Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Slovakia demanding the fall of prime minister Robert Fico.
Protests took place in 41 cities and towns across the eastern European country last Friday. Some 50,000 people marched in the capital Bratislava and 20,000 joined the protest in the second largest city Kosice.
They follow the murders of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova in their flat in Bratislava last month. He was writing about how the Italian mafia had profited from European Union (EU) funds because of their links with Slovak politicians.
Fico’s right hand man, interior minister Robert Kalinak, was tipped to resign on Monday amid allegations that he had also grabbed £200 million in EU funds. It will add to the sense of crisis after two resignations from the prime minister’s office last month.
Deep anger at politicians is fuelling the protests, which have were organised by nine liberal journalists and political figures. Their main demands include a “new trustworthy government” and a full investigation with international observers.
Antonino Vadala, Bruno Vadala, and Pietro Catroppa, who have business interests in Slovakia, were arrested on 1 March. They have a background in the ‘Ndrangheta mafia group in Calabria in the south of Italy and links to the Slovak government.
Vadala’s former business partner Maria Troskova was forced to resign from her post as chief aide at the prime minister’s office. Troskova was previously chief aide to Social Democratic MP Viliam Jasan.
Right wing opposition parties have jumped on the protests as an opportunity to oust Fico and try to push through free market reforms. They paint corruption as a legacy of Stalinism that’s continued under “illiberal” politicians.
That’s also reflected in the organisers’ official slogan—“For a respectable Slovakia”—and their backgrounds in free market newspapers and think tanks.
Yet Vadala was praised by the right wing coalitions that ruled Slovakia in the 2000s and pushed free market policies.
That’s because corruption is not an aberration of capitalism, but the logical conclusion of competition between rival capitalist states and bosses. And Italian capital has been a major investor into Slovakia since the 1990s.
The demonstrations are the biggest since the overthrow of the Stalinist dictatorship in 1989. Protesters jangled their keys like in 1989—a message to their rulers that it was time to hand over the keys to power.
The parallels are apt for former Stalinist bureaucrat Fico.
He said the 1989 Velvet Revolution passed him by because he was “too busy” working in the Ministry of Justice.
He’s finding it harder for the protests to pass him by now.
But, if people’s hopes for change aren’t to be disappointed like in 1989, it will require looking to neither the market nor the old order.
The right wing opposition, both Christian Democrats and free market liberals, offer no real solution to corruption in Slovakia.