When the news about Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová’s murder first broke, it felt as if the world around me had stopped. The entirety of Slovakia was shaken and outraged — no one really understood what had happened, nor what the motives had been.
Next to expressing their condolences to the families of the victims, people started having questions. They wondered why this tragedy had occurred, whether there had been any way of preventing these murders. More importantly though, they started to express their deep disappointment in the government actions in relation to this sad event.
The last time we encountered violence aimed at journalists was back in the 1990’s, shortly after the establishment of the independent Slovak republic. In a time when certain individuals perceived as ‘inconvenient’ by the former regime were regularly followed, threatened, assaulted and in some cases, assassinated. In the new regime, authorities were legally unable to sentence people who didn’t advocate their policies. This was due to the enabled freedom of speech and press that had been established by the democratic regime. Acts of violence were, therefore, the most efficient way of silencing or getting rid of those who could cause harm to their names — journalists were always a perfect target.
Nevertheless, violent tendencies aimed upon journalists these days are just as unacceptable as they were in the past. Considering the significant progress our country has made over the past decades, no one expected such acts of violence to ever happen here again. The government and authorities should be able to protect all of its citizens and provide them with a safe place to live and work at. Truth is, however, the government often ‘forgets’ to do their job properly — with the slight tendency to overlook those who appear ‘troublesome’. In Slovakia, journalists are practically permanent members of the ‘troublesome’ group. Especially when they try to bring transparency to politics and dare to criticize political actions. No one likes to be criticized, but when it comes to politicians, it is an inevitable side effect. This is something our former prime minister, Robert Fico, clearly could not deal with.
In his articles, Ján Kuciak often focused on topics closely related to the government and its associates. It cost him his and his fiancée’s life.
Throughout his time in power, he often verbally attacked journalists, calling them ‘anti-Slovak prostitutes’ for not being blindly loyal to their government. He refused to communicate with them, mocked them, ignored them and offended them. So did the a great deal of his colleagues.
In his articles, Ján Kuciak often focused on topics closely related to the government and its associates, often pointing out irregularities that had been committed throughout the years. Eventually, it cost him his and his fiancée’s life.
People’s angst and mistrust of the government is therefore completely understandable and correct. For once, they refused to be reckless and tolerate the officials’ attempts to conceal an issue they have clearly failed to manage. They decided to raise their voices and express their disgust towards the government that has repeatedly failed them. Little did we know that the events to follow would become one of the most discussed topics around the entire world.
And so we mobilised and went out to protest. The core idea was to never use violence, but rather to send a strong message to the ones addressed. With over a hundred thousand people assembling throughout the entire nation (and outside of it as well), the message clearly spoke for itself: we want a change and we want it now!
The protest was claimed to have been the biggest gathering held since the Velvet revolution (1989). In many aspects, it shares certain similarities. We gathered and filled the streets — the same ones our parents filled 28 years ago. We never saw violence as a way of solving matters, neither did they. Back then, keys were one of the most significant symbols of protest — people jingled their keys in the air as a way of telling the regime that it is their last bell ring and it is time for them to go. We jingled our keys too, telling our government that is time for a change.
Apart from sending a message, we had a number of specific requirements. We demanded an independent investigation of Jan and Martina’s murders, done by an international team of experts. It is unthinkable to let the investigation be executed by the same people Jan had pointed at when he spoke about people in power with an unclear, shady past and connection, mainly aiming towards the Prime Minister, Minister of Internal Affairs and the Head of Police. It is unimaginable to rely upon the results of their examinations. As unimaginable as having the same governance in place. They did nothing in order to prevent this tragedy from happening. Kuciak repeatedly asked for security after receiving threats from the ones he exposed in the past. The police never gave it any particular attention, never took it too seriously.
Many requested early elections.
Two weeks later, we started to see the first results of our ambitions. The Ministers of culture and interior affairs resigned. The Prime Minister, Mr. Fico, offered to resign, as long as his party got to appoint his successor and the remaining Minister posts. The offer was not ideal, but the president, Mr. Kiska eventually decided to accept his proposition.
After two weeks of protests, the situation seemed to calm down for a bit. Our requirements were somewhat fulfilled or set in motion. Nonetheless, the Head of Police is still in position till this very day. He clearly does not seem to mind the pressure from the public. And as long as he remains in his post, we are determined to persist and to keep on protesting.
No one initially expected such a numerous attendance. It was truly moving to see people of all ages and social groups gathered together, fighting for something they truly believed in. I myself have attended all of the protests, charged with emotions just like everyone around me. It felt as if we all mutually shared a certain passion, a vision of a better world. A world we mutually want to fight for. Seeing as there are still people who are not oblivious to their surroundings is truly encouraging. So is the fact that the organisers of these protest were my peers, young adults.
For now, it is unclear when and whether there will be any further protests. There is only one thing we know for certain. For as long as the government does not meet our requirements, we will not let them silence us. We will fight till the very end.
Text by Ester Zitnanska (18), photos by Oscar Rozenburg (17)