What is wrong with Slovakia will not change in your lifetime or mine. So how will we live our lives?
We look at the faces, and we see aggression, tattooed arrogance and entitlement. We know that they haven’t yet been convicted as the killers of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. But we know that they fit the bill. And that we are closer than ever to knowing what killed Jan and Martina, and why.
The last time I communicated with Jan was February 19 this year. “Zdravím, Tom,” he began. “Marek Vagovič hovoril, že máte nejaké podklady k talianskym podnikateľom: Vadalovci, Rodovci, Cinnante-ovci… Budem vďačný za každú pomoc. Pozdravujem, Ján Kuciak.” And indeed I had been to Trebisov, Michalovce, Snina, four times in 2015 and 2016, photographing the buildings and house owned by Nino Vadala and Diego Roda. I had pulled their business records in Kosice, I had talked to their neighbours and business partners. I had even talked to Nino Vadala himself on the phone – once – before I travelled to Trebisov. But he never answered my calls again.
In between, something else had been rising within me that stunted my enthusiasm for such projects. The trigger had been in the fall of 2015, when I started driving in my free time to the border between Hungary and Serbia, and picking up migrants to take them to the border with Austria, and put them on the train to where they needed to go. I posted photographs of those camps, sure that they would stir compassion and action in my adopted country. But all that those posts invited was anger and rejection.
And I understood, for the first time, where I was living – in a fearful, mountain culture that did not share my values.
And yes, it was like a divorce – you still love your partner, but you are equally sure you can’t live together and be happy.
But back to Jan and Martina. By 2016 I had re-connected with my first love, whom I met in Canada at 17, and we had decided to marry. I was still fitfully working on the Italian-mafia-in-Slovakia story, but I couldn’t prove they were associated with ‘Ndranghetta, the Italian mafia group. And I was no longer sure I wanted to do the deep dive into police and SIS sources that would make the story possible; by then, even my contacting a source was enough to get him fired.
Not to mention that my love for Slovakia had been extinguished.
On one of my last trips to Slovakia before moving back to Canada, in early February 2017, Jan’s editor and my former SME colleague, Marek Vagovic, mentioned that Jan had made progress in Italy with Vadala et al., and that we should work together. I agreed, which is why Jan wrote me soon afterwards. But my flight home took 54 hours – I had chosen the cheapest route – and by the time I opened my email again, Jan and Martina were dead.
It has been a battle since then, let me tell you. My Canadian wife has been terrified by the violence and calumny of a world of which she knows nothing, and has feared a cold finger will extend to touch us here. I have wanted to help, for Jan’s sake, but I’ve developed a deep distrust of Slovakia. In March I performed an interview here, on Vancouver Island, with the Slovak police assignee for Canada. But then I was asked, by a NAKA investigator, to return to Slovakia to testify, because he had heard “a lot of information, especially from Czech journalists”, that I knew something useful about Jan and Martina’s death. The investigator wanted me to fly back to Bratislava; I demanded that he pre-pay the flight. He promised to investigate the possibilities; I realized, after hanging up the phone, that nothing would induce me to return to Slovakia anyway, in this life or the next. He never contacted me again.
I am horrified by what has happened to Slovakia, a country I spent 26 years in – longer than anywhere else I have lived. It feels like a nightmare, without the prospect of relief.
But I carry with me the memory of unforgettable experiences and people. Jan was one of them – humble, generous and brave. I append here a letter he wrote me in 2012 – to which, like his last missive, I unpardonably did not respond.
May he rest in peace, and dignity. May we all be forgiven, for not listening sooner.
Dobrý deň, pán Nicholson,
Nepíšem Vám s námetom na článok, kvôli ktorému bol tento e-mail zrejme založený, ale iný kontakt na Vás som nenašiel. V prvom rade Vám chcem poďakovať a vyjadriť svoj obdiv k Vašej práci. Som študentom žurnalistiky. Na tento odbor som sa prihlásil práve preto, že som chcel svoj život a činnosť zasvätiť práci podobnej tej Vašej. Práve preto, po vypuknutí kauzy Gorila, ste sa stali pre mňa vzorom a dôkazom, že takáto práca je stále možná, dôležitá a najmä má stále hlboký spoločenský význam. Aj preto píšem tento text.
Viem, že pochvalných a obdivných slov máte dnes dostatok, preto som ho nepísal skôr, než som zistil,ako ho spojiť s niečim konkrétnym. Nedávno som si prečítal o Vašom záujme v podobnej práci pokračovať a založiť noviny, ktoré by ju zastrešovali. Veľmi ma to potešilo vzhľadom na súčasnú slovenskú mediálnu sféru. Veľmi by som Vám chcel v tomto úsilí hocijakým malým dielom pomôcť. Práve najbližší mesiac končí prvý stupeň môjho štúdia a ja by som si veľmi rád vyskúšal skutočnú prácu, so všetkým, čo obnáša.
Najvýznamnejšou vecou, ktorou som sa dodnes zaoberal, bola analýza spisu Gorila, na ktorú som dostal zadanie v rámci krátkodobej praxe v SME. Svoje výsledky posielam v prílohe, ak si nájdete čas. Doteraz som k nej žiadny relevatný výstup nedostal.
Verím, že ak už nič viac, tak Vás moja vďaka a obdiv potešila a prajem Vám veľa úspechov v ďalšej práci, ktorú budem nepochybne ďalej sledovať. Nech máte dosť síl na boj, ktorý vediete a nech Vás výsledky ešte viac motivujú a dodávajú inšpiráciu.
Prajem pekný deň.
Sun., 22 Apr. 2012. 15:02