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After Kuciak murder, Slovak media under threat

Keno Verseck
May 1, 2018

Journalist Arpad Soltesz says press freedom in Slovakia is on a downward spiral after the killing of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak. He spoke to DW about his concerns, and told his own story of being attacked.

Demonstrators attend a protest called "Let's stand for decency in Slovakia"
Image: Reuters/R. Stoklasa

DW: Two months ago, investigate journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, were murdered. Their killings shocked Slovakia. What was your reaction when you heard about it at the time, and how do you see the situation in the country now?

Arpad Soltesz: In the first few hours, I was incredibly shocked, then I felt a great sadness and anger. I personally am not afraid, but I worry about this country. I fear this murder will never be solved because there is a strong political will not to investigate it. While it looks like the political elites really do not know who murdered Jan, it seems that the perpetrators are so big and powerful that they would all be dragged down if the case were solved. It is clear that the murder is linked to Jan's work. I recently wrote an opinion piece titled "Jan Is Dead, the Powerful Rule on, We Get Used to It."

Robert Fico, who resigned as prime minister in March in the wake of  Kuciak's murder, recently made disparaging comments about journalists, as he has in previous years. Has doing so now become acceptable again, two months after the killings?

Yes. We can see that Fico is taking the course of Hungary, of Viktor Orban. In Hungary and Poland, the first steps were always to silence the media. Two months ago, it seemed unimaginable that a journalist would be murdered. Then it happened. It could be that more murders will follow and the public will slowly get used to it, and that journalists' being killed will become a means of solving a problem for those that can afford it, like in Russia.

Read more: World Press Freedom Index 2018: Europe turning into crisis region for journalists

Arpad Soltesz
Journalist Arpad SolteszImage: TV Joj

It does not necessarily have to be a journalist. Maybe it will be a judge or a prosecutor. It could also be a model for other countries, for Poland or Hungary.

I think there they heard about the Kuciak murder and, in a way, it was like breaking down a psychological barrier. Something that was unimaginable today is within the realm of possibility. It is becoming increasingly difficult to work as a journalist in Central Europe.

In 1998 you were violently attacked and hospitalized because of a story you were researching

Yes. It was about the privatization of a meat factory in the eastern Slovak city of Presov. One evening I was with family at a restaurant in the city of Kosice. At one point, I got up and went to the bathroom. Shortly thereafter, someone came in and beat me terribly without saying a word. He broke a few of my ribs and left me half-unconscious lying on the floor, then he left the bathroom and was completely silent. It was absolutely a professional job. 

Immediately after Kuciak's murder, leading media figures in Slovakia got together and formed a group with the aim of continuing the investigative journalism that he was pursuing. You belong to this group as well. How successful have you been thus far?

We have taken on and seen through many of the issues that Jan was dealing with. He left behind very systematic notes. In some cases this has also led to new leads that we are continuing to pursue. At the beginning, we were publishing almost daily. Now the tempo has slowed down, in part because the public cannot process a new affair every single day. After all, our work only makes sense if it is reflected by the public.

Read more: Has the EU looked the other way in Slovakia for too long?

Do you see a future for yourself as a journalist in Slovakia?

As a journalist you are always more successful if the circumstances are not so good and you are critical of them and you reveal things. However, there are also limits to that. As long as we are still a democracy and remain in the European Union, I will continue the fight. But if there was an authoritarian regime here, then it would no longer make sense, you could no longer work as a journalist here. That's because your work would be forbidden, and you can't work as a journalist from prison. I think it is possible that could happen. It is not inevitable, but it's possible.

Arpad Soltesz, 48, rose to prominence in Slovakia as an investigative journalist during the 1990s. Because of the anti-communist views of his father, he was not allowed to study while growing up under a dictatorship, and instead had to work as a mechanic. After the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989, he studied German and then journalism. In recent years, Soltesz has worked predominately as a political commentator for broadcaster TV JOJ.

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