by Jonathan Lee
Content warning: article mentions racism, anti-Roma sentiments, and contains offensive and discriminatory language.
It’s been almost two weeks since Slovak investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak, and his partner Marina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their Velka Maca apartment. The couple were both murdered by single gunshots, with the crime bearing the hallmarks of a contract killing according to Slovak police.
Prior to his death, Kuciak had been investigating the theft of EU funds by businessmen linked to the Ndrangheta Calabrian Mafia, and to high-up ministers in Prime Minister Robert Fico’s office. In his final unfinished article, Kuciak names the Secretary of the State Security Council, and the Chief State Advisor to Fico, as being linked to the corruption. Both of whom have taken indefinite leaves of absence while the investigation continues, in an attempt to avoid their names being used against the Prime Minister they say.
The deaths have plunged Slovakia into turmoil. Not even during the communist regime was a journalist ever murdered in the country, and it has highlighted the already considerable concerns surrounding corruption in the Slovak government.
Fico’s new found sense of moral integrity has come at a suspiciously convenient moment
One man who seemingly has nothing to worry about however is the Prime Minister, for whom political scandal is like water off a duck’s back. Fico has responded to the deaths by going on the offensive. In a bizarre press conference, in which he laid out one million euro in cash bills as a reward for information, the PM took aim at journalists, opposition politicians, and just about anyone he considered to be ‘politicising’ the assassination (he later extended this list to include billionaire philanthropist George Soros). Fico accused anyone who criticised his alleged involvement in recent events as having ‘crossed a line’. Which is rich for a politician who has built his political capital on crossing the line repeatedly.
For a man who has spent years using minorities as his political scapegoat, accusing Roma of theft and benefit fraud, and labelling Muslim refugees as terrorists, Fico’s new found sense of moral integrity has come at a suspiciously convenient moment. The recent evidence which Ján Kuciak lost his life uncovering, exposes the hypocrisy of the ruling government, and could possibly be the tipping point in a country already plagued by corruption scandals.
evidence which Ján Kuciak lost his life uncovering, exposes the hypocrisy of the ruling government
The Prime Minister is no stranger to a good old corruption scandal. Fico lost the 2010 election after an electoral funding scandal and was out of power for two years (in an otherwise unbroken run since 2006). An audio recording emerged, in which a voice that sounded very much like Robert Fico claimed he had raised several million euros in undeclared funds, and wanted to create a “parallel financial structure” for financing his party’s election campaign.
Then in 2013, scandal surrounded him again when his alleged affair with a 25-year-old secretary at his party’s headquarters was publicised. It was uncovered that his secretary had benefited from extensive privileges within the party, had a new €30,000 car, an unmortgaged €100,000 apartment, and both her sister and step-mother had been given jobs within government ministries. Speculation as to whether government funds had been used for his private purposes or not were shut down after Fico filed defamation lawsuits.
Fico’s best mate and Interior Minister, Robert Kaliňák, has also been in power since forever, and was one of the main targets of anti-corruption protests in 2016 and April 2017. He has refused to resign after being accused of involvement with a property businessman under tax fraud investigation. So far there have been two motions before the parliament calling for Kaliňák’s resignation, and further protests are planned across the country. Protesters say that his role as interior minister prevents an independent investigation being carried out into the financial irregularities involving the property businessman. Coincidentally, the Prime Minister himself lives in a rented apartment in Bratislava which is owned by the very same businessman who is under investigation.
Considering Robert Fico is a man who began his political career in earnest by forming a breakaway party called “Direction – Social Democracy”, his rhetoric and political associations with right-wing nationalists have had little to do with lefty progressive politics. The Prime Minister, when he is not embroiled in corruption scandal, prefers to cause upset through irregularly timed bouts of hate speech. In March 20120, he announced his intention to remove as many Romani children as possible from their families and place them in separate boarding schools. Previously he’d said of Romani families: “The great mass of Roma want to just lie in bed on social support and family benefit. These people have discovered that, because of family benefit, it is advantageous to have children.”
The Prime Minister, when he is not embroiled in corruption scandal, prefers to cause upset through irregularly timed bouts of hate speech.
Fico also went loose cannon in 2013 in a pretty weird rant about minorities in general, complaining that “we did not establish our independent state to give preferential treatment to minorities, however much we appreciate them, but to privilege the Slovak nation-state in particular […] It is a curious situation when minority problems are being intentionally foregrounded everywhere to the detriment of the Slovak nation-state. It’s as if there are no Slovak men and women living in Slovakia.” Fico has also said that “Islam has no place in Slovakia”. He responded to European Commission mandatory refugee quotas by saying that his country will not accept “one single Muslim” because of his concern that “thousands of terrorists and Islamic State fighters are entering Europe with migrants”.
The volatile PM has even had a pop at investigative journalists for their lack of national loyalty in reporting on the Slovak EU Presidency. After yet another scandal in 2016, involving allegations of overpriced procurement at EU presidency-related events, he addressed journalists at a press conference with: “Some of you are dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes and I stand by my words”. And we must take him by his words. Even if they are generally nothing to stand by, and not a great endorsement of the truth, or even decency, judging from his public history.
In the aftermath of the biggest scandal so far in his ten years of power, it seems like Fico’s government is on the brink. Protests fill the streets, an investigation is underway into his office, ministers are resigning around him, and the people are calling for the resignation of his Interior Minister. But if his track record is anything to go by, he has nothing to worry about. The indestructible Robert Fico won’t be going anywhere soon.
Featured image: Oliver Rehak / Twitter
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