AN INVESTIGATIVE journalist in eastern Slovakia is wondering which of her stories led someone to set her house on fire.
Naďa Šindlerová of the Slovak weekly Plus Sedem Dní was home on August 28 when the lower part of the facade of her house was soaked with gasoline and set on fire.
She doubts the fire was set for personal reasons, because she has no personal disputes, she told The Slovak Spectator.
As a journalist, Šindlerová has reported in depth on cases involving the Košice underworld, and she has recently been covering stories involving the bankrupt pyramid scheme companies Horizont Slovakia and BMG-Invest.
"Yes, strange things do happen in these cases, but so far I have neither enough evidence nor enough information to say precisely which of my articles was the reason for burning down my house," she said. "Police asked me to give them all my articles written in last five months, and told me they would analyse them."
A soon as she noticed the fire at her house, in the village of Bohdanovce near Košice, Šindlerová leaned out the window and saw a convertible with two men inside drive away, she said.
She called the police right away, but to her surprise, they didn't start searching for the convertible until the next morning, she said.
So far, police have not found the culprit.
The day after the fire, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák called the journalist and offered her protection. This gesture was well-received by the Syndicate of Slovak Journalists and by Miloš Luknár, the editor-in-chief of Plus Sedem Dní.
He thinks the attack on Šindlerová's house can be blamed on the Košice underworld, he said.
"We live here in Bratislava, and maybe we have no idea what the conditions are like in the east," he said. "Probably the underworld there has the impression it can dare to do much more than it would somewhere else."
Šindlerová has also covered issues related to the pyramid scheme cases in depth. She wrote about the frauds committed by the owners of these institutions, but also about the behaviour of prosecutors connected to the cases.
For example, she wrote about possible mistakes made in handling the company owners' property, which was expropriated by the state after they were convicted.
She also reported on one company owner, František Matik, who has been on the run for some time. According to her information, Matik disappeared from the Interior Ministry's list of wanted persons. His name re-appeared after the Special Court intervened.
The Syndicate of Slovak Journalists (SSN) expressed grave concerns over the arson.
"It was clearly an effort to intimidate her, and to dissuade other journalists from uncovering wrongdoing and searching for the truth," a statement from the SSN reads. "We see it as a bad sign about the state of society."
To ensure better protection for journalists, the SSN plans to propose a law that would classify an attack related to the professional activities of a journalist as an attack on a public officer.
According to Luknár, the statements of current top political officials have also contributed to the negative atmosphere surrounding journalists.
"Of course, I would never dare to make a direct connection between a political declaration of disapproval about journalists' work and setting a journalist's house on fire," he said. "But in the empty heads of Mafia bosses, the idea may be born that if top representatives criticise journalists, if journalists have become the enemy of society as a whole, then they can make them sweat a bit, too."
Prime Minister Robert Fico has been regularly speaking against journalists for some time. His latest comments came one day after Šindlerová's house was set on fire, during celebrations marking the Slovak National Uprising anniversary in Banská Bystrica.
"The attacks of media gossips, who can neither identify with the fate of their homeland nor find the state identity, make them like spiritually homeless people," he said. "We can accept criticism as the method for improving mistakes that the government and state make from time to time. But we can also distinguish methods of deliberate destruction."
Newspaper's journalists get many threats
During the reign of Vladimír Mečiar from 1994 to 1998, there were frequent attacks on journalists from political officials and unknown offenders.
In March 1994, a disorderly crowd in the Primaciálne Square in Bratislava attacked staff from Radio Free Europe and a reporter from the Twist private radio station. Later, reporter Peter Tóth was beaten in the street, and one year later, his car was set on fire and burnt to a cinder. The car of Eugen Korda, then a reporter with the private Czech TV channel Nova, was also set on fire.
But according to Luknár, the situation is different today than it was in the 1990s, even though the underworld may not have changed much. The common thing is that the perpetrators of the earlier brutal attacks were never found, and the attack on Šindlerová's house will probably never be solved either, as such crimes are very hard to investigate, he said.
He added that the staff of Plus Sedem Dní get threats regularly, but so far they have not amounted to such a brutal act.
"This is the first time. And I think this is a huge warning for society that if it does not wake up, the brutality will just grow further," he told The Slovak Spectator.
Šindlerová is aware that in Slovakia, journalists are poorly protected against such attacks, she said. But she intends to continue her journalistic work.
"I am a journalist, and I want to be a journalist," she said.
3. Sep 2007 at 0:00 | Ľuba Lesná