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Monthly Digest

March 2021

Poland

Cases of Covid-19 surged in the second half of the month to among the highest in Europe. The government instituted tougher lockdown rules to combat the spread of the virus. At the end of the month, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki promised that all Poles who want a vaccine will have received one by August.

The government provoked controversy with a vote to send a bill effectively withdrawing Poland from the Istanbul convention on violence against women to examination by parliamentary committees. The bill is entitled “Yes to Family, No to Gender”. Proponents want the Polish government to set its own laws on domestic violence.

Hungary

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party withdrew from the European People’s Party European Parliament group, in yet another indication of the strained relationship between Fidesz and Brussels. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with Polish PM Morawiecki and Italian Lega party Matteo Salvini about the formation of a new right-wing European parliamentary group intended to “make Europe great again”.

Hungary approved the CanSino and CoviShield jabs from China and India, respectively, to bolster its rapidly accelerating vaccination programme. The country became the EU’s runaway vaccine leader thanks to its use of eastern jabs.

Nevertheless, Covid-19 cases rocketed in the latter half of the month to among the highest in Europe.

Slovakia

At the beginning of the month, Prime Minister Igor Matovič welcomed the nation’s first batch of Sputnik V vaccines at Košice Airport. The Sputnik deal had been reached without the approval of coalition partners and with the support of Hungary’s Fidesz government, leading to outrage across the political spectrum. Weeks of political chaos ensued, with Matovič making his resignation conditional on the resignation of rivals within the ruling coalition. At the end of the month, the Prime Minister finally swapped roles with Eduard Heger, the Minister of Finance.

The Slovak constitution dictates that a Prime Minister’s resignation entails the resignation of the entire government, so President Zuzana Čaputová formally invited Eduard Heger to form a new cabinet following Matovič’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the spread of Covid-19 infection fell throughout March, following the winter peak.

Czech Republic

Petr Kellner, the Czech Republic’s richest man and one of its most influential (though secretive) figures, died in a heliskiing accident in Alaska. Kellner was the owner of PPF, a financial and investment group with interests across Central and Eastern Europe, and around the world. PPF was the first entirely foreign-owned entity to be granted a licence to provide consumer loans in China in 2010, and Kellner was for long one of the Czech Republic’s strongest pro-China influences.

Czech Covid-19 cases and deaths peaked at the start of March and remained high throughout the month. The nation’s vaccine rollout continued at a sluggish pace; Prime Minister Andrej Babiš became embroiled in a dispute with the rest of the EU about the distribution of 10 million extra Pfizer doses, which he felt unfairly neglected the Czech Republic.

During a visit to Israel with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán, Babiš opened a new Czech Embassy branch in Jerusalem, becoming only the second EU member state to do so after Hungary.

Polls continued to show the Pirates+STAN coalition ahead of the ruling ANO party going into elections this October. Anti-Babiš campaigning organisation Million Moments for Democracy painted 24,000 white crosses on Prague’s Old Town Square to commemorate the victims of Covid-19 in the Czech Republic.