Slovak interior minister steps down as crisis over reporter’s murder deepens

More protests called as government faces collapse amid claims of Mafia links with elite

Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak: announced his resignation following tensions sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Photograph: Tomas Benedikovic/AFP/Getty

Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak: announced his resignation following tensions sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Photograph: Tomas Benedikovic/AFP/Getty

 

Slovakia’s interior minister Robert Kalinak resigned on Monday amid political turmoil over the murder of an investigative journalist and alleged links between the country’s ruling elite and Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta Mafia group.

The departure of the powerful Mr Kalinak did not satisfy many critics and some erstwhile allies of prime minister Robert Fico, however, and one party was discussing on Monday night whether to abandon his tripartite ruling coalition.

If the Most-Hid party left the alliance, it would strip the government of its parliamentary majority and potentially pave the way for snap elections, especially as a liberal opposition party is now seeking a vote of no confidence in Mr Fico.

“I think that to fulfil my mandate, I have to do everything to preserve stability in Slovakia. For this reason I have decided to resign as deputy prime minister and interior minister,” said Mr Kalinak, who had ridden out several previous scandals.

“I will do much more for the investigators and their ability to work in peace if I resign,” he added.

The political crisis – which has put the populist Mr Fico at loggerheads with Slovakia’s liberal president Andrej Kiska – was sparked by the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova.

The couple, both of whom were 27 years old, were found shot dead at Kuciak’s home on February 25th.

Wrongdoing denied

His last, unfinished article revealed ties between political figures close to Mr Fico and his ruling Smer party and Italian businessmen in Slovakia who are suspected of having connections to the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta. All those named by Kuciak deny wrongdoing. 

“We need to know why and we need to know who,” Mr Kalinak said of the investigation into a double murder that shocked the country of 5.4 million people.

“My position has never been important to me. The important thing is that we put the murderers before court,” he added.

The resignation of Mr Kalinak was a major blow to Mr Fico, who had defended his long-time ally and co-founder of the ruling Smer party in the face of demands from protesters and many politicians for him to resign or be fired.

Protest groups that helped bring some 50,000 people on to the streets of Slovak towns and cities last Friday immediately demanded more from the government, however, and announced a new round of rallies for this Friday.

“The departure of the interior minister Kalinak is not enough! His departure must be just the start. The start of a major clean-up,” a civic group called “For a decent Slovakia” said on Facebook.

The organisation demands the government’s resignation, an independent investigation into the double murder with the help of international experts, and a full inquiry into the suspicious activity that Kuciak uncovered.

“We will finish what our parents began in November 1989,” they declared, recalling the peaceful Velvet Revolution that ended communism in Czechoslovakia. “Let’s stand for a decent Slovakia and let’s not give up,” they added, while warning Slovakia’s leaders: “Do not mistake our decency for a lack of determination and persistence.”