Slovaks rally for change a year after murder of investigative journalist

Campaigners demand to know identities of those behind the killing of Jan Kuciak

People attend a protest  on the first anniversary of the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photograph: Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images

People attend a protest on the first anniversary of the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava, Slovakia. Photograph: Vladimir Simicek/AFP/Getty Images

 

Thousands of Slovaks rallied on Thursday to mark a year since the murder of an investigative journalist and his girlfriend, and to renew demands for a transformation of their country’s murky politics and ruling elite.

Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova were shot dead at his house in the village of Velka Matca, 50km east of the Slovak capital, Bratislava. They were both 27 and had planned to marry last May.

In his final investigation, published posthumously, Kuciak revealed connections between close political associates of Slovakia’s then prime minister, Robert Fico, and an Italian businessman with suspected ties to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta organised crime group.

The double murder and its possible link to a nexus of politics and the mafia triggered the biggest street protests seen in independent Slovakia, which ultimately forced Mr Fico and some of his most influential allies to resign from office.

Four people have been charged over the killings, including a former policeman who allegedly shot the couple; an ex-soldier who is suspected of acting as lookout man and getaway driver, and a woman who is accused of asking an intermediary to organise Kuciak’s murder for a total fee of €70,000.

Police have not identified who ultimately ordered and paid for the attack, however, fuelling concern that the culprit may be protected by the web of politicians, businessmen and security service figures that Kuciak tried to unpick.

A child holds a Slovakian flag by a memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava. Photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters
A child holds a Slovakian flag by a memorial on the first anniversary of the murder of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kusnirova, in Bratislava. Photograph: David W Cerny/Reuters

Huge influence

Mr Fico still exerts huge influence as leader of Slovakia’s ruling Smer party.

It has been revealed that the woman in custody was previously in contact with another senior Smer politician and a deputy chief prosecutor who resigned over the issue last month.

She also has links to Marian Kocner, a wealthy businessman whom Kuciak said threatened in 2017 to “collect dirt” on him and his relatives and to make sure he would “never write anything again”. Mr Kocner is now in detention for alleged financial crimes and denies any involvement in the murders.

“If we want to move forward, we have to know the names of those [who] ordered this monstrous murder,” said For a Decent Slovakia, the group that organised Thursday’s rallies across the nation and in cities abroad, including Dublin.

“We call for a trustworthy government. A government and politicians who serve everyone . . . There is hope and there is a force that can replace the ‘untouchables’,” the group added.

More than 400 Slovak journalists signed a defiant statement vowing “to continue Jan’s work and reveal the fraud, corruption and dirt that led to these two cold-blooded murders”.

“We’ve learnt that there have been, and still are, people in the police, at the prosecutor’s office and directly in the government who didn’t want to protect Jan and journalists . . . We haven’t forgotten. And we aren’t going anywhere,” they added.

Meanwhile, Harlem Desir, media freedom representative for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said: “I welcome the first result of the investigation, but I call on the authorities . . . to bring to justice all those responsible for this horrendous crime, including the mastermind.”