March 15, 2018
The fallout from the murder of an investigative journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, on February 25th, threatens to bring down Robert Fico, who has served as Slovakia’s prime minister for ten of the past 12 years. But Mr Fico is putting up a fight. Drawing on Viktor Orban’s playbook from neighbouring Hungary, he hopes to defuse the crisis by blaming a conspiracy of foreigners including George Soros, a billionaire financier, for the political upheaval. But as 50,000 demonstrators (one in nine residents) took the streets in Bratislava calling for his resignation on March 9th, he seems to have failed.
Slovaks have mobilised in numbers unseen since the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and on March 9th there were parallel protests in at least 35 other towns and cities, many considered the heartland of Mr Fico’s nationalist Smer party. In the eastern city of Presov, Zlatica Kusnirova, mother of Martina Kusnirova, who was shot alongside Mr Kuciak, addressed a crowd of 7,000. “Nobody is dictating anything to me, nobody is paying me,” she said in a direct rebuke of Mr Fico’s conspiracy theories. Two senior cabinet members are already out, including Mr Fico’s second-in-command, Robert Kalinak, the interior minister. The three-party governing coalition is splintering; one of the parties is calling for a new election, as is Andrej Kiska, the country’s liberal president.
Though the crisis was triggered by the killing of Mr Kuciak and Ms Kusnirova, both 27 years old, it has exposed deep-seated frustration with Mr Fico’s governing style and cronyism in his Smer party. Police discovered the bodies of the couple onFebruary 25th, and contend that their murder was related to Mr Kuciak’s investigative work. Just before his death Mr Kuciak was looking into Antonino Vadala, a man Italian police believe to be a cocaine broker for the ’Ndrangheta mafia group…