Slovak farmers clog capital protesting alleged EU subsidy fraud

Slovak FarmersFarmers clogged Slovakia’s capital Bratislava with around 100 tractors on Tuesday in protest against alleged fraud in EU farm subsidy payments first made public by journalist Jan Kuciak who was murdered a year ago.

They have vowed to join tens of thousands of anti-government protesters expected to rally across Slovakia on Thursday marking a year since Kuciak’s murder, which triggered a string of demonstrations and criminal probes into alleged high-level corruption.

Farmers are demanding a cap on EU farm subsidies that would prevent large financial groups from using up most of the available money. They also want anti-corruption measures in agriculture and forestry.

Their tractors touted banners “We’re honest farmers, not politicians,” and “We’ve had enough!”

Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, currently on an official visit to Israel, vowed to meet the protesters on Wednesday in Bratislava, Slovakia’s TASR news agency reported.

“There’s a need for reform that should have taken place here, in my opinion, 20 years ago,” said Patrick Magdoska, an activist from the Farm Initiative NGO.

Farmers also drove their tractors into Bratislava in protest last June, when they also joined anti-government demonstrators marking Kuciak’s murder.

Kuciak and his girlfriend were gunned down in February 2018 as he was about to publish a report on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia and associated irregularities in EU farm subsidy payments.

The murder and his explosive report plunged the eurozone country of 5.4 million people into crisis, sparking weekly mass protests that led the government to resign last March.

The article included allegations that several million euros in EU farm subsidies had been lost to fraud, mobilising farmers to demand transparent rules for land usage rights and the distribution of EU subsidies.

Slovak prosecutors have indicted four suspects in connection to Kuciak’s murder, including a woman identified only as Alena Zs. for legal reasons.

Investigators allege that she ordered the contract killing for 50,000 euros ($58,100) and a forgiven 20,000-euro debt.

Local media reported that Alena Zs. had worked as an interpreter for Slovak entrepreneur Marian Kocner, whose business activities were the subject of an investigation by Kuciak.