Who wants to silence democracy? Another journalist killed in the EU
The murder of a Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová has shaken the political and public debate in Slovakia and across Europe. The couple was found shot dead in their home close to Bratislava in what looked like a mafia-style execution. The motive of the homicide was most likely Kuciak´s investigative work. He has been working in the investigative section for an online news outlet Aktuality.sk and was covering topics like corruption, tax frauds or Panama papers. In his latest article, which he was unable to finish, he uncovers the connection of Italian mafia group ´Ndrangheta to some people close to Prime Minister Fico’s office. In a show of solidarity, Slovak media jointly published his last story, the English translation can be found here.
#Slovakia: We call on the authorities to bring those responsible for the killings of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova to justice, and to put in place all necessary measures to protect all journalists in Slovakia- UN human rights experts https://t.co/BYScHeHCKJ pic.twitter.com/oVWg06XnnK
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) March 5, 2018
The murder immersed Slovakia into a political crisis. The situation might lead to early elections or demise of some high-ranking governmental representatives. It has mobilized Slovaks across the whole Europe, many of whom went into the streets marching for the memory of the two victims and calling for political change. The European Parliament expressed shock over the murder, describing it “an unacceptable attack on the freedom of the press, which is the founding value of our democracy.” This is the second case of a murder of an investigative journalist in Europe over the last six months. The first being an assassination of a Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galicia.
Italian elections raise uneasiness
On March 4, parliamentary elections took place in Italy. A new hybrid electoral system used for the first time and a high number of undecided voters made it hard to predict the outcome. The centre-right coalition of the Northern League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia won the highest percentage of votes, followed by the Five Stars Movement (M5S). The centre-left coalition, led by the ruling Democratic Party, suffered a significant loss of support and will most likely end up in opposition.
Neither coalition will be able to form a government alone, therefore, they will have to negotiate with the populist M5S. M5S, nevertheless, previously declared it is not willing to join a governmental coalition. If they keep their promise, Italy may end up with a minority government of the centre-right coalition, with the Northern League’s chairman Matteo Salvini as a Prime Minister. The negotiations about the government coalition are expected to be long and exhaustive.
With most of the votes from Italy’s general election counted, it is clear that populism has won https://t.co/BaTG5k0OdH
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) March 5, 2018
Although the M5S no longer wants to leave the European Union, they still want to re-negotiate the “unfair” treaties with the EU. But they are not alone, the Northern League also builds its support on Euroscepticism and anti-immigration sentiments. This means, apart from the several weeks of uncertainty, that we can expect deterioration of the relations between the EU and Italy.
U.N. Ceasefire in Syria
On February 24, the United Nations Security Council imposed a 30-day ceasefire in Syria with the Resolution 2401 (2018). Even though the ceasefire applies to all the parties in Syria, Turkey has refused to halt its offensive in the northwest of the country, arguing that military operations against terrorist groups are exempt from the ceasefire. However, the Kurdish YPG militias, who are the target of Turkey’s offensive in Afrin, are not recognised as terrorists by the Security Council. Turkey refuses to accept what it calls double standards, Turkey’s allies in NATO, meanwhile, recommend them to go back and read the text of the resolution again.
"We took the difficult decision to pull our forces out of Deir Ezzor province and battlefronts against Daesh (IS) to head to the battle of Afrin in order to confront the Turkish aggression" pic.twitter.com/28gHE9CwMf
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 6, 2018
The Kurds in Afrin are pressed from all sides by Turkey, the Syrian government, and various rebel groups. Now that Turkey struck out against them, they can hardly hope to receive any more material aid from the U.S. As for Washington, it seems that either the ceasefire, that Turkey ignores, was their attempt to find a solution or that they are content to let the Kurds fend for themselves.
Ukraine beyond the headlines
Ukraine has seen a tumultuous couple of weeks. Another attempt at a ceasefire, signed on March 5, has reportedly been violated almost immediately. The conflict has been in place since 2014 and has claimed more than 10,000 victims. But the U.S. has recently stepped up their game in Ukraine too when the Trump administration announced their plan to provide lethal aid to Ukraine in the form of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles. While this decision was made already in December, the final push, it seems, came from Russia. The American announcement was made on the same day that president Putin has boasted his “new generation nuclear weapons” which, as the story goes, cannot be intercepted. This signals further cooling down of the relationship between the two superpowers.
— Defense News (@defense_news) March 1, 2018
But Ukraine is facing other issues. The Russian company Gazprom has announced they would not restart gas flow to Ukraine, throwing Ukraine into a short-term crisis. This came as a result of a long-standing legal battle between Gazprom and Ukrainian company Naftogaz. In its findings, a Stockholm arbitration court ordered the Kremlin-controlled firm to pay €2.08 billion in compensations to Naftogaz. Fortunately, the situation has not been tragic, despite the cold weather, and on March 7 the end of the crisis has been announced. Ukraine has resolved the problem by ramping up imports from its neighbours, primarily Poland’s company PGNiG, but also Slovakia and Hungary.
— Naftogaz of Ukraine (@NaftogazUkraine) March 5, 2018
Image source: President of Russia CC BY (4.0)
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.