The Slovak accused of shooting “was against everything”

He wrote dark, erotic verses and poems that depicted torture and pain. He also self-published a book in which he criticized the Roma and asked why Slovakia had not produced a local version of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist.

“Where is the Slovak Breivik? Hasn’t he been born yet? What if he has been? he asked in the book. “I didn’t shoot anyone. I said to myself: I will write a book.”

Then on Wednesday, the 71-year-old former coal mine worker, quarryman and lifelong malcontent was accused of opening fire at point-blank range on Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia.

As soon as it became known that an unidentified man had shot Fico in central Slovakia, it became obvious to Milan Maruniak, a retired coal miner, who must be responsible.

“I was 99 percent sure it was him. It couldn’t be anyone else,” said Maruniak, a former colleague of the man who has been charged with “premeditated attempted murder” but has not yet been identified by authorities.

Wednesday’s shooting, the worst attack on a European leader in decades, sent shockwaves across Europe.

But the fact that the man who had lived in this provincial town was arrested was no real surprise to those who knew him. “He was always so weird and angry,” Maruniak said. “It was just a matter of time before something happened.”

Slovakia’s prosecutor has placed an embargo on information related to the case and prohibited police from revealing the name of the accused man. But the prosecution said that “it would not be wrong” to identify the man as Juraj C., a name widely reported in the Slovak media. It is unclear if the suspect has an attorney.

Authorities say the shooter was a “lone wolf,” a deranged individual acting only for himself — an account of the crime that fits the profile outlined by people who knew Juraj C.

However, on Friday, police officers visited the apartment block where he lived and recorded video footage from security cameras. Ondrej Szabo, a supervisor at the complex, said investigators wanted to see if anyone had visited the man’s apartment in the days before the attack. Szabo said the man never seemed dangerous to her and that he often went for walks holding hands with his wife. The couple has two children.

Video footage and photographs of the shooter released shortly after the attack showed a bearded man whom Maruniak and other Levice town residents said they recognized as Juraj C., a local man known for his irritable behavior and resentful attitude.

“I wasn’t surprised that it was him,” said Maria Cibulova, a member of Rainbow, a literary club in the area, to which Juraj C. also belonged.

She didn’t really like his poetry. “I’m romantic and I always look for nice things,” she said, “but he always wrote about ugly and negative things.” When Juraj C. shared his work at the club’s bimonthly meetings, he recalled, the other members reacted with more alarm than admiration. “It was always very strange and negative,” Cibulova said of his work.

One poem, “The Hut,” featured the mountains of Slovakia recast as parts of the female anatomy, while “The Face” was dominated by descriptions of torture and pain. Both poems were included in a self-published book that was seen by The New York Times.

Politicians on both sides of a deep political divide in Slovakia, split between Fico’s supporters and enemies, have portrayed the shooter as a product of the opposing side. But people who know him say that he never clearly took sides with either of them, but instead supported any cause that allowed him to express his anger.

However, there is one cause, according to people who know him, that he has maintained for decades: an ongoing hostility toward Slovakia’s minority Romani population. Maruniak said that had been an obsession of Juraj C. since the 1970s, when they worked together in a coal mine. “Gypsies and Roma,” a book written and self-published by Juraj C. in 2015, included an openly racist poem about the minority: “On the body of civilization grows a tumor of criminality.”

In other matters, however, he regularly changed sides.

In 2016, for example, Juraj C. offered public support to Slovenski Branci, or Slovak Recruits, a paramilitary group known for supporting Russia. In a statement of support, he said he admired the group’s “ability to act without state approval.”

However, two years later, he began a bitter dispute with another member of the literary club who had posted a message on Facebook expressing concern about torchlight parades in Ukraine by radical nationalists. He denounced his writing colleague, who had worked in Russia more than two decades earlier, as a Russian agent paid by the Kremlin to smear Ukraine.

Juraj C.’s pro-Ukrainian views grew increasingly stronger as he turned against Russia, his former beacon, especially after the full-scale invasion of the Kremlin in 2022. “He suddenly became extremely anti-Russian,” the member said. of the club, who asked that his name not be published because his family feared reprisals.

In 2019, Juraj C. stopped attending literary club meetings and seemed strangely distant when he ran into people he had known for years on the street.

“He was lost in his own world and reality,” Maruniak recalled.

A trail of often contradictory statements and affiliations over the years has provided Slovak politicians with a wealth of material with which to misrepresent the defendant’s views. The fact that Levice’s book club is called Rainbow has fueled claims that he is an LGBTQ activist, a role that would explain his hostility toward Fico, an advocate of traditional family values.

But Cibulova, who was president of the literary club for several years, said the club had no affiliation with LGBTQ causes.

The first person to identify a suspect was Danny Kollar, a Slovakian who lives in London, from where he runs one of the most followed and vituperative social media outlets in Slovakia.

Kollar, who dabbles in conspiracy theories, immediately linked the shooting to Progressive Slovakia, an opposition party, claiming that the shooter was a supporter of the party. The party leader dismissed this as a lie.

Cibulova said that it was forbidden to talk about politics or religion at literary club meetings, so she had no clear idea of ​​the man’s politics, other than that “he was against everything.”

“He had something inside him against the injustice he felt had been done to him in his life,” he said.

In a brief personal biography that Juraj C. presented to the writers’ group, he said that he had been “identified as a rebel by state power” in the communist era and had been fired from his job as a technical worker in a coal mine in near Handlova, the town where Fico was murdered on Wednesday.

According to his own account in the literary club’s magazine, in 1989 he became leader of the Levice protest council, a branch of a national anti-communist organization led by Vaclav Havel, who later became Czech president.

But that, Maruniak said, is not true. He said that Jurjaj C. was kept at arm’s length by activists of the anti-communist movement, who saw him as too radical and untrustworthy.

“Nobody really liked him,” Maruniak said. “He was never part of the team. He was never happy with anything. In reality, he could never be part of any group.”

In his 2015 book, Juraj C. gave what now seems like an account of his own personal evolution. He appeared in a section about a famous Slovak killer, Jan Harman, who killed eight people in a shooting in 2010.

“They declared him crazy, but he wasn’t crazy, he just couldn’t bear the burden anymore.Juraj C. wrote. “You no longer have to curse, you no longer have to hate. He has worn down his own to that unknown limit.”

Sara Cincurova and Marek Janiga contributed reporting from Bratislava, Slovakia.

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