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Slovaks Take To The Streets After Prime Minister's Resignation

People flash the lights of their mobile phones as they celebrate the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico and his government as a way out of the political crisis triggered by the killings of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnírová, during a rally in Bratislava, Slovakia on Friday.
Darko Vojinovic

The recent resignation of Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico and his government is not easing public anger in the Central European country, where tens of thousands of protesters thronged streets in the capital Bratislava and dozens of other towns on Friday.

They were protesting last month's murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak, who had been reporting on political corruption. He and his fiancée, Martina Kusnírová, an archaeologist, were shot dead in their bungalow in a small village in Slovakia's countryside.

The demonstrators chanted "Enough with Smer," which is the ruling party and translates to "Direction." The protesters are demanding new elections and for Kuciak and Kusnírová's murderers to be found and arrested. It was the third wave of mass protests across Slovakia in recent weeks, which have been the largest since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 that brought down communism in what was then Czechoslovakia.

One protester in Bratislava was lawyer Zuzana Juríková, 33, who denounced Thursday's resignation as nothing more than a show, given Fico is still the head of his party and the incoming prime minister is a trusted deputy.

"The big theater, we want to end it," she said. "The same, leading party is over there in the parliament, so nothing changed, only some men [in] the posts."

Another protester was Ján Orlovský, who heads Slovakia's Open Society Foundations. "We have lots of these skeletons in the closet, which we need to address and one of the skeletons is corruption," he said, adding that because it's deeply ingrained in society, Slovaks tend to put up with it.

But the murders "really shook us to the bones," Orlovský said. "It's not just, you know, a little money here, a little money there. You can actually die."

Fico and his party had campaigned in part on eliminating corruption, but critics say no one of import has ever been convicted. In his last story that was published worldwide after his death, Kuciak accused some Fico associates of having ties to Italian organized crime, a link which the former prime minister and his allies vehemently deny.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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