Sitting in the Klub pod lampou cafe in Bratislava, Juraj Šeliga, 28, recalls the moment he learnt about the tragic events of February 21, 2018 that led him to organise the biggest protests Slovakia had seen since the Velvet Revolution.
“I woke up at six a.m. that day and about an hour later I got a news alert on my phone,” he says. “It said a journalist and his fiancée had been murdered.”
The murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, in their home in Veľká Mača, about 50 kilometres east of Bratislava, changed the lives of many Slovaks. Šeliga was one of them.
Between sips of coffee in the café whose walls are decorated with pictures of the massive protests he helped to bring about, he tells how, shocked by the news, he paced around his flat that morning, but had no idea of how his life was about to change.
He went to his work at the time, at the NGO Via Iuris where he and other lawyers were working on a project to explain the workings and importance of Constitutional Court judges to the public. But the murders were all they talked about.
He got in touch with a friend and former colleague, Veronika Bruncková, and they agreed they would light the candles in public in memory of the murdered couple. They picked a place in the heart of Bratislava – the Square of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) – and lit the candles beneath a memorial plaque to the Velvet Revolution.
This was no coincidence: the Communist regime had supressed freedom of speech and now a journalist had been silenced. Then-police corps president, Tibor Gašpar, said that the most likely motive for the murder appeared to be Kuciak’s investigative journalism work.
Kuciak’s last, unfinished, story was about links between the Italian ‘Ndrangheta mafia operating in eastern Slovakia and their links to staff at the Government Office.
The pair went on Facebook and created an event that immediately spread like wildfire online. Some people were already lighting candles in front of the Aktuality.sk newsroom where Ján Kuciak worked. Šeliga bought about 300 candles to give away. “They were gone in seconds,” he recalls.
About 500 people came to the event, but Šeliga explains that the number was not important.
“It was important to us to highlight that what had happened was a disgusting outrage as well as a tragedy. We had to do something.”
For a Decent Slovakia was born
Then he met Karolína Farská, a high-school student, who had organised a series of anti-corruption marches in 2017. They started talking and then began preparing for what would be the first meeting in Bratislava to commemorate Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová on March 2.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Bratislava and other Slovak cities. Slovaks living abroad also got involved, organising smaller gatherings in cities around the world.
“We were totally shocked by how many people came. After the protest, we sat down together, drank beer and talked about how well it went,” Šeliga says.
The meeting was on a Friday and on Sunday, March 4, Slovak President Andrej Kiska and then-Prime Minister Robert Fico gave separate television addresses. The group watched them together.Read also:Read more
President Kiska suggested a new government be formed or parliamentary elections be held. Fico’s reaction shocked Šeliga and his friends.
“We were amazed. Fico started going on about [Kiska’s] speech not being written in Slovakia,” he says. Fico suggested that Kiska’s speech had been written by someone abroad who was working to undermine Fico and his government.
Šeliga and the other protest organisers had a long discussion about what they should do next or whether they should do anything at all. It was a long and hard night which ended with the For a Decent Slovakia initiative being born.
15. Apr 2019 at 15:18 | Nina Hrabovská Francelová