Slovaks Renew Street Protests on Anniversary of Reporter's Death

(Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of Slovaks took to the streets in renewed anti-government rallies on the one-year anniversary of the execution-style murder to protest what they say is little progress in unraveling the net of corruption between politics and business.

Demonstrators filled the main square in Bratislava, the capital, and other cities across the country to commemorate the journalist, Jan Kuciak, who was killed with his girlfriend in his western Slovak home. His death threw the spotlight on links between shady businessmen and top echelons in politics, triggering the largest protests since the fall of communism in 1989 and leading to the resignation of then-Prime Minister Robert Fico.

“The peak of outrage has passed, but the public debate on moral fundamentals of politics and society continues," said Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in Brussels. "European Parliament elections in May will likely indicate whether and how renewed social activism translates into shifts in the Slovak political landscape."

Kuciak’s murder highlighted Slovakia’s place in an unbroken strip of countries in eastern Europe stretching from the Baltic to the Adriatic Seas where populist parties have boosted their influence in media and denounced journalists as spreading lies. In Fico’s case, he frequently derided critics in the media, calling reporters "prostitutes" and "hyenas."

While Fico, who also blamed billionaire Hungarian-born financier George Soros for orchestrating the original protests, stepped down, the ruling coalition remains headed by his Smer party, which he still leads. But its popularity slipped after media uncovered new cases of corruption. Four people have been charged with Kuciak’s murder and remain in custody, including a woman who, according to local media, had links with senior politicians.

“I wish that this murder would no longer divide Slovakia.” Fico’s successor, Premier Peter Pellegrini, said in a video posted on its Facebook account. “The progress in the investigation” of the murder “is visible,” he said.

The protesters who filled Bratislava’s SNP square, the same place where anti-communist protests were held during the Velvet Revolution 30 years ago, didn’t share that opinion and called for early elections.

“We are still demanding a government we can trust, a government that will serve everybody and not only its cronies,” said Juraj Seliga, one of the organizers.

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