Angry Slovaks demand elections after leader quits over reporter's murder

Jan Kuciak’s colleagues to finish his work detailing alleged links between Slovak political figures and Mafia

Candles and messages for Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova outside the building where he worked for the Aktuality.sk news portal.

Candles and messages for Slovak investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova outside the building where he worked for the Aktuality.sk news portal.

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One Wednesday late last month, Jan Kuciak sent his editor the first draft of an explosive article detailing alleged links between Slovak political figures and the Mafia. The following Sunday, he and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were found dead.

Someone had come into Kuciak’s home and shot him in the chest and Kusnirova in the head. The police, whom relatives had asked to check on the couple after not hearing from them for several days, said they were probably murdered because of the reporter’s investigative work.

The grim discovery of February 25th shook Slovakia to its core, triggering the biggest protests in its independent history and a crisis that this week forced prime minister Robert Fico to resign after running the country for 10 of the last 12 years.

Fico hopes his reluctant departure will calm public anger, and allow his allies to retain power and control investigations into the murders of the two 27-year-olds and the allegations made in Kuciak’s last, unfinished article.

Clues

He faces fierce opposition however, from young protest leaders who demand snap elections and a complete renewal of Slovakia’s political establishment, and from reporters who vow to complete Kuciak’s work, wherever the clues may lead.

“Nothing like this happened before in Slovakia. Everything has changed,” says Peter Porubsky, communications manager for the Aktuality.sk news portal where Kuciak worked.

“Now there are police outside the building, private security guards on each floor and our main investigative reporters have their own protection,” he explains.

“Jan used to say the worst thing that could happen would be to get sued . . . Now we’re talking about people killing journalists.”

Kuciak reported receiving threats from a local businessman last year and complained that police did not take the case seriously, but fellow Slovak journalists said they did not live in fear of violent retribution from people they wrote about.

The double murder made Slovaks suspect that some outside force could be responsible, and the posthumous publication of Kuciak’s final story revealed its possible identity.

Organised crime

Kuciak found that an adviser to Fico and a party ally who was secretary of the national security council had business ties to an Italian based in Slovakia who was suspected of involvement with the infamous ‘Ndrangheta organised crime group.

The officials have resigned and the Italian, Antonino Vadala, was released after questioning before being detained again this week on a warrant from a Venice court for alleged drug trafficking. All three deny any role in the double murder.

Journalists from several European countries, including Italy, have visited Aktuality in recent weeks to help reporters pursue leads that Kuciak left behind.

He believed that alleged ‘Ndrangheta figures could be fraudulently tapping EU farm subsidies in eastern Slovakia, and in earlier articles he had investigated the shady dealings of Slovak businessmen who have close links with the ruling elite.

One wall of an office in the Aktuality newsroom is now covered with photos of Fico, other members of the ruling Smer party, and local and foreign businessmen, connected by arrows indicating their political, financial and personal relationships.

Demonised journalists

“Smer has been ruling for most of the last 12 years. When you are running the country, you are responsible for what it looks like. All the [corruption] cases here are somehow connected with this party,” says Porubsky.

Fico takes credit for Slovakia’s solid economic growth and erstwhile stability, but rejects allegations that he let graft to flourish and demonised journalists – whom he has called snakes, hyenas and “anti-Slovak prostitutes”.

After claiming his critics were conspiring with billionaire George Soros and plotting a coup, Fico resigned on Thursday – but only on condition that his Smer allies would form the new government.

“There has been a kind of social pact,” between Smer and Slovaks, said Peter Nagy, an organiser of protests that brought 100,000 people onto the country’s streets last Friday.

“Don’t dig too deeply into things, and we’ll make sure life slowly gets better and there is stability and security. Now we see this is an illusion. If we were living in a safe country, a young journalist and his girlfriend could not be murdered like this.”

Huge response

Nagy (27) met Kuciak when they were both studying journalism.

Within hours of hearing about his murder, Nagy had posted plans for a protest rally on Facebook, and was stunned by the huge response to an event that he and friends dubbed “For a Decent Slovakia”.

“This is about values and restoring trust in government,” he said ahead of Friday’s protest in Bratislava.

“Decent people want to be represented by a decent government. So much has changed in the last few weeks that we need new elections,” Nagy added.

“There is a line in our national anthem, that says Slovak people have been asleep for a long time and need to wake up. The murder of Jan Kuciak woke us up.”

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