The Courage to Be Free is the Courage to Speak Out

The morning of February 26, 2018 shocked me as it did all of Slovakia. The brutal murder of a talented young journalist and his fiancée in their home provoked a combination of sadness, disbelief, and anger. If the killing of Jan Kuciak is related to his work, as Slovak investigators suggest, the murder is an unacceptable attack on freedom of speech and Slovakia’s democratic society.

In the days and weeks following the murders of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova, I have found some reassurance in my ever stronger admiration for Jan, for his fellow journalists, and for the Slovak people. The past weeks have added another chapter to the distinguished history of Slovak citizens’ courage to be free. Despite the justified sadness and anger we all feel, we should also acknowledge that the Slovak people continue to shape their own destiny by acting to defend their values.

As an investigative journalist, Jan dedicated his talents to the service of truth and the people of Slovakia. Jan, and journalists like him all around the world, play a vital role in ensuring a healthy democracy. A government of the people requires an informed voting public. Ultimately, it is the people who must decide what sort of country they want to live in.

Journalists like Jan who take on the responsibility to inform the public and hold elected leaders accountable, demonstrate the courage to be free every day. They uncover and reveal important and inconvenient truths, often at great personal cost. Unlike some self-styled “alternative journalists” who seek to undermine democratic values by spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation, they undertake the hard work of confirming sources and sifting through data to provide accurate, informed reporting. I salute their courage, their dedication, and their craft, and I repeat that it is unacceptable for them to face violence or intimidation anywhere in the world.

While journalists uncover truth and inform the public, ordinary citizens have the responsibility to guide and shape their democratic societies. Here again, I found myself struck by the courage and dignity of the Slovak people. The days and weeks following Jan’s death saw ordinary Slovak citizens across the country peacefully assemble in defense of openness, freedom of speech, democratic values, and decency.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Slovakia’s founding, and the centennial of the founding of the first democratic Czechoslovak Republic. We can celebrate these anniversaries today, and the enduring ties between our two nations, thanks to generations of people who had the courage to be free. I am profoundly honored to witness a new generation showing that same courage at this important moment in Slovak history.