Slovakia is still reeling from the shocking verdict in the retrial of the two suspected ringleaders involved in the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova in 2018. On May 19, the Specialised Criminal Court acquitted Marian Kocner, a controversial tycoon, for the second time in less than three years. The acquittal of Kocner, a prominent figure in the case, has left many questioning the effectiveness of Slovakia’s justice system and the state of its democracy.
Unlike Kocner, his associate Alena Zsuzsova was given a 25-year prison sentence for her role in masterminding the murder of Kuciak and his fiancée, as well as the attempted murders of two prosecutors. The panel of judges concluded that Zsuzsova’s motive was to protect Kocner, who she relied on as a source of money and did not want to lose due to the ongoing investigations against him. However, the panel did not find enough evidence to convict Kocner in either the Kuciak murder case or the case involving the prosecutors. Kocner and Zsuzsova are already serving long jail sentences for unrelated crimes, and the latest verdict will be reviewed by the Supreme Court following appeals.
Concerns over US Soldiers’ Behavior and Misinformation Campaigns in Slovakia
In another incident that has drawn attention in Slovakia, two off-duty US soldiers stationed in the country caused a disturbance in a grocery store. Although no one was harmed and no property was damaged, the soldiers’ intoxicated and aggressive behavior towards the police officers present has caused concern. The US military has initiated disciplinary proceedings against the soldiers, who have since left Slovakia. However, certain pro-Russian elements within the country have exploited the incident to spread disinformation, with disinformation media, the far-right party Republika, and the Smer party using the opportunity to criticize a recently signed defense agreement with the US.
Ahead of the September election, the Smer party, currently leading in public opinion polls, and Republika, expected to secure seats in parliament, are using these incidents to their advantage, further fueling the political divide in the country.
Hungary’s EU Presidency at Risk, Russian-Built NPP Approved
Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga vehemently opposed the speculation that Hungary might be considered unfit to fulfill its six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, scheduled to begin in July 2024. Varga declared that the European Parliament has no authority in this matter and that Hungary is actively preparing for its presidency. However, concerns have been raised about Hungary’s adherence to the fundamental values of the EU, and a draft proposal regarding the rule of law is being debated in the European Parliament. If Hungary’s competency is deemed questionable, the parliament may intervene, posing a significant challenge for the country’s government.
Meanwhile, Hungary’s Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, announced that the European Commission has approved modifications to the Paks 2 nuclear power plant. The renegotiation of the contract with Russia’s Rosatom, the main contractor for the project, indicates potential difficulties faced by Rosatom due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and financial sanctions on Russia. The new reactors, initially planned to be operational by 2026, are now expected to start running in the early 2030s. However, experts anticipate significant delays and increased costs, raising concerns about the financial burden on Hungarian taxpayers. Proponents argue that nuclear energy is essential for meeting Hungary’s climate goals and sustaining its industrial needs.
Poland’s Controversial Commission and Russian Retaliation
The Polish government is in the process of establishing a special commission to investigate Russian influence in the country. The commission aims to analyze decisions made by bureaucrats and politicians between 2007 and 2022 to identify potential instances of Russian lobbying. While acknowledging the importance of assessing Russian influence, opposition parties and experts express concerns that the commission could be exploited for political purposes, targeting opposition politicians such as Donald Tusk.
In response to this move, the Head of the Russian Duma, Vyacheslav Volodyn, called for a ban on Polish trucks crossing Russian territory and demanded compensation from Poland for what he claims is owed for the Soviet reconstruction of the country after World War II. The strained relations between Poland and Russia have escalated, with Poland seizing buildings previously used by Russian diplomats and Moscow accusing Warsaw of betraying historical memory.
Czech Republic’s Media Funding and Oil Dependency
The Czech government has decided to increase the licence fee for public television and radio, signaling a shift towards providing more financial support for public media. Despite concerns about the rising cost of living, plans are underway to raise the licence fee for Czech Television and Czech Radio. Financial stability is essential for ensuring the independence of public media and avoiding political influence.
Additionally, the Czech Republic has secured an agreement to expand its alternative oil supply route, allowing it to reduce its dependency on Russian oil imports. The country’s state oil company, Mero, signed a deal to expand the Transalpine Pipeline (TAL), which carries crude oil from the port of Trieste in Italy to Germany. This development will enable the Czech Republic to increase oil supplies through TAL and decrease its reliance on the Druzhba pipeline, which imports oil from Russia. The move aligns with the country’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and reduce its vulnerability to geopolitical tensions.