The resignation of several Slovakian government officials, including the country's prime minister, has failed to appease the public who are seeking justice for the Mafia-style assassination of an anti-corruption journalist. Some even consider the resignation as a cynical ploy intended to allow the ruling party to remain in power.
After the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak on Februrary 25, the front pages of Slovak media were filled by a series of accusations of corruption and links to organized crime against powerful politicians which included top police officials and some appointed members of the government’s prosecution office.
On March 3, Prosecutor Vasiľ Špirko filed criminal charges against the Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, Police President Tibor Gašpar, Chief of National Criminal Agency Petar Hraško and Chief of Anti-Corruption Unit Róbert Krajmer. The charges involved embezzlement of public funds and involvement in bribery.
A petition signed by 145 publicly known persons demanded that the police president and special prosecutor leave their offices to avoid conflict of interest in pursuing justice:
Jánova práca siahala príliš blízko k politickým špičkám. Mnohé vyšetrovacie verzie môžu ohrozovať ich povesť a kariéru, čo vytvára neudržateľný konflikt záujmov. Vládni predstavitelia preto musia vytvoriť pre orgány činné v trestnom konaní nezávislý priestor, ktorý umožní preveriť akúkoľvek potrebnú stopu bez tlakov a neformálnych vplyvov.
Ján's work ran too close to political leaders. Investigative efforts could jeopardize the reputation and career of many officials creating an untenable conflict of interest. Government officials must therefore create an independent room for law enforcement authorities to examine all necessary leads without pressure and informal influences.
After President Andrej Kiska asked for wider governmental reforms, Prime Minister Róbert Fico accused Kiska that his speech “was not written in Slovakia” and that in September 2017 he had a meeting with a “person who has a dubious name”, George Soros, “without any representative of Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs”. Newspapers quickly debunked this claim by showing photos from the ‘secret’ meeting which also included the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Fico's government, Miroslav Lajčák.
[Editor's note: Global Voices is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations which is funded by George Soros ]
The killing of Kuciak and the political crisis it generated led to massive protests across the country. An estimated 100,000 people joined the protests “for decent Slovakia”. The size of recent protests is being compared to the 1989 Velvet Revolution which ended the four-decade rule of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and led to the subsequent transition to democracy.
The protests were peaceful even though Prime Minister Fico warned of “high probability of attacks on public buildings” after he showed images of pavement stone cubes in front of the government office. In fact, it was the citizens who quickly reported the presence of about ten pavement stones left in the shrubbery after the reconstruction of a square near the government office.
On March 15, Fico bowed to public pressure and resigned his post. He placed his ally Peter Pellegrini in the role of prime minister. Slovaks widely considered this as an insincere move and warned that the Fico-Pellegrini tandem might be similar to the deal between Russian President Putin and his Prime Minister Medvedev, who changed roles several times while Putin held the real power all the time. In fact, Fico noted explicitly with a wide grin that he “is not leaving anywhere” and his “task is to shield the back of the new prime minister”.
Fico's resignation did not calm down the situation. On March 16, an estimated 65,000 protesters demanding early elections gathered in the capital city of Bratislava while thousands more rallied in the streets of other cities.
Thousands rally in Slovakia for third week in a row, including another huge crowd in Bratislava chanting and calling for for new elections pic.twitter.com/Cr9yvexfwp
— James Shotter (@JamesShotter) March 16, 2018
At the protest, actor Richard Stanke addressed Fico in a widely quoted speech:
Váš arogantný úsmev pri včerajšom odovzdávaní vašej „akože“ demisie hovorí za všetko! Vy neodchádzate, ale naďalej chcete v úzadí ťahať za nitky vašich poslušných straníckych lokajov … Ani jeden z nich si pri triumfálnom oznámení výsledku dohody nespomenul na vraždu Jána Kuciaka a Martiny Kušnírovej. Ani jeden. A my sme išli na námestia preto, aby sme si uctili ich pamiatku a zabránili nevyšetreniu tejto ohavnej vraždy.
Your arrogant smile at yesterday's handing out of your “quasi” resignation says it all! You are not going away, but you still want to pull the strings of your obedient party lackeys … Neither of them [governmental parties leaders] in a triumphant announcement of the outcome of the agreement, mentioned the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. Not one. And we went to the squares in order to honor their memory and prevent the cover up in the investigation of this abominable murder.
Not everyone was pleased by protests. Writer Gustáv Murín filed a criminal complaint against the organizers.
Je smutné, keď občan nemá pokoj na svoju prácu a život, pretože cvičení organizátori prevratov začnú svoju rozvratnú činnosť. … To sa naozaj nenájde nikto kto by zastavil tento notorický „dúhový scenár“ z dielne diverzných centrál z obnovenej Studenej vojny? … Ak nie, tak považujem za svoju povinnosť urobiť to osobne.
It is sad when a citizen does not have peace of mind for his work and life, because the organizers of coups will begin their disruptive activity. … Isn't there anyone out there who would stop this notorious “rainbow scenario” from the workshop of diversions from the renewed Cold War? … If not, then I consider my duty to do it personally.
Student of political science Oliver Andrejčák opined:
… pri súčasnej situácií by si Slovensko mohlo vybrať iba dve možnosti:
1. Okamžité predčasné voľby, ktoré by skutočne mohli viesť k politickej nestabilite, a vôbec by vyšetrovanie vraždy nemuseli zlahčiť tak, ako sa zdá
2. Rekonštrukciu vlády, ktorá by ešte 2 roky predstavovala mafiánsky oligarchistický štát, avšak s vidinou úplnej porážky SMeru v roku 2020
… in the current situation, Slovakia could choose only two options:
1. Immediate early elections, which could in fact lead to political instability, and that the murder investigation would not have to be made as smooth as it looks like;
2. Reconstruction of the government, which would represent a Mafia-based oligarchic state for two more years, but with the vision of total defeat of [Fico's party] SMER in 2020
Student of journalism Jakub Prok argued against early elections with another reason:
Ak by aj poslanci pristúpili k predčasným voľbám, kým by sa do kresla dostal nezávislý človek, mohlo by to trvať mesiace. Pri dostatočnom spoločenskom tlaku by to v Pellegriniho vláde mohlo byť už budúci týždeň. … Predčasné voľby by mohli v konečnom dôsledku dostať do parlamentu iba viac extrémizmu.
If Members of Parliament were to take early elections, it could take months for an independent person to get into that position [of Minister of Interior]. With sufficient social pressure, in Pellegrini's government it could be [changed] next week. … Early elections could ultimately bring only more extremism into Parliament.
Blogger Peter Straka announced that he already made a pivotal decision:
Ak áno, som s rodinou rozhodnutý z tejto prehnitej krajiny, kde sa nedá už ani nadýchnuť, kde ľudia nielenže neveria vláde, polícii, ale ani jeden druhému, … Ak nebudú predčasné voľby a nebudeme mať novú vládu, a nezačne sa poriadne vyšetrovanie káuz, aby boli páchatelia obvinení a potrestaní, potom odchádzam.
If so, I have decided with my family to get out from this rotten country where it is not possible even breathe, where people not only don't trust the government, the police, but neither each other … If there is no early election, and if we don't get a new government, as well as a thorough investigation including the root causes, so that the offenders are accused and punishment, then I leave.