By Edward Steen, Secretary-General in Bratislava, March 8, 2023
We sit waiting for her in what must be one of the brightest, most modern shopping centres in Central Europe. It’s the eve of Women’s Day. Then Marta appears, a young woman in a red dress, a familiar face here as moderator of a TV political chat show.
Miss Jančkárová is elegant and composed, but evidently shaken by the threats of gang rape, eliminating her family etc., threats mostly too obscene to quote, her employer the state TV RTVS station told the police. Her offence: to refuse to include in her show an uninvited Russophile politician who demanded to be included (as reported here last week).
The Slovak police are investigating and have given her police protection.
Perhaps not enough, given the murder in 2018 of 27-year-old Ján Kuciak, who was gunned down along with Kuciak’s fiancée Martina Kusnirova. The eventual trial of the contract killer led to anti-corruption protests. These in turn brought down the government of veteran prime minister Robert Fico and charges against a prominent businessman with pals in the security services, judicial system, and politics.
We study the menu in the yuppyish restaurant. Marta has strawberries with chocolate sauce. Our team is led by the International President Saia Tsouasidou and Tibor Macak, my predecessor, now AEJ vice-president, SG of the AEJ’s Slovak Section and himself another well-known TV face here as Berlin correspondent for RTVS Radio and Television.
The Kuciak case was a test of Slovakia’s judicial and political system. What about this? Now? A stone’s throw from here in the smart Aupark shopping centre? An hour away from Vienna?
The trolling and threats followed the exclusion of an uninvited Russophile, anti-vax campaigner and spreader of disinformation Ľuboš Blaha, prominent member of the national-populist party Direction – Slovak Social Democracy. Already a perpetrator of online abuse of two woman journalists, he tried and failed to break into Marta’s chat-show.
So far no-one has been arrested. Every night, she says, she has a long drive to look after her father. She is often exhausted by reporting on news of the war in Ukraine, as are her colleagues:. “It is not quite easy. I must admit that we spend much more time at work. It mainly affects sleep, and everyone has to find a moment to relax. In my case, it’s a daily walk in nature together with the dog,”
The lessons are clear enough, here in this bright shopping centre near the Danube, if 1989 is to mean anything it should be not just western brand-names but the rule of law, with it the freedom of journalists (and everyone else) to do their work safely, and decent respect for political dialogue.
Death threats against a TV moderator suggest there is some way to go, here in Central Europe, so close to Vienna, long after the “Velvet Divorce” from the Czechs, to wipe away the last traces of “Real Existing Socialism” 35 years on, the System has somehow left its poison even among people who were not alive to experience its real existing brutal stupidity and intolerance.
- Update March 8, 2023: a 73-year-old man with a gun, from a village near Marta’s, turned out to be one of her online tormentors. Police arrested him but he is now back in the wild.
- March 03, 2023 AEJ report on death threats
- International Women’s Day