Slovak Coalition Huddles After Biggest Protests Since Communism

(Bloomberg) -- Slovakia’s ruling parties prepared to respond after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the biggest protests since the fall of the Iron curtain, calling on Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government to step down over a failure to fight corruption.

The biggest crisis faced by the three-time premier’s government, triggered by the murder of an investigative journalist last month, lurched deeper on Friday after Fico refused to retract accusations that the demonstrations are being organized from abroad. His denouncements have thrust him into a group of populist leaders in the European Union’s east that includes Hungary’s illiberal premier, Viktor Orban, who’ve blamed foreigners for trying to oust them.

Slovak Coalition Huddles After Biggest Protests Since Communism

Protesters marched in more than 40 cities in the country of 5.4 million Friday evening, according to the organizers, with crowds swelling in size from similar rallies a week earlier. Shouting "Resign!", anti-government demonstrators filled the main square in the capital, Bratislava, shaking key chains in an echo of the marches that helped bring down the Communist government in the former Czechoslovakia’s 1989 Velvet Revolution.

“Numerous corruption scandals, which have been left without consequences for years, an absence of basic political decency,” Diana Majdakova, a gallery curator who spoke on behalf of 288 cultural institutions, told the crowd. “These are all deep traumas for Slovak society. Enough.”

Leaders from Fico’s Smer party, and its ruling partners the Slovak Nationalist Party and the ethnic-Hungarian Most, prepared to seek a solution on Saturday to calm the situation.

No Agreement

The marches started last week following the execution-style murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and his girlfriend after he reported on possible links of government ministers to organized crime figures, including the Italian mafia.

As many as 50,000 people gathered in Bratislava, with up to 20,000 protesting in Slovakia’s second-largest city Kosice, according to Slovak media. People also rallied in dozens of smaller cities and towns.

Fico pushed back against the outrage earlier on Friday, refusing to sign a declaration proposed by President Andrej Kiska, in which the two leaders and the head of parliament, Andrej Danko, would pledge “not to spread conspiracy theories” about the demonstrations.

Fico, echoing Orban, has blamed billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros for fanning the outrage. He cited security services, saying that he had information that there was a "fairly high" probability of an attack against government buildings.

"Slovakia is a democratic country," Fico told reporters. "As premier, however, I would like to ask citizens to keep the peace, don’t allow potential provocations."

The protests ended without incident.

The outcry has put Fico, who led Slovakia into the euro area, under unprecedented pressure. The Most party has also demanded the dismissal of Interior Minister Kalinak, Fico’s political protege as a condition for it to stay in the coalition. Kalinak has refused to step down, and the tension has put put the ruling grouping’s slim majority in parliament in jeopardy.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.