Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico and his cabinet resigned on March 15 amid public condemnation and pressure from coalition partners in response to a political crisis sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée, reported the Slovak Spectator.
According to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), prominent Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak had been investigating Italian mafia links in Slovakia when he and his fiancee were murdered in their home. Both 27-years-old, the couple planned to marry in May. The Slovak police initially detained seven Italian suspects; however, all were released without indictment due to a lack of incriminating evidence. The murders remain unsolved. Leading Kuciak’s funeral, Archbishop Stanislav Zvolensky called for action.
“An attack on a journalist is also an attack on the freedom of our country. We must not allow it,” Zvolensky said, according to RFE/RL.
Kuciak’s final article, published posthumously, indicated possible ties between political figures close to Fico and the Italian ‘Ndgrangheta crime syndicate.
“Kuciak’s last story has had a serious impact on people’s trust in the system of government, and the murder of two young people has added a strong moral aspect,” Martin Slosarik, an analyst at Focus polling agency, told Euronews.
Ensuing government inaction sparked massive protests in Bratislava and other cities around Slovakia. According to Euronews, the protests were the largest experienced by Slovakia since the fall of communism, with crowd estimates reaching the tens of thousands. The Slovak Spectator reported protesters chanting “Enough of Fico” and jangling keys to evoke the 1989 protests. As they demonstrate against political corruption and abuse of power, Slovaks today consider themselves to be fighting to protect what their parents fought for 30 years ago.
“Politicians in power have lost our trust,” protester Maria Kuliovska told Euronews. “We don’t trust them to guarantee an independent investigation. They have failed to investigate all previous scandals.”
Calls for action by coalition parties associated with Fico’s leftist Smer- Social Democracy Party compounded public pressure on Smer. RFE/RL reports that Most-Híd, Smer’s junior coalition partner, threatened early elections if Fico did not resign. Finally ceding to the pressure, Fico and his cabinet stepped down on March 15.
“To solve the political crisis, I am ready to offer my resignation as prime minister,” Fico declared, according to the Slovak Spectator. Fico remains prominent on the political scene, signaling that his resignation served as more of a symbolic action than an indication of meaningful change. Fico will remain the chairman of Smer and has personally appointed Peter Pellegrini as the new prime minister.
Daily Slovakia labeled Pellegrini’s government a carbon copy of Fico’s, claiming that Fico’s political maneuver “is yet another spit in the face of the Slovak people.” According to RFL/RE, Pellegrini will maintain the same coalition of the previous government and is unlikely to initiate any major changes. Anti-government demonstrations are scheduled to continue.