Only four months after prominent Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a car bomb, Europe was hit with another similar murder – this time of young Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak, shot dead in his apartment along with his girlfriend.
Lovin Malta spoke to Mirek Toda, editor of Slovak newspaper Dennik N, and is here drawing parallels between the two shocking murders.
The journalists themselves
Slovakia: At 27 years of age, Jan Kuciak had only been working as a journalist for a few years, moving between Slovak and Czech media outlets and finally settling at a Slovakian news website called Aktuality (News). He focused on data and investigative journalism and, according to his editor, was a very reserved person who did not even want his photo published alongside his stories.
Kuciak wrote about links between the Slovak government and organised criminals, including how Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico had hired former topless model and Miss Universe contestant Maria Troskova as his personal aide despite her lack of political experience. Kuciak discovered that Troskova had previously been a business partner of Antonino Vadala, an Italian with alleged ties to the notorious ‘Ndrangheta mafia.
Malta: At 53 years of age, Daphne Caruana Galizia was one of the most experienced journalists in the country. Starting out as a newspaper journalist and editor, she later abandoned the traditional media and set up the blog ‘Running Commentary’.
Caruana Galizia refused to be pigeon-holed and her blogs ranged from investigations into government officials’ secret offshore companies to photos of fat government consultants at McDonald’s to deep analyses of Maltese gardens.
For Caruana Galizia, journalism was about educating the public on what is right and what is wrong, and had no qualms about describing people as “good” and “bad” in her writings.
She did not hide her dislike for the governing Labour Party, often describing it as a cult and a criminal organisation, a stance that led many PL supporters to believe she was a tool of the Nationalist Party. However, at the time of her death, Caruana Galizia was also severely at odds with the Opposition’s new leader Adrian Delia.
Yet her selective mocking and probing into people’s personal lives and physical appearances made her very much a pariah figure – adored by her fanbase but disrespected by the political class and the traditional media, some of whom refused to acknowledge her as a journalist and others who even refused to refer to her by name.
The political and economic situations
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with his Slovak counterpart Robert Fico
Slovakia: Apart from a brief two-year period, Robert Fico has been Prime Minister since 2006. He was most recently returned to power in 2016, but with a reduced majority – forcing him to enter into a coalition with three other parties. The country has several small opposition groups, most of which are eurosceptic and anti-immigration.
The Slovak economy has boomed since the country joined the EU in 2004 and adopted the euro five years later, and is now the world’s largest carmaker. However, many Slovaks complain that corruption is infecting their lives, and Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index has placed it 54th out of 180 countries.
Malta: Joseph Muscat has been Prime Minister since 2013 and has won two elections by massive victories. With a seven-seat parliamentary majority and a loyal team of MPs, Muscat hasn’t had to worry about internal dissidence in his five years in power.
The Maltese economy has also boomed since EU membership, particularly in recent years, largely due to successful financial services and iGaming sectors. However, just as in Slovakia, corruption is a problem, and Malta is ranked 46th in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
The resignations (and lack thereof)
Robert Fico’s aide Maria Troskova has resigned
Slovakia: Four government officials have resigned in the wake of Kuciak’s murder; the model-turned-PM assistant Maria Troskova, national security council secretary Viliam Jason (who also had alleged links with the ‘Ndrangheta), Fico’s chief of staff Roman Šipoš and culture minister Marek Madaric. The first three, who Kuciak had written about, have claimed innocence in the journalist’s murder but have resigned pending police investigations, arguing they don’t want Fico to be implicated in the murder in any way. As for Madaric, he resigned because he “couldn’t identify with the fact a journalist was killed during my tenure”.
Mirek Toda, editor of Slovak newspaper Dennik N, said the first three had no option but to resign, as Fico was facing severe pressure from his coalition partners. He described Madaric as a long-term critic of Fico, and said his resignation did not come as a surprise to anyone.
Opposition parties, journalists and citizens are demanding the resignations of interior minister Robert Kaliňák and police commissioner Tibor Gaspar, while some are also demanding Fico himself steps down.
“We need to distinguish between the murder itself and the political climate in Slovakia,” Toda said. “The police are very politicised in Slovakia, they don’t take action against corruption, and journalists often end up doing their jobs for them. We are not saying Kaliňák ordered the killing himself, but no one believes he can guarantee a fully independent investigation into the murder of a journalist, who could have been killed because of his work on government corruption.”
Malta: Not a single person within the Maltese government has resigned in the wake of Caruana Galizia’s assassination, and Muscat’s massive parliamentary majority has given him a level of comfort that Fico must be envying.
Civil society groups have demanded the resignations of police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and Attorney General Peter Grech for practically identical reasons as those cited in Slovakia- ie. their failure to investigate and prosecute politicians and businessmen exposed by Caruana Galizia has helped foster a culture of impunity that allowed the murder to take place in the first place.
How the governments have reacted
Slovakia: Fico has offered a €1 million reward for anyone who comes forward with information on Kuciak’s murder, during a bizarre press conference in which the cash was physically laid out on a table in front of him.
The FBI, Scotland Yard, Europol and other foreign agencies have been enlisted to help Slovak police solve the murder, and Fico said it would be an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech in Slovakia if it can be proven that Kuciak was killed because of his investigative work.
However, he has dismissed calls for political responsibility, arguing opposition leaders “are using the deaths of two young people as a simple political tool to push people into the streets and gain power”.
“Opposition leaders don’t need evidence, because they’re investigators, prosecutors and judges at the same time,” Fico said.
Slovak police arrested seven Italian men who Kuciak had written about, including Troskova’s former business partner, but later released them all.
Malta: Hours after Caruana Galizia’s murder, Joseph Muscat told the world he will “leave no stone unturned” to solve the crime and, like Fico, roped in the expertise of the FBI and other foreign agencies.
Also like Fico, Muscat offered a €1 million reward to anyone with information on the murder, which Caruana Galizia’s family refused to endorse.
Police arrested ten suspects and prosecuted three of them – career criminals who Caruana Galizia had never written about. Although the police’s evidence against the three men seems conclusive, the identity of the person or people who ordered the hit remains a complete mystery.
Although Muscat has been more diplomatic than Fico in handling critics in the wake of the killing, the upshot of it has been the same – zero political responsibility has been shouldered. When referred to the Slovak culture minister’s resignation rationale, Muscat said the Maltese government will show accountability by finding whoever ordered Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
How the media has reacted
Slovakia: Toda said the Slovak press will, as of tomorrow, join forces to investigate Kuciak’s stories.
“This sort of cooperation is great, and I see Kuciak’s murder as a new era for Slovakia – comparable to the birth of the country itself a hundred years ago. Nothing will be the same anymore.”
Kuciak’s murder has shone an international spotlight on the Slovak press, with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demanding Fico apologise for having referred to journalists as “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes” after they questioned him about the cost of Slovakia’s EU presidency logo two years ago.
Malta: A week after Caruana Galizia’s murder, journalists from all media houses joined forces in a protest to claim “the pen conquers fear”.
Just as in Slovakia, the RSF is using Caruana Galizia’s murder to pressure the Maltese authorities to improve its press legislation.
How the public has reacted
Anti-corruption protests in Slovakia (left) and Malta (right)
Slovakia: The country’s president led 10,000 people in anti-corruption street protests in Bratislava, while thousands more gathered in other cities. Although the organisers didn’t want the protest to be a political one, several protestors brought along critical placards – including pictures of a bloody Fico and others of a topless Maria Troskova. A couple hundred protestors gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office to protest even after the demonstration had finished.
Malta: Thousands of people took to the streets of Valletta to protest the declining state of the rule of law in the wake of Caruana Galizia’s murder. Other smaller actions have taken place since then – including pelting the police headquarters with tomatoes, camping outside the Prime Minister’s office, and flashing projections on Parliament and Castille.