ONE YEAR ago tens of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Slovakia’s cities. Shocked into action by the murder of Jan Kuciak, a young journalist probing links between ministers and organised crime, and his fiancée, they demanded an end to the corruption of their country’s elite. The protests toppled Robert Fico, the prime minister, and galvanised a generation.
They also convinced Zuzana Caputova, a 45-year-old liberal lawyer with no political experience, to run for president. “I suddenly found myself failing to justify why somebody else and not myself should assume responsibility for bringing about change,” she says. On March 16th, after a disciplined and dignified campaign, Ms Caputova took 41% of the vote in the first round of Slovakia’s presidential election. She is set to win the run-off on March 30th. Two months ago she was polling in single digits.
Victory would see Ms Caputova take office as the only unabashed liberal head of state or government in the central European “Visegrad” group. Poland has followed Hungary’s slide into illiberalism under Viktor Orban, and the Czech Republic is run by Andrej Babis, a Trumpy tycoon prone to scandal. Slovakia’s euro membership has always left it closer to Europe’s core, as even Mr Fico, who flirted with Orbanist populism when it suited him, had to accept.