the opposition or as a weaker coalition partner. It might be quite difficult for them to create a new, positive, pro-european, democratic vision for the country and even harder to find strong and capable leadership that would be strong enough to turn this vision into reality.

Finally, extremely popular President Kiska will very soon not be there to help rebuild the political landscape of the country as it is no secret that he does not plan on running for the presidency for the second term. With two countries under authoritarian-style regime and two countries politically destabilized, the V4 region is slowly becomming the new “wild wild” Eest of Europe.

Adela Kleckova
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom