European Federation of Journalists

Maja Sever: “Slovak journalists do not allow Ján Kuciak or his work to be forgotten”

Credits: Maja Sever

Five years after the murder of Slovak investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová, EFJ President Maja Sever traveled to Bratislava on 20-21 February 2023 with a delegation of international media freedom organisations. They took an active part in the commemorative events, met with Jan’s and Martina’s relatives, Slovak journalists and state authorities. In this testimony, Maja Sever looks back on these two days with a moving personal account.

On the kitchen table, investigators found cups of tea, coffee and an open laptop on which Martina Kušnirova was looking at wedding dresses.

Her body was found on the kitchen floor, and Jan’s on the stairs leading to the basement. In the movie “The Murder of a Journalist”, the killer explains in cold blood how he first killed him with a bullet in the chest, then eliminated the witness by shooting her in the head.

They were 27 years old and were to get married in May. She was buried in a wedding dress, he in a dark suit.

Five years later, in a mission with international media freedom organisations, we went to Bratislava to express our support to the families of those killed, and to the Slovak journalistic community. Meetings with representatives of journalists, the authorities and the opposition concluded that some social and political changes took place in Slovakia after the murder, but the authorities have yet to take all necessary measures to protect journalists and defend independent media.

Jan’s and Martina’s parents, Jozef and Jana Kuciakova, and Zlatica Kušnírová, followed all the events calmly, with a few tears.

Jan’s parents often hold each other’s hands tightly. Jozef Kuciak says that he was never interested in politics, that they live in a small town and their families were mostly working in agriculture. He was surprised when Jan, or Janko as they call him, said he wanted to become an investigative journalist.

Martina was the first girl he introduced to them. She was his support and strength. In “Murder of a Journalist”, a recording is played by the people who were following them. They are in a supermarket car park in the late afternoon, Martina and Jan are pushing the shopping trolley to the car. A few days before the tragedy, and they are young and happy.

Jan investigated the financial connections between politicians and tycoons in Slovakia. At the time of the murder, he was collecting information on Marián Kočner. After his arrest, information were found in his phone, linking him to many actors in Slovak society, as well as communications with Alena Zsuzsova, who hired people to assassinate Kuciak. Two alleged murderers pleaded guilty and were sentenced. The court acquitted Kočer and Zsuzsova of the murder, explaining that they did not have sufficient evidence, but they were convicted of financial fraud. After the prosecutor’s appeal, a new trial was opened, and the verdict is expected in April.

Jozef, Jana and Zlatica are now waiting, and that is the only thing they can do. The trial and its outcome is the only hope they have left. After the murder of their children, prime ministers, ministers, police chiefs have left power, many people were arrested, one can say that changes have taken place in Slovak society, but is it true?

The Ján Kuciak Research Centre (ICJK) presented the results of a research that shows that more than two thirds of Slovak journalists have experienced an attack or threat in the past year. In the survey, it is stated that there are more and more such attacks, mainly verbal, both in person and on the Internet. The ICJK has launched the Safe Journalism project, which aims to monitor and prevent attacks on journalists and help victims.

On the anniversary of the murder, the former prime minister, still a politician who will probably run in the early elections, continues to spread hatred towards journalists on Facebook. However, journalists do not allow Jan or his work to be forgotten. Kuciak’s researches were published posthumously, consolidated in the book Kuciak. Journalists continued his research that showed the intertwining of politics, corrupt businessmen and organized crime groups.

Yesterday, they gathered in the center of Bratislava, with parents holding hands tightly as they await justice for the murder of their children.

By Maja Sever