On the 9th of March, Slovakia witnessed its biggest protest since the communism-ousting Velvet Revolution of 1989. Tens of thousands, the Guardian reports, assembled in the Slovak National Uprising Square to attempt to pressure Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government into resignation. The country is in an uproar after the murders of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kušnírová.
The two 27-year-olds were killed in their house east of Bratislava. The murders are suspected to be in retaliation to Kuciak’s investigative reporting about the Slovakian mob and their affiliation with the government. Kuciak’s reporting, which was published posthumously, details the activities and connections of the Italian Mafia, or the “goblins,” as referred to by Kuciak, to the Slovakian government.
Kuciak was murdered late February, but the idea of a silenced reporter, fatally so, isn’t that surprising of a statistic, and it certainly isn’t exclusive to plot lines of crime dramas. The Reporters Without Borders organization reports 65 killed journalists in 2017. The organization also states 1035 reporters have been killed in the last 15 years. A number that disturbs me doubly; one for the amount of reverence I’ve placed on such a heroic profession; and two for the fear it instills in an aspiring investigative journalist.
Nonetheless, I am in complete admiration of the Slovakian people. A collective voice of fearlessness has transformed the silenced voice of a murdered journalist into a roaring act against government corruption. A roar that I wish would echo into the hearts and minds of all people, especially in the age of populism, far-right politics and fake news.
The Washington Post’s slogan reads: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”A statement that I believe is often discarded as a banality or relegated into commonplace as something trivial, unnecessary. The idea of a bold, boundless gatekeeper to democracy pushed to the sidelines until the shadows that consume it becomes normal is absolutely terrifying. I admit, I’m taking the murder of Kuciak to heart, to my heart of hearts even, as I can’t possibly imagine any progression to any society when the voice of a people is shut down.
Then again, as the uplifting solidarity of this Slovakian rage has allowed, hope remains intact. Sometimes I think my desperate need to believe in the institutions of journalism is some primitive coping mechanism that will allow me to do a good job or have my work ethics untouched by social or governmental opposition to a free press. However, in moments like these, where melodrama is king, I find the actions of the Slovakian people a greatly needed agent of optimism.
Don’t misunderstand me, there is much to be cynical about and if journalism has done one thing in my life it’s has increased my already sky-high cynicism. Yet, to dismiss moments like these, to abandon the encouraging stimulus of an enraged people on behalf of their fallen journalist, would be to abandon change itself.
I’ve expressed before in my previous article that a free press is the backbone of a successful democracy and the front-line of sustaining such democracy. I think what we see here in Slovakia is the country’s immune system doing what it does best: eradicating a virus and cleansing the body. The nation gathers to place flowers in remembrance of a fallen hero and his fiancee tragically murdered by corrupt power, but what I see is the assemblage of white blood cells in an effort to remind the body of who’s in charge. It is reminding the nation, its government and its prime minister that democracy lives on through unity.
As for the mob, it committed a serious crime. What it also committed was an act of severe stupidity. By going after this courageous journalist, the mob has put itself in the eye of the public that believes they did it, evidence or not. The protesting and the rallying reflects a public opinion that has already chosen the verdict. They believe that the prime minister, as alleged in Kuciak’s investigation, is connected to the mafia. So the sentencing that the public is seeking is a governmental cleansing that would rid Slovakia of organized crime in state-run positions of power.
Now imagine if that was the case in Mexico, a country which reached a historical high in dead journalists last year. Better yet, imagine if that form of public opinion, one that relentlessly protects its journalists, was present in countries suffering from censorship.
I’m from the Middle East, a region rife with various forms of censorship. I’m not completely dissenting but my frustration is simple: no free press yields no checks and balances, in return power goes uncontrolled, and corruption eventually reigns supreme. With a few teaspoons of oppression of course.
I wish this wild wind blowing in Slovakia would gust its way across the world. Is that too much to ask for? A globe where every nation is confident enough to be constantly fearless of their governments, a world where power is incorruptible. Is that too much?
Photo Credit: Associated Press.