The Murder of Ján Kuciak and the Disinformation Narratives that Accompanied His Killing

On 21st February 2018, the Slovak investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancé Martina Kušnírová were murdered in their home. According to information provided by the public prosecutor on  26th March the murder bore the hallmarks of an assassination or execution.  Kuciak was killed by two bullets to his heart, his fiancé shot in the head. Police investigators are currently working with several possible motives for the murders.

Information about the investigation and possible scenarios have not yet been officially disclosed by Slovak public authorities. The wider public and Kuciak’s colleagues assume that he and his fiancé were murdered due to his investigative work. This theory was voiced by the former President of the Slovak police, Tibor Gašpar, who  declared at a  press conference on 28th February  that “the most likely motif of the killing, is that it is related to the investigative activities of the journalist”. The same message was expressed in the President of the Slovak Republic Andrej Kiska’s  report on the state of the republic delivered to  Members of the Slovak National Council on 13th June.

The apparent execution style of both murders suggests that they were related to Kuciak’s investigative work aimed at uncovering business and corruption ties between top politicians and members of the Italian mafia. Irrespective of the motive, the killings caused public outrage and large demonstrations across Slovakia. In the days and weeks that followed peaceful protesters regularly gathered to express concerns over the findings uncovered by Kuciak’s last article, which he did not get to finish. The Slovak public was also shocked that a journalist writing about corruption could be murdered for his work and called for a just and independent investigation.

Slovaks living abroad, fellow journalists and members of European Parliament joined the protests with commemoration of Jan and Martina’s lives through the hashtag #AllforJan. However, a unique point of view on the situation and explanation of the murders was provided by disinformation outlets in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

February 26

On 26th February the online disinformation portal Hlavné správy (Main News) published an article “Assassination of the journalist of Aktuality portal: Police consider his journalistic work as the most likely motif” (Úkladná vražda novinára Aktualít: Polícia považuje za najpravdepodobnejší motív jeho novinársku činnosť) by an unknown author who claimed that the “unified reaction of the representatives of the opposition, who proclaimed the government to be responsible for the murders due to its attacks against mainstream media, indicates that the murders fit the theory of sacral sacrifice. The murders were supposedly conducted to convince the public that the mainstream media are not under the thumb of the former Minister of Justice and Interior, Daniel Lipšic, but rather are overviewing the work of the government and that their work is life-threatening.” The author also claimed that “other examples of sacral sacrifice were the murders of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, which purpose was to cause rebellion against the ruling power.”

 

Over 1450 readers voiced their opinions and participated in a debate under the article. The article was also highly shared on Facebook as well as on social platform VKontakte. 

February 27

A similar narrative was pursued by an article in the Czech disinformation outlet Aeronet.cz.

Writing under acronym “the headman of carousel”, the author contemplates several issues and narratives regarding Jan Kuciak, his work and murder. These include:

  • It is suspicious that a 27 years-old journalist had already written 138 investigative articles
  • Kuciak was supposedly fed sensitive information for his stories from well-connected people. His death was planned in advance to be purposefully interpreted and labelled as a murder for political reasons.
  • The killings resemble the murders of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, which were staged to point out the perpetrators ordering the hit.
  • The assassinations and consequent protests follow the Euromaidan script.
  • Jan Kuciak was sacrificed for the sake of a “bigger thing”.
  • Jan’s youthful appearance and murder make him a perfect martyr for a Soros’ group.
  • The order came from the other side of the Atlantic. The whole NGO sector in Slovakia has been infiltrated by the current US administration and George Soros’ people. Jan Kuciak was sacrificed, because he did not have a family. His murder was supposed to cause an outbreak of riots and demonstrations against the government.

February 28

The administrator of Kotleba – Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko – Bratislavský kraj (the Facebook page of the far right extremist political party Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia – Bratislava region) offered a different perspective on the reasons behind the double killing. In response to a question on the stance of party representatives concerning the murders, the administrator declared that the death of Ján Kuciak was “basically an assassination of an international criminal, who rummaged through personal information, emails and personal bank accounts that are protected by the law. You have to understand, Kuciak was just a Soros’ patsy (sponsored from his) disturbing funds”.

The administrator also declared that there is a video which proves that Kuciak was “introduced to public to serve the CIA’s information network.” This was eventually followed by the comment that “if calling the things by rightful name is bad, then he/she does not know… hearing the truth can be difficult. These sacral sacrifices will serve the purpose of Euro-centrists who will use the killing to strengthen the power of Brussels and the Brussels’ institutions will take over the investigation.”

This Facebook page has now been suspended. Since then, a member of a the “Slovak Parliament for Milan Uhrík” group (Mr Uhrik is a member of the same far right extremist party) wrote on his Facebook page that “this is just a bullshit somewhere from Facebook and not an official declaration of the People’s Party Our Slovakia”. The posts and responses of party representatives were documented by the Slovak blogger Ján Benčík.

March 3

Disinformation outlets have also expanded upon expert claims that Kuciak’s murder was meant to destabilise the Slovak state. According to What kind of game are we playing in the “Kuciak game”? (Čo sa hrá v hre Kuciak?) published by Hlavné správy on March 3rd “we need to look at the picture from the above, from the geopolitical point of view.” In the Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – as well as Austria, an “anti-Brussels, anti-Muslim and anti-liberal movement had grown, and this is a problem for the European Union and Western elites. The destruction of the cooperation and unity of the Visegrad countries is for some very important, and they do not object to even bear human sacrifices.” The author claims that “the goal is to replace the government by people who have similar opinions as President Kiska has. The power-driven opposition is (supposedly) sending people into the streets and Soros-controlled mainstream media are supporting this narrative.”

March 4

The Czech disinformation outlet Aeronet published a story that offered various narratives and stipulations regarding the life and death of Ján Kuciak. Once again, the article stressed that “the murdered journalist certainly did not use information only from public sources” and this is a “hoax and disinformation of the Slovak mainstream” media. The author then elaborated that three unfinished cups were found at the scene prompting speculation as to who could have been the third person in the house. The mother of Martina Kušnírová declared that while the couple was drinking coffee from two cups, the third cup was her daughter’s tea. This information obviously did not reach the author, who suggested that the third cup of coffee indicates that the young couple knew their killer. From there, the author contemplated whether the bodies were tested for the presence of drugs, because Kuciak and Kušnírová were both young, and young people often use drugs. It was also claimed that drugs are common and widespread among journalists, singers, actors, authors and other people with creative bohemian professions. That’s why the couples’ death at the hands of drug a dealer should not be discounted.

March 6

The author of Earth and Age’s (Zem a Vek) Weird Similarities Between (the Parkland) Florida Shooting and Two Murders in Veľká Mača(the village where Ján Kuciak lived with his fiancé) compares the killings with the Parkland Florida shooting. As he/she sees it, both experienced a professional storytelling of events, involved young victims and were followed by political counter-messages that played on the emotions of the public. Comparisons were made between videos of students talking about the Parkland shooting and advocating gun control, and declarations made by the parents of Ján Kuciak Jan and Martina Kušnírová  in the aftermath of the killings. The author claimed that there are too many similarities and was worried that this was only the beginning. However, it is unclear what the latter part of this statement means.

March 8

 The narrative of igniting regional geopolitical instability was outlined “Ján Čarnogurský: They are dragging Slovakia to chaos” (Ján Čarnogurský: Ťahajú Slovensko do chaosu), published by the Slovak-Russian Association on 8th March and the disinformation website Hlavné správy a day later.  Ján Čarnogurský is the current chairman of the Slovak-Russian Association and former Prime Minister of Slovakia (1991-92) and chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement. He is also a frequent organiser of protests “against neo-liberalism” and NATO. According to Čarnogurský, George Soros is destabilising Central Europe. “Since Viktor Orbán resisted Soros successfully now Soros is attempting to disrupt the unity of Central Europe via Slovakia and its agents organising demonstrations.”

March 11

A different perception of the killing was provided on 11th March by Jaroslav Bašta for prvnizpravy.cz (first news). In “Bašta: the Attempt of President Kiska to Overthrow the Government Smells”, the former Czech ambassador to the Russian Federation and Ukraine suggested that the killings resemble the plot of the world-famous Millennium crime trilogy written by Stieg Larsson. Bašta suggests that if the killer was an amateur he/she “could have needed a script” which could be found in the trilogy. He also declared that the reaction of media and political representatives, the speed with which demonstrations were organised, and the amount posters with messages written in English language “smell of Euromaidan” which required “sacral sacrifice”.

March 22

It has been interesting to observe how information provided by mainstream media has eventually been taken over by disinformation outlets. For example, Hospodárske noviny (Economic newspaper) reported that the perpetrator was a professional who used a modified gas gun to assassinate Ján Kuciak Jan and Martina Kušnírová. This (as yet unconfirmed) information regarding the murder weapon was eventually picked up by disinformation outlet Hlavné správy (Main News), which highlights Hospodárske noviny as its main source of information but draws the different conclusion that the killer was an amateur.

The murder of Ján Kuciak Jan and Martina Kušnírová led to the resignation of several ministers and eventually the establishment of a new Slovak government. We will analyse how were disinformation narratives connected to the protests in Slovakia and the Czech Republic disseminated in our next analysis.

 

Edited by Katarína Klingová, GLOBSEC Policy Institute; Lóránt Györi, Political Capital Institute; Jonáš Syrovátka, Prague Security Studies Institute. This brief was published in the framework of project run by the GLOBSEC Policy Institute and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. 

© GLOBSEC Policy Institute

The opinions stated in this report do not necessarily represent the position or views of the GLOBSEC Policy Institute or the National Endowment for Democracy. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the authors.