It’s been over three years since the murders of young investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová sparked shock and anger in Slovakia and beyond. No one expected that a journalist could be murdered for his work in the heart of Europe.
But also no one, especially not the alleged masterminds and murderers, foresaw the public outrage and the solidary response of Ján’s colleagues.
Much has changed in Slovakia since the murder of Ján and Martina. The biggest protests since 1989 brought down the powerful prime minister Robert Fico and triggered the creation of a special law enforcement team hunting the killers. The pressure of the streets pushed the police to become more courageous in investigating political crimes. And it put the fight against anti-corruption on top of the agenda in the 2020 parliamentary elections.
Now, those who had long held power lost it. The path leading to rigorous investigations and prosecutions that Slovakian journalists had been working towards for many years finally opened up, shaking those who had once thought themselves untouchable to their very core.
Another remarkable change was in fact a great dream of Ján’s: investigative journalists from competing media outlets have been joining forces, working alongside one another under the umbrella of an investigative center that bears Ján’s name.
Cooperation keeps us safe. Publishing explosive stories on powerful oligarchs collaboratively in all media at once makes us journalists a dispersed target. Besides, more hands and minds working together speeds up our work and allows us to expose more complicated criminal structures. And finally, covering each other’s backs also helps us to overcome our dark thoughts about the dangers of our profession.
Silence kills. Journalists are not superhumans, and we were deeply shaken by the murders. But the public support at home and the solidarity from abroad helped us to avoid paralysis in the face of fear. It helps us all, journalists and ordinary citizens alike, when people speak up to defend press freedom and advocate for the protection of journalists.
Especially at a time when trust in media is declining and irresponsible political actors keep attacking us, we need the support of society to be heard loud and clear.
Let us not forget Ján and Martina’s sad story: in the beginning, there were verbal attacks, and in the end, two young lives were lost and their families harmed beyond repair.