Has the spirit of the wild 90s returned to Slovakia? Without doubt the second half of that decade was a tough time for journalists working in the country. It was a time when investigative reporters lived in fear of being beaten up, or having their cars burned. As Marcela Šimková, the editor in chief of Hospodářské noviny said: “We are not returning to 90s we have overcome them.” There were different kinds of threats towards journalists in the past, but, if we don’t include the strange disappearances of a few journalists, it has never ended up with murder. Until now.
Has the spirit of the wild 90s returned to Slovakia?
Ján Kuciak, 27, an investigative reporter for Aktuality.sk and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, 25, were found dead in their house in Veľká Mača, one hour’s drive from Bratislava. Police found the couple on Sunday 25 February. He had been shot in the chest while she was found with the bullet wound in the head.
Martina Kušnírová’s mother alerted the authorities, when she couldn’t reach her daughter via mobile phone for a long time. According to the police, the couple was killed some time between Thursday and Sunday. The autopsy will show the exact time. The general Prosecutor, Jaromír Čižnár, claimed that the murder happened on Thursday 22, and therefore “the police investigation is on the tail”. They found few things at the scene “from which the police has a hope, though small, that they will find biological material leading to the perpetrator,” he added.
The head of the Slovak Police, Tibor Gašpar, said it was “likely” the murder was connected to Kuciak’s work as a journalist. Kuciak reported on tax fraud, sometimes involving politicians from Smer – sociálna demokracia (Direction – Social Democracy), the ruling party and the close colleagues of these politicians. As SME recalled, in the last months, Kuciak worked on revealing links between the ´ndrangheta, an organized crime group from the Italian region of Calabria, and the assistant to the Prime Minister, Mária Trošková. According to Europol, the Italian ´ndrangheta is one of the most powerful and richest criminal organizations on the world.
The Italian ´ndrangheta is one of the most powerful criminal organizations on the world.
On Wednesday 28 February, Aktuality.sk published the actual piece on which Kuciak was working before the tragedy. In it he reveals the complicated ties between ´ndrangheta, politicians close to the Prime Minister and state officials, as it is mentioned above. Unfortunately, the article is missing its conclusion, which Kuciak could not finish before his death. Tom Nicholson, who revealed the so-called Gorrila file and who was a colleague of Kuciak, wrote for Politico.eu that Ján’s murder is very probably linked to his work on ´ndrangheta.
According to Aktuality.sk, Kuciak received threats from a dubious Slovak businessman, Marián Kočner, about his investigations on Kočner’s businesses in luxury real estate last autumn. Kočner directly targeted Kuciak’s family and said that he started to look for some compromising information on him, his parents and his siblings and that he would publish it. Kuciak reported these threats to the police, who responded that Kočner had not committed any illegal act. When journalists asked the Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák about the threats, they received, at least from today’s point of view, a very scandalous reply: “Which threats do you mean? I feel from his statement that he just wanted to be employed by one of daily newspaper. That’s what you are doing, just looking for dirt.” When the news about the killings appeared, Kočner immediately condemned the murder. However, as Denník N wrote, the last article by Ján Kuciak from 9 February was about Marián Kočner and his dubious businesses in luxury real estate.
As Martin Šimečka said in an interview for DVTV, journalists in Slovakia do not put a lot of trust in the Slovak Police, although evidence about their links with organised crime groups are only indirect.
Corruption in Slovakia is an age-old cancer.
Journalists in Slovakia as well as their colleagues from the Czech Republic came out with joint statements in which they condemned the murder. Similar statements were published by the International Press Institute. Slovak politicians from across the political spectrum, including the Prime Minister and Interior Minister, condemned the murder and demanded a quick punishment for the perpetrators. In the meantime, the Prime Minister Robert Fico has offered €1 million for any information leading to the murderers. There were several gatherings in the name of Ján Kuciak across the whole of Slovakia as well as in Czech Republic. A memorial march will be held in Bratislava on 2 March.
This unprecedented violence against two young people shows that the links between politicians, businessmen and criminals is a long and deep problem. In the words of Tom Nicholson, corruption in Slovakia is an age-old cancer. Over the next few weeks, the police investigation in particular will give us an idea of how firm the statements of Slovak politicians really are about the fight against corruption.