Slovakia: a killing reverberates

Since reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were found shot dead, prime minister Robert Fico has fought to shield hisparty from any responsibility

Candles sit in front of a photo of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée during an anti-government rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, last week. The country-wide protests demand a thorough investigation into the shooting deaths of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, whose bodies were found in their home on February 25th. Photograph: Ronald Zak/AP

Candles sit in front of a photo of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée during an anti-government rally in Bratislava, Slovakia, last week. The country-wide protests demand a thorough investigation into the shooting deaths of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, whose bodies were found in their home on February 25th. Photograph: Ronald Zak/AP

 

Robert Fico flashed the cameras a broad grin after resigning as Slovakia’s prime minister last Thursday. He looked like a politician who had outsmarted his rivals, rather than one brought down by public outrage over the murder of a journalist who investigated possible Mafia ties to people close to government.

Slovakia’s premier for 10 of the last 12 years, the blunt Fico is not known for his sense of contrition. Since reporter Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend Martina Kusnirova were found shot dead on February 25th, he has fought to shield his ruling Smer party from any responsibility.

No one suggests Fico or allies were involved in the killings, but he is accused of valuing loyalty over probity or competence in his ministers, and of fuelling a toxic hostility towards the media. Instead of addressing graft allegations against dubious politicians and businessmen, Fico has derided the journalists who investigate them as “snakes”, “hyenas” and “anti-Slovak prostitutes”.

In the last three turbulent weeks, Fico has claimed that criticism from liberal Slovak president Andrej Kiska, opposition parties and the media are actually part of a coup attempt. He even accused Kiska of working with billionaire philanthropist George Soros to oust him – a conspiracy theory supported by Fico’s fellow populist Viktor Orban, the prime minister of neighbouring Hungary. Fico backed interior minister Robert Kalinak to the hilt, until he was finally forced to resign by political pressure and the biggest street protests ever seen in independent Slovakia. That same combination ultimately brought down Fico.

He is now expected to run the ruling party and government from behind the scenes – without political responsibility – as Jaroslaw Kaczynski does in Poland and Liviu Dragnea in Romania. Protests are continuing, however, led by young activists who want snap elections and a complete transformation of Slovakia’s ruling elite. Fico’s step behind the curtain may have satisfied deputies who enjoy their parliamentary privileges, but many Slovaks are still determined to sweep clean the political stage.

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