EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy

  • In central Europe, for twenty-six years, there have not been any murder of journalists. This changed on the 25th February, 2018, when journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, were murdered in cold blood outside Bratislava.
  • In its aftermath, Slovakia is dealing with a crisis of democracy; the murder started a discussion about freedom of expression, of the press and protection of the citizens by the government.
  • The impetus for this murder is generally considered to be related to his job as an investigative journalist focused on a tax fraud in connection with politicians from the government and the most influential party – SMER – SD.

Furthermore, it is suspected that the murder is related to the Italian mafia in Slovak republic and their long-term organized criminal activities, started with Carmine Cinnante, businessman in agricultural sector. Kuciak’s article alleged suspicious relations between Italian mafia organization ‘N‘dranghetta’, Italian enterpreneur Antonino Vadala, and Mária Trošková, the main state counsellor of the prime minister Róbert Fico, also a head of SMER – SD. Ultimately, it appears that this triangle of actors possess interests in Smer – SD and EU funds in agriculture.

The extent of the infiltration of Italian “businessmen” in Slovakia and their involvement in embezzlement of EU funds is still unknown. Their main strategy seem to revolve around repurchasing agricultural cooperatives and then present them as „bio“, which naturally fetches higher prices. However, judging by the severity of the attempt to cover up the criminal and corrupt activities, it can be extrapolated that the infiltration is severe.

 

The act of Kuciak’s murder has started a debate about the democratic principles held in Slovak and also European society. The state, according to the European law as stipulated in Treaty of European Union should be liberal, democratic, legal and the human rights and fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed.

Slovakia has come a long way in its democratic path since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 which saw communism defeated. However, for all its progress, it has become increasingly apparent that the current political system in Slovakia seemingly suffers from many of the same troubles that plagued the country during communism – of which the recent murder is the most emblematic.

European institutions has expressed serious concerns about the situation and the fact that Slovakia was added on the list of states, where that type of crime had happened. In that regard, the European parliament created a mission in order to help in investigation. Even if the European Union respects the competences of local and regional governments, EU still dispose of the right to implement state’s policy, whether in a form of regulations – which are binding for members, directives or recommendations. After 1989, Slovak society has enjoyed the benefits of a free, democratic society, in which freedom of speech became irreplaceable. As the large demonstrations have shown, people are willing to fight for it to avoid backsliding into the past.

 

The political fallout has already claimed several high-level figures, and it is likely to claim more before the dust settles. Fico has already resigned, yet he has not been incriminated to the extent that he is bereaved of power, raising further questions about how deeply corruption is embedded within the country – and also how the investigation progresses.

 

 

 

Although Fico and minister of the interior, Róbert Kaliňák, made a show of promising rewards for crucial information and the creation of a special investigative team, Slovakia was hesitant to allow international expertise and joint efforts to assist in the investigation, which, considering the apparent lack of progress since the crime was committed, reeks of either incompetence or malignance – or both.

Another consequence of the above-stated is a battle between government coalition and opposition represented by political parties strongly oposing against SMER – SD, concretely SaS and OĽaNO. The immediate political solution to this tragedy has been a restructuring of government, as previously alluded to. According to President Kiska, this was the only other option aside from early elections. Politicians from SaS and OĽaNO have made it clear they favoured early elections. Most – Híd, on the other hand, favour restructuring and dialogue in order to maintain some measure of stability and calm towards the public.

Within SMER – SD, a few people have broken ranks, such as Marek Maďarič, Minister of the Culture, who resigned by reason of necessity to change the current political situation in Slovakia.

 

We cannot call this crisis only political. It is a crisis of society and democracy, which most likely will have a permanent impact on Slovakia. Masses of people have organized marches to commemorate the victims and show their dissatisfaction with the situation. In Bratislava, Košice and also in Prague, Paris, Sydney, Berlin and London, people have shown that they care.

They care about the future, about the principles of a democratic society and about freedom, which should be guaranteed. As such, perhaps this is the spark that will allow Slovakia to finally complete the journey, which began in 1989.

Alexandra Visnerova

 

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