BRATISLAVA: Thousands are expected to gather at rallies across Slovakia on Thursday to mark the anniversary of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak.
Mr Kuciak and his fiancée were shot in a targeted killing, the first involving a journalist in Slovak history.
He had been investigating alleged corruption linked to Italian organised crime – a story which would, after his death, bring down the government.
One year later, the question of who ordered the killing remains.
Four people – three men and a woman – are in custody for the murder of Mr Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, both aged 27 at the time.
The Slovak authorities, who refer to the suspects by initials only, say three of them are accused of first-degree murder.
But the prosecutor is still working on the case, and there is no date set yet for a trial.
No fear of danger
The Slovak media, who name the suspects in full, have described their alleged roles in detail: who watched the couple’s home in the small town of Velka Maca; who drove the Citroen Berlingo car; who fired the Luger 9mm that killed them, first Kusnirova with a single bullet to the temple, then Kuciak with two rounds to the chest.
“Two days before Jan’s murder, I sent him a text asking if he felt in danger and offering to hide him,” said Peter Bardy, editor-in-chief of aktuality.sk, the news outlet which employed Kuciak as an investigative reporter.
“He texted back to say no, he didn’t have this problem. And two days afterwards he was killed,” Bardy said.
“Every day I still wonder about that conversation.”
One year on, there is still a small shrine to Jan and Martina on the ground floor of the non-descript high-rise building in Bratislava that houses Aktuality’s editorial offices. Three dozen red candles sit on a clean white tablecloth, illuminating framed black and white photographs of the pair.
It’s a reminder that as well as being an event that convulsed Slovak society – Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned after three weeks of mass demonstrations – the deaths were a personal tragedy.
Kuciak was young, idealistic, and well-liked. The pair were due to be married in the spring. Kusnirova, an architect, was buried in her wedding dress.
Ask any journalist, or indeed anybody in Slovakia, and no-one believes that 44-year-old “AZ” – the glamorous Italian-Slovak translator alleged by prosecutors to have paid a former police officer €50,000 to murder Kuciak – is the person who ultimately ordered the killing.
Jan Kuciak wrote about many things – corrupt Slovak businessmen, EU subsidy and VAT fraud, and Calabria’s notorious ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate and its attempts to cultivate ties with Slovak politicians.
But he never wrote about AZ.
‘Guardians of democracy’
Across town, at the journalism faculty of Bratislava’s Comenius University, the first class of the spring semester starts with a minute’s silence for the pair.
The room is full of MA students attending a lecture on investigative journalism.
“Journalists have this immense power to change things,” Alena Markova, a 23-year-old student from the spa town of Piestany, said.
“We are constantly told we are the guardians of democracy in the state. That is something that drives us to be better, to study, to be journalists.”
Most of her fellow students said they planned to attend anniversary rallies planned across the country on Thursday.
None appeared intimidated by Kuciak’s killing.__BBC