For young people like Mr. Straka and Ms. Farska, the fight against corruption is about nothing less than taking their country back for the next generation. Their battle is infused with a healthy dose of youthful idealism, but their anticorruption campaign has caught on, as have like-minded movements across the region.
The pair have become local media darlings, using Facebook to organize an anticorruption march in mid-April that drew as many as 10,000 people.
Immediately after the high schoolers dropped off their single-page manifesto at the government’s official complaints office on the day of the march, they made their way through the baroque city center of Bratislava to a square where a few hundred people had already started gathering.
“The state should respect our parents and not steal from them and lie,” Mr. Straka explained without breaking step, as glowering clouds loomed over nearby Bratislava Castle and a steady sprinkle of icy droplets fell from the slate sky.
“I hope this doesn’t keep people away,” Mr. Straka said.
Ms. Farska was equally earnest, for good reason, she said.
“We are at the point in our lives when we are deciding what we want to do,” she explained. “Stay here in our own country with our families, or go abroad where we could have a good life without so much corruption.”
The quandary faces hundreds of thousands across the region, especially young people, who are turning disillusionment into determined action in countries like Poland, Macedonia, Serbia and others.
For nearly a full month in February, Romanians took to the streets to protest proposed laws that they felt would enable government corruption. A month later, protests against corruption that featured large numbers of young people erupted across Russia, too.
In Hungary, a group of people in their 20s formed a new political movement that forced the government to abandon its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The protesters were fearful the event would provide a fertile ground for corruption.
Corruption is not the only target of the demonstrations. The protests are also driven by anger over fresh initiatives aimed at entrenching governing parties, serving the interests of oligarchs, weakening the rule of law, hobbling nongovernmental organizations and co-opting independent news media.
“Fighting corruption is really hard,” said Igor Matovic, a member of Slovakia’s Parliament…